When illustrator Fern Azolla journeyed 5,800 miles from Thailand to the U.K. to study, she couldn’t have foreseen the chaos that was about to ensue. Fortunately, she found solace in Cornwall’s natural landscape and didn’t let Covid hamper her creativity, creating a new eco-fable for our times. Bodega Bijou hung out with the illustrator to discover more about Fern and her artistic process.
Hi, Fern! So, you are from Thailand, but you were studying Illustration in the U.K.? Could you tell us more about that, and why you decided to come to art school in Cornwall?
Yes, of course, I’m more than happy to share my ongoing rollercoaster ride with you! 😂
My journey began when my friend asked me to study together in the UK... and so I did. I researched art universities, learned about Falmouth University, and decided to study there.
I chose Falmouth Uni because the MA Illustration course is unique. Unlike others, MA Illustration: Authorial Practice focuses on each artist’s individual voice and develops it through self-initiated projects, encouraging and supporting students on their journey as authorial artists, illustrators and authors alike.
Furthermore, Cornwall has striking natural landscapes, especially the beaches and woodlands. The environment and atmosphere are calm and relaxing; a perfect place for inspiration without distractions. Last but not least, the tutors are very kind, supportive and gave me lots of advice from the start.
It’s such a shame that Covid 19 interrupted your studies. But we are so happy you are part of our Autumn Show 2020. We love your beautiful, detailed main piece, “Rewild”. Could you tell us how you created it and why, and if it is part of a longer narrative you are working on?
This piece started as a sketch of witches. I explored through mark-making until a witch carrying a plant with a cat and bird emerged. That sketch has sparked a whole new story which will later crystalise as a sequel for the Ecofable I'm currently working on.
I then took that rough sketch of the witch and placed her in a forest, giving life to this world and narrative. After a few thumbnails, trying different compositions and colour schemes, I then laid out the design on A4 paper made from recycled coffee cups with a light graphite pencil.
When I had a rough composition, I used colour pencils to add in the details. Bit by bit, I built up the layers of colours, embracing all the marks that I created until the entire illustration emerged.
The reason I created this is because I wanted to illustrate the grace of nature and inspire the idea that, with our own hands, we can bring about a future where the Earth is not heading toward extinction, but abundance. Simple actions that we can incorporate into our daily lives and through time; small, simple steps that will bring about a flourishing future.
What inspires you to create your illustrations, and are there any artists you particularly admire who have been an influence on your work?
Nature has always been my main source of inspiration. Whenever I'm in a creative rut, I go for a walk among the trees, plants and animals. It invigorates my creative well-being, sprouting new ideas, stories and characters. I often sort through my thoughts and have breakthroughs through walking among the greenery.
Another place I draw inspiration is from books and animations. You'll find me with my nose in a book with my sketchbook and pencil everywhere I go. I feel weird if I don't have a book, a sketchbook and a pencil with me. One exception is when I go for a walk in nature so that I can fully embrace nature's grace and kindness while walking.
I love reading books because they enrich my imagination. I like to create a character of my own in that book's world and explore its universe, changing the story and interacting with the other characters. Has anyone else done this? It would be great to know I'm not the only one making up characters to mess around in the world of every book one reads!
I enjoy watching animations and occasionally films. They nourish my creativity differently from books or nature. All the Studio Ghibli movies I've watched so far are truly inspiring and beautiful. I also appreciate anime and Disney’s animated movies.
There are several artists I admire and have influenced my work, notably Shaun Tan, Benoit Jacques and Lorenzo Mattotti. They are amazing artists whose visual language is powerful, and they have prominent mark-making.
We are lucky to have some of your Riso Prints and Etchings as well as your hand drawn originals in the Autumn Show at our gallery. Moving forward with your practice what medium do you think you will work most in?
I think graphite pencils and colour pencils will be my main media moving forward. I also hope to use the Risograph more in the future, using it to create art prints, books and zines.
I enjoy using the Risograph, especially the physicality of changing the colour drums. I want to explore how different colours interact with one another and the textures created from different mark-making. I appreciate the imperfect beauty of each print because they are all unique and raw. Unlike other means of printing, Risograph feels down to earth and it is one of the most environmentally friendly ways of printing.
You are our first “Raised Voice” at Bodega Bijou, and we’re so proud you allowed us to present your work in our gallery. We have seen increased diversity and #OwnVoices breaking down the glass ceilings in publishing, for authors in particular. Do you think the world of Illustration is becoming more inclusive and representative of marginalised voices, or do you think we still have a long way to go?
Yes, the world of illustration is becoming more inclusive. However, I still think we have a long way to go. I have seen incredible artists and authors who have not got as much recognition as they should.
In this day and age, where media and online presence are often the determining factors for having your work discovered, it makes it extremely difficult for authorial artists to be noticed amongst the constant streams of information.
It also varies from country to country; one may be very supportive of marginalised voices and an increase in diversity in the publishing world. However, in another, representation of marginalised voices is declining. This could be due to numerous reasons rooted beyond what we can fathom.
I was brought up in a place where my voice was not heard; or if it was, it was looked down on, or overlooked. To be able to be a part of this exhibition means a lot to me, thank you.
Thanks so much for being part of it and sharing your work with our lucky punters! And thanks for hanging out with us today too. Before you go, can you tell us about what you are working on right now, and any plans for new projects In the future?
At the moment, I'm working on the Ecofable which I mentioned earlier. It's slowly taking shape and now that I have a bit more time, I want to give it my all and bring it to life. I can't wait to share this project with you!
If possible, after I've completed this Ecofable, I'd like to work on the sequel featuring the witches; journeying with them to reconnect and restore Loka...
Fern Azolla is a Thai illustrator. Her one-off, hand drawn Illustration of “Rewild” is available in our gallery or our online shop here.
A Framed, Fine Art Giclee print of this piece is also available from our online store for a limited time. Visitors to our Falmouth Gallery can see the original up close, or purchase an A5 mini print. You can discover more of Fern’s gorgeous art at: