Great Women – A Fanfare of Fabulous Females

(Cicely Mary Hamilton, illustration by Sandy Nightingale)

Great Women is a joint project from The Two Sandies: Sandi Toksvig writes the words and Sandy Nightingale paints the pictures. I have been a fan of the series for many months and was delighted to get the chance to speak with Sandy Nightingale early in May.

I asked Sandy how her career as an illustrator started.

” I didn’t start out as an illustrator. I went to Croydon Art College to study Fashion but the course didn’t quite suit me. At that time the fashion industry in England based it’s fine reputation around the quality of pattern cutting rather than design. That wasn’t really for me. I was much more interested in the design than in the putting together the finished article. Essentially I wanted to design clothes not cut material. So I changed to illustration.”

“I left college with no business skills and unsure as to how to make a living as an illustrator so I found myself an agent. The commission charged was huge, some 30%, but it got me started with work on book covers and the like. There was no royalty paid to the illustrator so even if a book sold really well, and even when the success was down to the illustrations as much as the words,  I still only got paid a flat fee and often had to sign away image rights too.”

“So I took my portfolio in to Pan & Picador, where I met Gary Day-Ellison. Gary is a brilliant art director and while I didn’t get any work I did get dinner. Gary encouraged me to write my own books to get more benefit from my artwork.  I wrote A Giraffe on the Moon and a number of other books for children.”

So how did Great Women come about?

“I wanted to illustrate books other than books for children and approached Little, Brown , who put me in touch with Sandi Toksvig. Sandi and I met over afternoon tea at The Savoy and we got on really well from the start. Sandi came up with the idea of writing about a feisty, aristocratic woman travelling around Europe in the Victorian Era and The Travels of Lady Bulldog Burton was born. Due to changes at the publishing house the book didn’t get the promotion that it deserved and was actually launched alongside another book of Sandy’s, The Gladys Society. The books had little in common and so Lady B suffered as a consequence and so Sandi and I created the blog.”

“We had really enjoyed working together on Lady B and wanted another project. We were both fascinated by some of the larger than life, but little known, women throughout history and decided to create a book to celebrate their lives. We produced 6 and took them to publishers and while the female members of the boards loved the idea and were keen for us to go ahead the men were less keen and the project never got going as a book. We then approached The Lady magazine and Great Women was published there as a monthly feature. When that run came to an end we created the blog and continue to add great women.”

And how do you decide which women to feature?

“We come up with ideas together and when Sandi writes the words the pictures often jump straight out at me and I know straight away what the illustration will look like. Cicely Mary Hamilton, (illustration above) is one of my favourites. Imagine forming a repertory company that toured the western front in WWI – what an amazing woman – and the illustration was a joy to create.”

And what next for you?

I’ve just completed a book in the ology range from Templar Books and Santas Handbook should be on the shelves by the Autumn. I’m also working on a picture book for under 6’s which should be available Christmas 2012.”

If you haven’t already done so, check out Sandy’s work on posterous. It really is fantastic and the words from Sandy Toksvig are sure to raise a smile.

And you can order illustrations from Sandy direct at

(First published June 2011)

2 Comments on Great Women – A Fanfare of Fabulous Females

  1. Just lovely work. Really recommend a trip to Sandy’s site and check out The Two Sandy’s project too.

  2. I’m a huge fan of The Two Sandys, it’s rare you see such a perfect pairing of words and pictures.

    Thanks for sharing the interview.

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