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Name and position: Sheena Dempsey, children’s book illustrator and author

Thursday, 9th August, 2018 12:03pm

Name and position: Sheena Dempsey, children’s book illustrator and author

Age: 36

Lives: Folkestone, south-east Kent in the UK

Family: My partner Mick Keigher who is from Bishopstown and our lovable hound

Pets: An ex-racing greyhound called Sandy. We adopted her from a rescue centre in Surrey five years ago but we discovered a few months later that she is actually an Irish dog. She was born in Mitchelstown before she was brought over to the UK to race. Her life is now as a sofa dog rather than a racing dog, and her ultimate goal in life is to eat as many pigs’ ear treats as she is allowed.

Favourite thing about Cork: How friendly people are. It’s really off the scale and makes it a lovely place to run errands or go shopping in. 

Least favourite thing about Cork: It’s just because I grew up here, but I will always associate it with dark, wet Monday mornings and having to get up for school. It feels like a dreary place to me sometimes.

One thing you’d change about Cork: The weather!

When you were small, what did you want to be as a grown-up?

I used to want to be a veterinarian until I got to secondary school, where I quickly figured out that the sciences did not come as easily to me as arts subjects.

Tell us about your career progression to your role today:

In a nutshell, I did a Fine Art degree in Dun Laoghaire 2006, then an Illustration MA in Kingston in London in 2010. I was lucky to get my first picture book idea published by Walker Books but it wasn’t plain sailing from there. It’s been a tricky journey to navigate, but I feel I’m in a good place right now where I seem to be very busy these last few years.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of what you do?

Drawing of course, but also I love not having to commute! I can work from my house and have my dog with me throughout the day.

What motivates you?

Deadlines, and there is no shortage of them. If it weren’t for deadlines I would be much less efficient! I think the job is very creatively satisfying, too, though. I want to draw because I like it, and it feels fun and exciting to have lots of books on the go.

What advice would you give your 15 year old self?

I think I would say ‘Hang in there, it won’t always be like this. Good things are on their way.’ My mother died at only 48 when I was 13. Needless to say life was tough during those years.

If you weren’t in the job you have, what would you be doing?

Working with animals I hope. My second best job to date was working in a daycare for dogs in Vancouver during a year away in Canada. My favourite dog was a French bulldog called Patch who ate her own poo and refused to go for a walk. I also remember a dog called Gus, a maniacal collie who was eventually expelled for being disruptive while the other dogs were trying to have their afternoon nap. They were entertaining times.

What is your greatest life or career achievement to-date?

I think having the courage to change agents at the right time, which saved my career. There was a tricky period about four years ago when things weren’t going so brilliantly. My agent at the time had a great reputation as she was more experienced, but it wasn’t a good match. I took a chance to switch to an unknown agent (who has since become an industry powerhouse) and it has been absolutely brilliant. She gives me tons of support, advice and time.

Who has had the biggest influence on you in your life?

I would say my partner Mick. We met when I was 21 so we’ve been together nearly 15 years. He’s been a tremendous support to me and we’ve sort of grown together throughout our twenties and thirties.

What is the life dream now?

To continue working as an illustrator and keep growing as an artist. I keep saying I should take time out from illustrating after the next few books to write another picture book as I have been doing less writing as more and more illustration work has been coming through. It’s hard to turn down paid illustration work to develop ideas on spec though!

How do you switch off?

A walk or run along the seafront.

What is your favourite Cork memory?

Running around in the woods and streams that were near the house I grew up in

What is your favourite place in Cork?

The house in Rochestown that I grew up in.

Do you have a favourite quote or motto?

‘It always seems impossible till it’s done’ - Nelson Mandela. It’s a quote about perseverance, and I apply that when I am working on a difficult illustration. Everything seems uphill when I’m in front of the blank page. Sometimes it all looks like a dog’s dinner, I never believe it will come right but then I keep pushing through, adding details and colours and textures and then...poof! It sort of clicks into place. I love that feeling.

When are you at your happiest?

Sitting out in the sun with a glass of wine, chatting with some good friends.

Any regrets?

No regrets, I don’t see the point. Mine has been a very circuitous route to where I am. I used to wish I’d gotten here faster so I’d be further ahead by now, but then I wouldn’t have the life experiences I had. 

What is your hidden talent?

Struggling to think of any. Being really good at administering belly rubs to my dog? She seems to agree I have a talent and is always wanting more. 

What might we be surprised to know about you?

I hate organised fun or doing things in groups. The typical hen party scenario is what my nightmares are made of.

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

Some books I’ve recently illustrated that are in shops now or coming soon are ‘Gringer the Whinger’ by Jane Landy, ‘Yoga Babies’ and ‘Hungry Babies’ by Fearne Cotton, ‘The Dodo Made Me Do It’ by Jo Simmons. Look out for mermaids, wizards, lizards and bad pandas next year, too!

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