Natural Born Illustrator

Thu 14 Oct 2010 by Jo_Moore

Chloe Cheese at Castor and Pollux

Arriving with a two portfolios bulging with drawings, prints, sketches and books she proceeded to "talk through the heap" and explain how she has arrived where she is with her work today. Her main theme being that the experiences and decisions she made along the way have led her to now produce work mainly for exhibitions, limited edition books and a few selective private commissions.

The first piece out for the folio was a sheet of printed wallpaper that had been on her bedroom wall as a child. The strong, graphic pattern depicting stylised birds and branches on a cream background would have been a charming backdrop to any child, but the difference is this was designed by Chloe's mother Sheila Robinson. Both her mother and father (Bernard Cheese) were practising artists and designers and were part of an artistic community living and working in Great Bardfield, Essex in the 1950s and 60s. Her mother was great friends with Edward Bawden and Michael Rothenstein, among many others, and it was quite usual for Chloe to visit their homes and studios. She vividly describes the houses' "inspiring interiors" full of wonderful Victorian things. It's easy to see how these places directly influenced her later visual repertoire with it's arrangements of domestic objects and eye for decorative detail. She was a voracious reader and Edward (Bawden) had a "lovely library of books" from which he used to lend her subversive and "odd stories". The picture she paints of her childhood is an idyllic one full of opportunities to paint and draw with few outside distractions; the infant Chloe sitting at one end of the kitchen table drawing while her mother worked at the other end is, indeed, an "enchanting" image. Being surrounded by artistic practice and given encouragement from grown ups it seemed the most natural thing to "follow in their footsteps" into the "glamorous and interesting world".

After going initially to art college at Cambridge, which had a "lovely printmaking department" she was encouraged to apply to the Royal College of Art, where her mother was a tutor. It was only on getting to know other students that she became "aware of (the) advantage" of her upbringing and background. Unlike some other students there was "never a strangeness of art".

She was part of an illustrious group of young illustrators and her contemporaries included; Janet Woolley, Ian Pollock and Robert Mason. The bond between the group was strong and they "respected and liked each others work" a great deal and were very supportive. At the RCA you were "free to be yourself" and allow your work to develop over the three years of the Post Graduate course. Chloe spent time working at the RCA's studio in Paris, a location that she still revisits in her work today. From the way Chloe describes it the atmosphere at the RCA seemed rather inward looking; the students were concerned with producing interesting work, but they were little aware that anyone on the 'outside' would be interested in it. They were also sure that they were too late for the golden age of illustration - "we've missed the 60s, oh shit!".

When they left college they were breaking onto the scene in the late 1970s when there was a "mini revolution" in illustration. They wanted their work "to be less superficial" and they "believed in (their) images". Not surprisingly, they all became successful and their work went on to influence a generation of illustrators who came along after them. Although Chloe does remember being told by an art director that there is "no living to be made from drawing food"! Despite a couple of lean years she soon gained regular commissions from The Sunday Times, and Terence Conran - doing lots of food illustrations, actually! She was also one of the first artists to be taken on by the Central Illustration Agency (CIA), London founded by Brian Grimwood. From this point on her trajectory was definitely upwards with plenty of illustration commissions and her colourful, sensitive drawings accompanied articles, annuals, products and books.

After a break to have her family she returned to illustration working on the Mother Goose Award nominated book 'Walking on the Bridge of your Nose' by Michael Rosen. Her own experience and understanding of small children proved a great asset for project as well as her fondness to "make up a little world in my head". Alongside her illustration work Chloe has been producing print work for exhibitions; an area that has developed more in recent years. She usually has three or four projects on the go at a time and is working towards various deadlines. When asked if she would illustrate full time again she seemed reluctant to return to it stating very sweetly that "I don't like people telling me what to do". A key piece of advice she gives to us is "direct yourself to what you want to do", hopefully, this leads to more satisfying work. Her broad experience as an illustrator has allowed her to work with some very good art directors but "that didn't happen often". Her main gripe towards them is that "they don't value drawing, as they don't do it". And she fears that "illustrators are not so valued as they used to be". However, she resists criticising all aspects of the contemporary illustration world and confirms that there are "some fantastic things going on now" sighting her daughter (who is currently studying illustration at the RCA) and her fellow students taking advantage of the blurred boundaries between many art practices and the liberation this offers.

In the meantime we must hope that Chloe continues to produce her totally charming drawings of; moist-eyed mackerel, checkered table cloths, quizzical cats, smoky French bars, vases of anemones, floral-decorated jugs, twiddly-legged chairs, acid lemons, cabbages, cakes and cafes.

We'd like to thank Chloe for taking the time to come and visit. If you would like to see more of Chloe¨'s work she is appearing in a couple of forthcoming exhibitions with the St Jude's Gallery. Go to for more information. To see more pictures from the BiG meeting go to[email protected]/