Sophie J Cunningham

Sophie J Cunningham is living proof of an age old vital fact about illustration: working traditionally will simply never go out of style.

In this increasingly digitalised age, not being super top notch on your photoshopping skills or not being able to afford the most recent C200 Adobe suite (which’ll only set you back a couple thousand hundred pounds of course) can make you feel a bit lost in the times; however illustrators like Sophie are here to show how you can throw your Wacom tablet into the wind and make absolutely stunning work with just a brush and some paints.

Having just graduated from the Edinburgh College of Art and still maintaining that she doesn’t “quite know if I have a career yet“, Sophie’s style is entirely hand painted- a delicate way of working that requires a lot of patience, but also produces rather beautiful results. The tone and texture of her pieces have a lot more depth and soul thanks to this I believe, and her hand-drawn lettering is very original yet as neat and crisp as any computer type face.

When asked this question [on why she works so traditionally] I usually joke that I don’t work digitally because I don’t know how to use the Adobe suite (I don’t have a clue!), but really it’s just because I love what I do. I’ve always painted. It does take a long time and I often end up with a claw for a hand after a hard days work, but the satisfaction  I get from the work, as well as people’s reactions to my paintings makes it worth it for me. It feels nice to be doing something that’s a little different. At the moment, I just want to keep doing what I enjoy, but I’d never rule out working digitally in the future.

In content her work definitely has the kind of look that would be perfect for things such as children’s books and decorations: it’s vibrant, adorable, and slightly stylised. However she also has produced some more elegant pattern designs (such as the vinyl cover for Elton John’s Bennie and the Jets album that you can see in the top insert picture to the left hand side).

She also professes that she “devoured encyclopedias as a child” leaving her with a great love for “anything to do with natural history“. This interest can really be seen in a lot of her works – her final University year was devoted to researching polar exploration, and it’s really lovely to see old subjects or events such as the adventures of Ernest Shackleton or William Hardy (who discovered circulation of the blood) be rediscovered and imagined by her. As she says herself: “I really enjoy taking historic imagery and making it accessible and relevant today”.

And as for the future she is currently balancing a part time job with painting to keep herself afloat, but if anybody is around in Edinburgh from mid-August this year she has her first solo exhibition in Eteaket on Frederick Street for the duration of the Fringe, which I’d highly recommend checking out. She would also love to design her own range of illustrated merchandise- “Maybe even a shop to sell it in (a girl can dream!)”


To see more of Sophie’s work look below: