Meet the Graduates 2017: Sally Barnett (Illustration)

With a fresh new batch of students graduating this month, we have the exciting task of hosting our Graduate Degree Show June 2017. Here at the IDI Blog we’ve sat down with some of our most recent graduates to get a little insight into studying, and graduating, with IDI.

BA (Hons) Illustration graduate Sally Barnett talks us through all things books, fantasy and illustration…


I have enjoyed the journey of becoming a much stronger, happier Illustrator and with the support of the IDI staff and IDI students from around the world, not only have I succeeded beyond my expectations within the field of illustration, but also my life has been enriched.
Sally Barnett
BA (Hons) Illustration

I am an Illustrator and a member of the Association of Illustrators. I specialise in book iIllustration and book cover design for children’s or adult fiction, working with pen and ink, coloured inks, photographic textures and digital illustration. I also enjoy creating the narrative one can explore within album cover artwork.

Studying with IDI has given me an insight into the business of illustration and to hone my illustrative skills so that they are more in tune with what clients are looking for in a professional Illustrator.

I have enjoyed the journey of becoming a much stronger, happier Illustrator and with the support of the IDI staff and IDI students from around the world, not only have I succeeded beyond my expectations within the field of illustration, but also my life has been enriched.


Growing up, did you have any creative interests?

I remember making ant hotels in the mud in my front garden. I loved drawing as a child. I remember drawing navy frigates, birds, cartoon worms and I invented maps and a plan of my dream home, when I was eight. Drawing was a way of escaping from childhood stresses and made me feel special.

What’s the illustration scene like in Somerset, England?

Frome (Somerset) has a very strong and supportive arts community, which I became inspired by after I left my job as an engineer. I now belong to an active Illustration group in the South West and volunteer at the very popular Black Swan Arts Centre in Frome.

Sally grew up inspired by picture books such as the Finn Family Moomintroll (source)

How did you know that you wanted to be an illustrator?

I always wanted to draw and illustrate books from when I was a child. I used to write short fantasy stories and draw strange creatures in birthday cards, because just signing a card felt boring.

I was inspired by Maurice Sendak and Tove Jansson; I loved the darkness within their stories and the sense of unease in their illustration. I grew up during a period when bedtime fairytale stories were scary (for example, ‘The Singing Ringing Tree’) and this has had a definite influence on my work.

My father always told me ‘I dont know why you stopped drawing’ and it was not until I moved to Frome and 26 years after I left art college, that I became serious and confident enough to take up illustration professionally.

‘Lord of the Flies’ book cover design by Sally Barnett

Tell us about your ‘Lord of the Flies’ book cover design?

I read the book, again and after many years, so that it was fresh in my mind. I created mind-maps from initial thoughts about the book and lists of associated words and then associated images to those words.

‘Lord of the Flies’ book cover design process by Sally Barnett

I then researched islands and considered how I would feel if I was isolated on one. I researched masks, what they symbolised and the possible materials that would be available on such an island, to make a mask. I considered the emotions of the boys and decided early on that I wanted the viewer to feel those emotions. I drew the freehand line drawing as a spontaneous reaction from the boys on the island, as to what was happening to them; from being innocent children to raw and brutal killers.

‘Lord of the Flies’ book cover design by Sally Barnett

The grass masks connote the madness and fear that consumed them. The white and red portray the innocence (in white) to the bloodshed and danger (in red). I did not want to overpower the design with too much illustrative detail; the message needed to be clear and simple.

How have you grown as an illustrator during your studies?

I have grown in so many ways during my studies: I spend more time researching projects and develop my work methodically and analytically. I know how to gain feedback from peers and how to market myself online and in the field. I’ve also mastered Adobe Creative Suite applications and can use them with ease.

I have gained more confidence in what I can achieve and have placed my work within the public domain, securing freelance work in doing so. I have also grown personally in how I look at life, my friends and family and my fascination for all areas of illustration.

Book cover design by Sally Barnett

Have you always been visually drawn to animals and fantastical creatures?

Yes, I think they draw out my own character more than anything else I could draw and they therefore feel more real than anything else.

What children’s books do you remember loving as a child?

‘Finn Family Moomintroll’, ‘Where the Wild Things Are’, ‘The Little Prince’ and ‘Hans Anderson’s Fairy Tales’ illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.

Why do you think you’re so drawn to literature and music?

I love the narrative that illustration can offer, in both literature and music. I grew up captivated by the stories my mother would read to me but she would also describe the stories and emotions within classical music. It is so magical how these stories can affect you personally.

Album artwork designed by Sally Barnett

What was it like studying online with IDI?

I loved being part of a global, yet small student community. I have maintained contact with several of my fellow students throughout the last four years; I totally trust their advice and feedback on my work, and have similarly advised on their work.

The most challenging aspect for me was reading complex study documents, i.e. Semiotics for Beginners by Daniel Chandler.

What are your plans now that you’ve graduated from IDI?

I plan to write and illustrate my own picture books. But I would love to collaborate with an author who writes stories that I would have loved to have read as a child and still would now. I would also like to break into animation, in the future.

Visit Sally’s website or Graduate Degree Show profile for more examples of her design work.


We hope you enjoyed this article and feel inspired. Let us know what you think in the comments section below, and don’t forget to share:


No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *