King Leonard's Teddy

Phoebe Swan is a Tottenham illustrator who has just released her first children's book, "King Leonard's Teddy". It not only has colourful pictures, but a strong environmental message including ideas around consumerism and recycling. Phoebe also teaches illustration and graphics, having started as a tutor for Tottenham Art Classes. Rachel Ho caught up with her to find out more.

Photo supplied: Phoebe Swan

Where did you grow up and what did your parents do? 

I grew up not far away, in Stoke Newington. My parents were journalists , they met while working as sub-editiors on the Financial Times which meant working nights to correct spellings and write headlines for stories ready for the next morning. When I was a baby they decided to job-share so they each divided their time equally between working and looking after me and my brother at home. In his spare time my Dad loved making things, some of my earliest memories are of helping him 'rescue' scrap wood and other interesting odd ands ends from skips and paint them up and turn them into artworks, I think its where my DIY attitude comes from! Describe your relationship to Tottenham. I got to know Tottenham via the River Lea, I lived downstream in Stamford Hill for years before moving here and would often go for walks along the river, which is how I discovered Ferry Lane Estate. I moved to Ferry Lane 5 years ago and absolutely love it, it was designed in a very people-friendly way with plenty of green spaces in-between the blocks of flats and streets that are quiet enough for children to play out on. Long time residents here have done an amazing job at protecting wildlife friendly spaces here, we are lucky enough to have a huge variety of birds and insects. My illustration 'studio' is in the living room of my flat which looks onto a walkway and some of the estate's many trees, sometimes I will sketch people who are passing by. I live here with my partner and young son and we are here to stay!

Photo supplied: Phoebe Swan

Tell us about your art and what inspires you. I try to draw from observation a lot and keep sketchbooks which I can go back to for ideas when I'm working on a book. I love drawing nature within an urban environment, and spent some time drawing at the 'Living Under One Sun' allotment which inspired a series of images I made of the local area through the seasons (pictured below).

I started making a lot of illustrations using lino print whilst on the MA in Children's Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art. However with the book I've just published, because there are a lot of details, I developed a digital technique, 'carving' into layers of scanned textures on photoshop with the eraser to try to re-create the lino print effect. This gave me a lot more flexibility to change things and move them around. You've just published your first picture book. Let us know more about that!

The main character, King Leonard is so rich that he can buy whatever he wants. Anything old or broken is thrown onto the growing pile of trash outside his castle. But one day something breaks that can’t be easily replaced. And what’s worse, King Leonard can’t find anyone who knows how to fix it. 

The story works on different levels. It’s a classic story of a child and his attachment to a beloved toy. But switching the main character to an adult allows children to laugh at his over-the-top behaviour, like throwing things out the window, while also being able to relate to his plight (no other teddy can replace his favourite one!).

The book also questions the concept of mass consumerism, which has a negative impact on our environment and communities.

At the end of the book, there is a spread of tips about reducing, reusing, and recycling waste. I'm a bit of a recycling enthusiast - I even have a wormery on our balcony making compost, but it is even better to reduce consumption in the first place. As a woman, how do you think Tottenham has changed? What would you like to see change? When I first moved here and was looking for local art classes I found Tottenham Arts which was just starting up. Taz, the founder, has brought a whole range of regular art classes to the area whereas before you would have had to travel further afield to find something like that. I also started working with her as a tutor for some classes which helped me get the experience I needed to get a permanent job as a tutor in an art college.

Now that I've become a parent I'm discovering lots of activities in the area to get involved with young children. But despite lots of lovely creative ventures people are setting up here, Tottenham is still suffering, as so many areas are, from years of 'austerity'. We need more funding to help young people, homeless people and families on low incomes. There are a lot of new flats being built but not enough of them are affordable. Unless there is a big change in the housing situation in London more and more people on lower incomes, including creative people will be pushed out.

I would also like to see more initiatives to help people make more environmentally sustainable choices - one really simple example would be to have more water fountains in public places where people can refill water bottles. Favourite thing to do in Tottenham? Going for walks along the river and on the marshes, I used to take my sketchbook with me but more often at the moment I am walking my 4 month old baby to sleep!

Anything you would like to add? My first picture book King Leonard's Teddy is available to buy now in all good bookshops as well as online at Amazon and Waterstones! If you enjoy reading it please consider leaving me a review on Amazon (you don't have to have bought the book there to do this), it really helps new authors like me to get their books seen by a wider audience, thank you!

Find out more about Phoebe and "King Leonard's Teddy":

#childrensauthors #womenartists #illustrations #reducereuserecyle #environmentalchildrensbooks