Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures

School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies

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Ailsa Burrows

BA (Hons) Fine Art 2007

Author & Illustrator of Children’s Books

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
I was born in Yorkshire and grew up surrounded by a creative family. My twin sister studied Fine Art at the University of Leeds alongside me, and our Grandpa, who was an architect, also studied here many years ago. I always knew that I wanted to study Art, so it wasn’t difficult deciding which BA to do. After completing my degree I worked at a design agency for a short time before working at two art galleries; Tate and The Hepworth Wakefield. All the while I was also undertaking freelance illustration commissions, and I left the world of art galleries in 2012 to study towards an MA in Children’s Book Illustration.

What made you choose to study your course? And why did you choose Leeds?
I studied Fine Art with History of Art. I chose Leeds because I wanted to underpin my practical art work with a critical and informed approach. I also chose the University of Leeds because its Fine Art course was relatively high up The Times’ league table at the time.

What are your fondest memories of your time at Leeds?
I particularly enjoyed the final year of my degree; I gained a lot from working on the Practice In Context module and some of my happiest memories are of preparing for the degree show with my course mates. I also made great, life-long friendships on the course and I met my future husband Gareth.

Where do you currently work and what is your job title?
I’m a children’s book author and illustrator based in York.

Can you tell us about your day-to-day role?
My day-to-day work varies greatly depending on what stage of a project I’m at. It might include writing, drawing or meeting a publisher, or sometimes I just spend a day scratching my head in search of a new idea for a story.

How do you think your degree has helped you in your career? In particular, what skills did you learn and how do you use these in your job?
An invaluable skill that I gained from my BA was a different way of thinking. It equipped me with an inquisitive, questioning and critical approach that I now apply throughout my life. The History of Art element of the course also honed my research and writing skills, which came in handy during my MA and are now useful when I’m writing young fiction.

How would you sum up your time at Leeds?
I learned a great deal during my time at Leeds. Before commencing my BA I thought that studying Fine Art would involve a tutor telling you how to sculpt, paint, draw or photograph something, and I believed that studying History of Art would involve, for example, looking at a painting and simply analysing what it was that we could see. It came as a surprise (a rather pleasant one!) when I realised that the course would involve far, far more than that, and ultimately its critical and philosophical approach taught me a huge amount.

What are your plans for the future?
I gained a distinction in MA Children’s Book Illustration earlier this year and my first children’s book will be out next year. Alongside developing my next books I’ll continue to work on freelance illustration commissions.

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