The Monthly interviews Collette Bailie, illustrator of the children’s book, “Con O’Neill’s Great Escape” – Part 1 – Art and Fashion

What are your earliest memories regarding being interested in art?

I was very arty as a child. I just loved drawing and sewing. I loved art at school, it was the main thing that I really liked.

My family did lots of creative things. My mum sewed, she would make all my clothes, my granny sewed and I still have her old sewing machine. It was just what we did in our family. My brothers were good at drawing, I was told that I good at drawing, so we really were a creative family.

It sounds like you were encouraged at home?

I was, but I don’t think it was anything like today where if your children are good at something artistic you might think they could make a career out of their artistic abilities. That wasn’t what parents were thinking when I was growing up. I think it was much more a natural thing which happened. No-one was thinking you could go and make a career in the arts.

My parents certainly didn’t say I shouldn’t do art or sewing, and even when I was saying things like I wanted to be a designer and work in London, they didn’t say I shouldn’t do that. I think in that way they were very supportive. I think my mum might have wanted me to be a teacher but they never stood in the way of the things I wanted to do.

Were you encouraged at school?

Again I just always did art. If you didn’t want to do P.E. (Physical Education) for example, you could go to the art room and work on something, or you could go there and finish a project. No-one said you couldn’t do that and so I always found myself in the art room at school. My school encouraged you if the teachers knew you were creative.

You went to Art College?

I went to York Art College in the 1980’s and the designers I liked were people like Vivienne Westwood. The big thing for me was that I just wanted to be a designer and work in the fashion industry. I don’t think I liked, or was influenced by, any designers in particular.

Did you get taught technique and skills at Art College?

It was a fashion course and you would be given a project, you would research the project, you would be taught pattern cutting, and stitching and other skills, and you would be expected to produce garments.

After I graduated, I went to London and I found a job as a knitwear designer. My first job was on Carnaby Street; it was still where the fashion industry was based in London at that time. It was the place where the manufacturers were based, and that’s where I worked for a while.

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