Leigh Hodgkinson writes and illustrates books for children. And on top of that she runs Wonkybutton, an online shop selling printed snippysew kits, laser cut garnish for people, postcards and other lovely things. She chats to Your County about working as the art director for Charlie and Lola and enjoying her new home in Lewes.
How did you come to run Wonkybutton?
My actual job is to write and illustrate books for children. It is a lovely job, and I feel incredibly lucky to be doing this. However, there are times when you find yourself waiting for feedback from publishers. I am not very good at down time. I am not very good at twiddling my thumbs. So instead I invent new things to do. I make things, I draw things, I design things. The result of this is Wonkybutton.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
That is a tricky one! My creative career has been quite a meandering journey, so I guess I have lots of highlights in the different fields I have worked in. In animation, winning a prestigious award in Annecy for some animated sketches I did for the series Phonejacker was pretty great. As was winning a British Animation Award for a short film I made.
Also, being the art director for Tiger Aspects Charlie and Lola series (which also went on to win awards) was fabulous. In terms of my book stuff, just being able to write and draw my own stuff is a dream come true. But the best feeling is meeting and hearing from children who read and love my books. And seeing their reactions when I read to them. It is such a direct and beautiful thing.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Everywhere and anywhere. It could pop into my head as a coherent idea, or it could be an interesting fragment that is quickly jotted down later to be made sense of later. In my books I like combining things that shouldn’t be together. I find this creates immediate intrigue, drama and fun. I am constantly inspired by things around me…. a shop window display, some lettering, colour palettes, a pattern on a piece of wrapping paper, snippets of conversation… There is a wealth of stuff to be inspired by.
Being inspired is such a magical feeling, but it is also what you do with that after, how you translate that information and feeling into a concrete idea or thing. That is the challenge. That is the fun!
What kind of work do you most enjoy?
I enjoy most aspects of my work, but I suppose the most enjoyable part of it is the start of a project where anything is possible. It feels incredible exciting and creative… a chance to try a new way of doing something, to filter in all the things that have inspired you. A chance to get your hands messy and feel like a proper artist.
What are your most popular items you sell?
I sell a lot of postcards and prints of my work. Also, my perspex brooches and necklaces are quite popular. As I am always creating new products, the runs of them are quite small, I always like to have a range of different stuff online.
Has your style evolved much over time?
I think it has evolved, maybe in the materials and approach. I like to mix up techniques and often to and fro between clunky collage to hand made textures and patterns. But it always looks like my work (even though sometimes I purposefully try to make it not).
I have come to the conclusion that you should embrace and nurture what it is to be you. That being you is your best asset. It is something that no one else has got. So while it is important to be inspired and for your work to move forward and remain fresh – it has to be true and have integrity. Otherwise there is no point.
Have you always lived in the county?
I have lived here for two-and-a-half-years. So I guess I am still a real newbie. Before that I lived in lovely South East London for a large chunk, before moving somewhere else that was a total mistake (I won’t name the county, as I don’t want to offend anyone!). It made me realise that living somewhere which makes you feel happy inside, and makes you feel alive is much more important than trying to make the “sensible grown-up” choice.
What do you like about East Sussex?
I love its creative and anarchic spirit (particularly in Lewes where I live). I love the fact that you can never be bored – there is always something interesting going on. And these are always things that are driven by real people with real passion…. live music, comedy, film, festivals… the list goes on.
Also I love its rich history and it’s beautiful countryside and coastlines. There is nothing like putting your wellies on and going for a bracing walk to blow the cobwebs away.
What are your favourite spots in the county for independent designers and retailers?
As I mentioned, I live in Lewes where we are spoilt for choice for amazing independent shops. Ones that I can never resist are Popsicle, Brigden and Bayliss, Wickle, Marys and Leadbetter and Good. They all champion independent designers and have really distinct identities.
Do you sell your work anywhere in East Sussex?
Mary’s in Lewes sell some of my perspex brooches and keyrings. I think while I am really good at making stuff, I get let down by my abysmal ability to market stuff. This is probably due to the fact that my time is very limited. I have two small children and have to fit all things Wonkybutton in between my book work.
What are your future plans for the business?
I would like more time to be able to develop the online shop and to get more of my products into local independent retailers. I wish I had a gaggle of willing oompalumpas to help me – that would be very nice!