6 Jan 2011

Artist 58: Sheena Dempsey

We have a brilliant New Years treat for everybody here on Rally, its the gorgeous considered work of Sheena Dempsey. Her exquisite style has a heavy dose of influence from the guru of children's illustration Quentin Blake but she has a more delicate touch, which steers away from the raw mania of Blake. She leads you down a softer path with her gentle imagery complemented by an expertly chosen palette of subtle hues that tie her work together into a cosy blanket with all the skill and tenderness that make for truly memorable books. Its great to see someone who has already gained the skills that will bring joy and mystery to a very lucky generation of children. Its a saturated market and to stand out you have to have something that adds that little special touch and Sheena has this in abundance. Her work has a very authentic quality and has a certain soft charm in the use of colour that brings us a real Irish beauty. This is complemented by a deeply thought through expressiveness that is a real challenge when presenting images to children. Well thought through work and a deliciously cohesive style, Sheena is one to remember!

Who are you?
I'm Sheena Dempsey, I'm an illustrator from Ireland and I've been living in London since September 2009, when I started studying for my MA in Illustration at Kingston University.

What do you do?
My work is primarily focused on children's illustration and I draw everything by hand using waterproof pen and watercolour on Hot Pressed paper. I spend most of my time at my desk because I work at such a snail's pace and I need to draw everything about three (or sometimes ten) times until I'm happy with it.

How did you start?
I arrived at illustration in a roundabout way - it took me quite a long time to figure out that it was what I was good at and genuinely passionate about. Because there aren't any BA courses in illustration in Ireland, it didn't occur to me when I was eighteen that it was even an option, so I studied Fine Art even though I wasn't very suited to it and didn't really enjoy it. After graduating in 2006 I was floating around for a couple of years, still undecided about what to do, when I began to develop an interest in illustration, specifically children's books. This gradually developed into an obsession and I decided to do the MA in order to bring my work to the next level. I was incredibly lucky that one of my shorter MA college projects, a picture book idea about a jealous sister and baby brother was taken up by Walker Books and I've since been offered a two-book deal which should keep me busy for the next couple of years.

Personal Statement
My work is very linear, it's all about trying to strike a balance so that the line is fresh and lively and not static or dull. The colour is also a huge part of it, it's how I give the drawing depth and it brings the whole thing to life - one can't exist without the other. I always try to inject humour and expressiveness into my characters which is why it sometimes takes me a long time. Getting the character's expression right is something I find difficult but it's very important to me.
I'm influenced by many brilliant illustrators such as Quentin Blake, Oliver Jeffers, David Roberts, Mini Grey, Edward Gorey etc.
Like every illustrator, I am always striving to improve my work and hope to be an excellent illustrator one day!


  1. Her work will enhance any childrens books as it is enchanting & so beautifull

  2. Lovely, whimsical work, which is funny whilst remaining delicately beautiful. Well done Sheena!