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The belle behind Belle & Boo

Paris, play and perpetual childhood. Artist Mandy Sutcliffe on dreaming up the whimsical world of Belle, her rabbit Boo and their playmates


Posted: 30 May 2011
by Helen McKay-Ferguson

What’s the inspiration behind Belle & Boo?
During my second year of art college I went to Paris on an exchange and it was there I started to draw children. The Parisian children were dressed with big floppy hair bows, double-breasted coats and knee high socks. It was also there I discovered the work of Bonnard and Vuillard, who remain inspirational today. I recently took a trip to New York and some lots of their work in the Met. Wow, what an amazing museum!

What are your influences?
My main inspiration comes from the books I loved as a child ­– Milly-Molly-Mandy, Winnie-the Pooh, the Flower Fairies. I have my original childhood copies which are now very well-thumbed! Secondly is painting, the first print I ever bought was Degas Dancers In Blue and it is still one of my favourites today.

What were your favourite things to do as a child?
My favourite time as a child was when I was just allowed to play. We were lucky enough to have family friends that had a huge amount of land – well it felt huge as a child! There was a forest and a tiny lake (probably a pond), a tiny pebbled beach and a bridge over a river. We were allowed to run wild for hours playing all sorts of imaginary games. It was an amazing time in my life and it makes me scared that many children cannot experience that freedom and sense of adventure today.

What did you dream of becoming when you grew up?
I always wanted to be an artist. I would spend hours making story books. They tended to look like the Mr Men books – small square and brightly-coloured.

Why do you think it’s important for children to have beautiful décor?
As a child you spend a lot of time in your room and that room is the stimulus for your imagination. I had an amazing wooden frieze of Hansel and Gretel on my wall – it was actually on my parents’ bedroom wall, as I slept in there as a very young child as they just had the one bedroom for a while. I can still strongly remember the stories and emotions that that scene inspired. It has been wonderful hearing similar stories from parents, how their children have made up background stories to my illustrations. I’ve heard that some children insist on saying goodnight to the characters in the pictures I create!

It's been said that Belle represents you as a child. What’s it like having a mini-me?
Now that was not intentional, but many people have pointed out that she looks like a mini me! I guess it’s exciting and flattering that she is out there in the world, in different people’s homes. Recently I heard from a customer in Canada that her niece took her cut out Belle doll to show and tell, that’s pretty cool. I’ve always wanted to go to Quebec!

Did you ever have a rabbit as a child?
I went to a tiny village school and sadly it was closed due to funding. But it did mean I got the classroom rabbit, who was a huge white bunny called Chalky.

Do you ever feel like you are living in a perpetual childhood?
I have my moments! I am just about to start work on the first Belle & Boo picture book for Orchard, so I think getting into the mindset of a four or five year old little girl and her bunny will be essential over the next few months.

A woolly mammoth appears in some of your pictures. Where did he come from?
I drew him very early on when Belle & Boo first started selling to wholesalers. One of our customers had a lovely website called Woolly Mammoth and I offered to design the website banner and we all loved the illustration so much we decided to sell it as a print, too.

What do you think made Belle & Boo stand out in the judging of our Junior Design Awards?
We love what we do at Belle & Boo and try to make every aspect of the buying experience as thoughtful as possible. Our prints are framed with locally sourced bespoke wooden frames, supplied with a certificate of authenticity and a screen-printed packaging box. However, ultimately I hope it is the level of the drawing that makes us stand out. My illustrations may look simple, but I spend hours, maybe days, trying to get every small detail just right. I love talking to our customers – sharing ideas and hearing theirs. It’s the community of Belle & Boo that makes it such a magical place to share.

Belle & Boo were joint winners of our Junior Design Award for Best Interiors Collection (Decor).
See more of Mandy's beautiful artwork.


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Belle And Boo, Mandy Sutcliffe, Junior Design Awards, Best Interiors Collection, Decor
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