Storyberries was lucky enough to recently publish online the exquisitely-illustrated children’s picture book, Fox and the Pine. It’s a sweet tale with a potent message: finding light in the darkest of times. Its themes appeal to children who love animals, nature, fairies… and simply beautiful stories!

Today we had the chance to talk with writer and illustrator Danielle Noakes about her work, her inspiration, and what the future holds for Fox and the Pine.

1.How long have you been illustrating? What started the journey for you?

All my life! Even at nursery my mum has told me, as sad as it sounds, that I used to mostly sit by myself, drawing. With my love of creating and designing, throughout school I knew that I wanted to pursue a career within the artist industry. Illustration and University was how and where I learnt to put my skills to good use. The idea of creating work for a reason and for other people, rather than just for myself, gives me so much satisfaction. It would be a dream come true to see my work one day within a magazine/in the public eye!

2. What was your inspiration for Fox and the Pine?

Inspiration for the book stemmed from struggling with homesickness whilst at University. When reading an old Rupert Brooke’s poetry book, I stumbled across his poem: ‘Pine Trees and the Sky: Evening’ (1907). At the beginning of the poem he expresses feelings of loss and sadness, but as you reach the last verse, his emotions shift to an optimistic and grateful tone upon seeing the Pine trees. I immediately connected with Brooke’s poem and  decided to research into the symbolism of Pine trees and find out what significance they had to him.

In Celtic belief, Pine trees were a symbol of dispelling negativity and reminding one of their blessings, as well as a sign that winter does not last forever. This gave clarity to Brooke’s poem and discovering more about his life, he too was experiencing a form of homesickness.

For me, Pine trees are also symbolic of the idea of ‘home’. When thinking of the trees and my family, I no longer feel sad, but am comforted and reminded of my blessings, similar to the emotions Brooke experiences in his poem. My home is located within a country park and has a very ethereal nature. When the evening sun seeps and glows through the Pine trees, it makes me feel so comforted and nostalgic. I wanted to capture this magic within my work and first created an artist’s book which can be viewed on my website. This was an autobiographical project that focused on a ‘sense of place’, however I felt my voice wasn’t being heard.

This is where my picture book ‘Fox and the Pine’ started to take shape. I realised my experience of homesickness could be adapted in order to enlighten our younger ones minds about optimism and gratitude, rather than being blinded by ones negativity when faced with a difficult situation.

3. How did you approach illustrating the book? What techniques did you use to create your pages?

I knew I wanted the illustrations to have a traditional and whimsical feel to them, in order to hopefully create a nostalgic response from the adult reading, as well as the child. I used mixed mediums such as acrylic paint, coloured pencil and water colour to add depth and freshness to the illustrations. I found this was the only way I could keep a sentimental and delicate tone throughout the book as well as keeping the reader interested.

I illustrated each element separately and collaged them digitally in Photoshop, allowing me to play with composition and edit each page easily. I scanned many different papers, ephemera and textures until I decided which would make the final illustrations, including stained end papers of old books to reinforce notions of nostalgia, comfort and memories.

For reference photos, I used a 35mm film camera and took photos all around my home over winter in the ‘golden hour’. I’m hoping to have these all printed into a collection soon as they really capture the magic of the park and why it means so much to me.

4. Your Instagram shows that there was a real-life little girl who was the inspiration for your forest fairy. Who is she, and how did you work with her to create your sweet images?

Yes that’s right! She is my youngest sibling, Olivia. She is my starshine on the darkest of nights. Working with her to get reference photos was very cute, she loves helping her big sister Dan Dan and jumped at the chance to dress as a fairy. Of course there were some sweeties involved!

When I had ‘Fox and the Pine’ printed, she took a copy to nursery and showed everyone, telling them she was the fairy in the book very proudly, including the head teacher!

5. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth, the future seems exciting. What kind of stories and illustrations do you hope to be doing in five years time?

It is indeed, and very nerve-wracking! Despite University work finishing, I haven’t actually stopped working, and am very grateful! Trying to build an online presence isn’t easy but I would love to be able to live comfortably freelancing one day, so am working hard.

In five years time I would love to have collaborated with my Aunt Helen, who is writing multiple children’s picture books at the moment. To be published and see our work being sold in all major book stores for children and families to enjoy, would be an absolute dream and I hope that soon it will be checked off the list!

Thank you so much for these wonderful questions, I had fun answering them and hope people enjoy reading ‘Fox and the Pine’ as much as I did creating it.

Danielle Noakes is an illustrator, artist and designer based in Buckinghamshire and the New Forest (U.K). Her work emulates her passion and fondness for all things nature. Inspiration for her, is drawn from the beauty and wonder of the forest and quality time spent with loved ones, laughing and drinking tea.

You can get in touch with Danielle by clicking on her author profile below.

Enjoy this story? Storyberries’ picture book recommendations were recently featured on ‘The 90 Best Children’s Books of 2017‘ – feel free to have a peek, and discover other kids stories you may love!