Henny Beaumont, graphic novelist, freelance illustrator and political cartoonist, is WIA featured artist this week. Beaumont recently illustrated a children’s book about Lady Hale, Equal To Everything, published just after Lady Hale’s historic announcement at the Supreme Court, which led to an outraged article in the Daily Mail! Her political cartoons and illustrations have appeared in The Guardian, BBC, Society of Authors, Counsel Magazine, Canary, The Morning Star, as well many as other publications.
Beaumont has written a moving graphic memoir Hole in the Heart about bringing up her daughter, Beth, and received an Arts Council Award for her second graphic novel about poetry TBP and was long listed for the Women Poets’ Prize. Henny Beaumont is a director, founder and animation judge of Hackney Shorts Film Festival and artist in residence for the Hay Festival and Stoke Newington Literary Festival 2019 and currently artist in residence for Poets for the Planets.
She has an MA in Fine Art printmaking from Camberwell College of Art.
WIA: What are you doing today?
Henny Beaumont: I’m sitting in the passenger seat of a car on my way to Wales.
WIA: Tell us about your creative process.
HB: Drawing is fundamental to my work and underpins everything I do. My process slightly depends what I’m working on. If it’s a political cartoon, I immerse myself in the news, listen to the radio, read the papers and then step away. Often I’ll have a vision, either running, or in the shower, after an intense period of research. I draw in pencil and then feel totally depressed that I’m unable to produce the magnificence of my vision in the shower. With a lot of work and re-working, I get a little bit closer to my initial idea and feel hopeful when there is an alchemy of form and feeling. I photograph my work to check that my compositions work in different scales and send them to a friend who’s an artist to make sure the image works and is comprehensible. With a book it’s similar but a more lengthy research phase. I usually repaint the same image a number of times to achieve the gestural marks and the lightness of touch that I’m after.
WIA: Describe where you do most of your creative work.
HB: I have a studio in my garden, but I draw everywhere and all the time.
WIA: What’s the most exciting project you’ve worked on?
HB: Working on Equal to Everything a children’s book about Lady Hale was pretty exciting, partly due to the extraordinary timing. We launched at the Supreme Court, two weeks after Lady Hale made the historic judgement against Boris Johnson [that the decision by the PM to advise the Queen to prorogue parliament was unlawful].
Cartooning for the Guardian is pretty exciting. I like a tight deadline. You have to work very quickly, but also I really like the immediacy of the experience. It’s great getting feedback on the work so quickly and being able to reach a large audience. I love drawing from life, with the added pressure of an audience at big events like Hay Festival, and equally get excited by standing in a wet field trying to draw a tree in the rain on my own.
WIA: What made you decide to become an artist?
HB: I’m not sure if I ever decided, as such, to be an artist. At school, art lessons were always the place I was most happy and comfortable. I was a naughty teenager and bunked off all my other lessons to spend my time in the art room. When I went to foundation it was such a relief to be doing what I wanted all day, I’ve never wanted to do anything else.
WIA: What are you currently working on?
HB: I’m mainly working on a new graphic novel about therapy and poetry, funded by the Arts Council.
WIA: Do you listen to music while you work, and if so, what’s your soundtrack?
HB: I listen to BBC Radio 6 when I know what I’m doing, but I have to have silence when I’m working out ideas. I also listen to PJ Harvey, her early albums, a lot.
WIA: What are the key themes in your work?
HB: I like to think that I’m just interested in drawing for its own sake, but my work does tend to focus on injustice, discrimination and politics. I wrote a graphic novel about the difficulty of having a child with Downs Syndrome [Hole in the Heart], illustrated a book about Lady Hale and the law. I’m artist in residence for Poets for the Planet and I’m about to work for the Fawcett Society (equal pay organisation) conference Courage Call’s and political cartooning, so yes, political themes.
WIA: What would you like people to notice in your work?
HB: I want people to connect with the work, so that it resonates with them and they recognise the feeling that’s put into the work. With cartoons I try and use humour to get people to think or see a situation in a different way. I like people to appreciate the work on a formal level and be impressed by the drawing and respond on an emotional level.
WIA: What attracts you to the mediums you work in?
HB: I like the directness of pen on paper. I often use ink so that I can’t fiddle with the image. I’d rather re-draw from the beginning than alter a line that I’m not happy with.
WIA: What equipment could you not do without?
HB: Pen and paper. My sketchbooks. 12. I love James Gillray and William Blake and Steve Bell for Cartoons. Phillip Guston, Bonnard, Goya, Turner, Louise Bourgeois, Rose Wylie and Agnes Martin, to name a few, for paintings and Poetry: Alice Oswald, Anne Carson and Louise Gluck.
WIA: How does gender affect your work?
HB: I’m very aware of the fact that there are very few political cartoonists who are women. Doing the opinion cartoon for the Guardian was a very big deal for me. I don’t particularly talk about gender politics in my work, although thinking about it now makes me want to, but I feel it’s important I continue to address big political moments as a woman and have a voice and place to do that.
WIA: What’s your favourite gallery, or place to see or experience art?
HB: Tate modern, because I can always persuade a member of my family to come with me, and because of the views from the top.
WIA: If you could own one piece of art, what would it be and why?
HB: I would love to own a Bonnard landscape-the big pink one with the mad dark bits in the middle. His use of paint is so inventive, the surface is so beautiful, the composition is so unusual and unexpected . I’ve loved Bonnard since hearing Patrick Heron talk about him. He made me see what a creative genius he is and the importance of the edges and surface of his work.
WIA: If you could collaborate with one artist, from any time, who would it be, and why?
HB: Robert Rauschenberg, because he was a good collaborator. There’d be no point choosing some artistic diva like Picasso, who probably wouldn’t let you get a look in. Rauschenberg would’ve been very good fun and I’d loved to have been involved in all his crazy dance, painting and sculptural projects.
WIA: Is there an artist, movement or collective you’d like to see re-evaluated, or a contemporary artist who is underrated?
HB: Perhaps a re-evaluation of illustrators of children’s books. I love William Steig.
WIA: What’s your favourite colour
HB: Dark blue.