Out of Africa

I was born in Zimbabwe and spent most of my early childhood outside, exploring and looking at the amazing plants and trees and a whole host of fascinating creatures such as chameleons, millipedes, ants and snakes. My best friends were native African children from the Shona tribe who are natural artists. Together, we made paints from things found in the garden and beyond - rocks, earth, plants, fruit - and we painted animals, flowers and patterns onto rocks, tree trunks and the hard, dry earth. At the age of six I made my first big artwork – a mural painted on the outside wall of my parent’s very white house. They were very liberal about it because when the rains came, the pictures were all washed away leaving the wall clean.

We came to Britain when I was eight and although life was very different, I continued to paint anything and everything. I liked drawing, but paint was, and still is, my favourite medium. As I grew up I painted walls, furniture, paper, wood, rocks, doors and fabrics – anything really. If I didn’t paint, I wrote little stories on old computer paper or on the back of  huge weather maps (my father was a meteorologist!) –  which I then illustrated and made into small books. They nearly always featured animals and plants and patterns.

As a student, I first studied fashion and textile design - then photography. I have worked as a commercial and industrial photographer - then, following a break to bring up a family, as a mural and trompe l’oeil artist. Commissions included projects in both private houses and commercial buildings.

My first children’s book, Chicky Chicky Chook Chook, published by Boxer Books in March 2007, was very much in the style of the African paintings of my childhood. This was followed by two more books, Monkey Monkey Monkey, and Spooky Spooky Spooky - both published in 2009. Bunny Bunny Catkin was published in July 2011 and was shortlisted in the V&A Illustration Awards 2012. My latest title When When When Will It Be Christmas? was published October 2014. I'm now working on some quite different ideas for picture books, alongside other creative projects. I have also written a story for the CBeebies series Driver Dan's Story Train.

My work is presently focused on writing and illustrating for children, design commissions, painting and experimenting with early photographic processes, such as cyanotypes. I work from my studio at the bottom of the garden. From here, I can see birds and bumble bees and watch the seasons alter the plants and trees.

Photo: Debbie Harrowell – Natural Images Photography

a young Cathy MacLennan

Cathy MacLennan