Author and illustrator of our new Little Gestalten favorite talks us through how food brings different cultures together
Did you know that eating apples during Xin Nian (Chinese New Year) is said to bring good wishes for peace, or that a parade is held in honor of Papà del Gnoco in Verona to celebrate Italian Carnevale, he was the bearded king who loved to eat potato dumplings called gnocchi, or that it takes over 40 liters of maple sap to produce one liter of Canadian syrup during the harvest? Food brings people and culture together in special ways, from celebrations to quick-fix meals while on the move. British illustrator and author Beth Walrond takes us on a playful journey of culinary traditions across the world in our latest release, A Taste of the World.
We can be so consumed in modern society at times that we forget to acknowledge the relevance behind a certain dish or celebration. There are so many questions that children ask about the pasta, rice, or baguette laid on the table from breakfast to dinner. This book helps you answer a few of those questions.
From the origins of Thanksgiving in America, Christmas in Germany, or how Iran celebrates its new year Nowruz, A Taste of the World is an insightful journey into festive feasting. To mark the release, we find out how Beth, an illustrator who has worked on an international level for the likes of Wired, The New York Times, The Guardian, and Wall Street Journal to name a few, created this book.
Hi Beth, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do for a living?
I’m 26 years old and from the United Kingdom, I am a freelance illustrator who now lives in Berlin. I make illustrations for a range of clients, international newspapers and magazines, and design agencies for advertising projects.
What was your route into illustration, was this always on the cards for you?
No, I wanted to be a marine biologist for most of my young life, but started getting real enjoyment out of art the more I did it in school. I studied it further at college and started becoming really interested in poster and album cover design. I had no idea what illustration was until I did a Google search for, ‘What should I study to make poster drawings and the word 'illustration' came back. It sounded perfect for what I wanted, so I decided to go down that route.
I studied illustration at Falmouth University, a great course where we had the opportunity to try out everything, and learn a lot about the industry. After three years of studying, I decided to try out getting some freelance commissions and being self-employed, something I hadn’t ever imagined myself doing. Almost 5 years later and I love the work I get to do and the freedom that it can offer.
Do you remember your first commission and what you produced?
I was in New York, on a portfolio trip with some classmates and tutors, running around the city showing our work to different potential clients. I got an email one day, from Alec Dudson at Intern Magazine in the UK. He asked if I would like to illustrate a piece for them. I must have thought it was spam and replied asking if he’d really seen my work. I couldn’t really believe that someone wanted my illustrations in exchange for money and that it would be in a magazine! The piece was praising the intern schemes in Germany, which is funny because I had no idea at that moment that I would end up living there a few months later… I did the commission as soon as I was back in the UK. I was nervous but it was a very enjoyable first experience.
How would you describe your style?
Chunky, bright, textural… I get a lot of inspiration from hours of people watching-I think I am very influenced by characters and shape.
Who inspired you growing up?
My grandmother is an amazing painter and drawer, and I was always in awe of how she drew realistic plants and animals-then made them her own by drawing funny little frogs and insects on them.
From the UK to Berlin: What made you move and how are you finding life in Berlin?
It was quite a spur of the moment decision because I realized that if I was going to be freelance then I could live anywhere I wanted. I went to visit a couple of friends in Berlin, thought that I could imagine myself there, so booked my one-way flight not long after. It took quite a while to feel really settled, a long period of flat hopping and working from my bedroom. But slowly everything clicked into place and now it’s home!
Do you prefer working in magazines or advertising?
I really like the variety that working on both has to offer. I love snappy editorial projects which require you to communicate an idea on a short deadline, and I also love responding to a piece written by someone else. With advertising projects I really enjoy working within the boundaries set by a client, for example, a specific color palette or other set brand elements, it’s a really fun process to create a kind of collaboration between your work and a brand.
Can you tell us about the new Little Gestalten book, how it came about, and what you created?
I love to travel to new countries and learn about different cultures and cuisines, so this book idea came about quite naturally when I decided I’d like to write and illustrate a non-fiction book for children. Originally I wanted the book to travel around the world, introducing different cuisines and facts about food. As the book developed, it became clear that each country had celebrations or festivals which brought many cultural and culinary elements together, and so this became a focus for each place.
What’s your favorite story from the book?
Whilst researching the book I got to know lots of amazing stories about food and different celebrations around the world. One of my favorite little facts is that part of the Great Wall of China is made from a mortar which is made from sticky rice flour.
Life as an illustrator: What do illustrators do on a daily basis that not many people might know about?
There is a lot of email writing and business type stuff, which tries very hard to keep us busy from drawing. We also spend most of our time thinking about or discussing lunch.
Have you seen anything recently that has inspired you or made you look differently at design?
I recently spent two weeks in Georgia. While traveling around there I was shown into many monasteries from as long ago as the 6th century. I was completely amazed by the painted facades inside them, they all had such a strong sense of style, within the figures and patterns, and also incredible color palettes.