Christmas spirit

Local illustrator Jessica Harrison is the talented artist behind this year’s official RTW Together Christmas posters. Eileen Leahy spoke to her about how the project came about and what she loved most about capturing the festive spirit in some of our
town’s most famous landmarks…


Congratulations on your wonderful illustrations of Tunbridge Wells which feature as part of RTW’s Joy to the Wells this year. How did the commission come about?

Last year, I applied to be featured in the Tunbridge Wells Colouring Book – a wonderful free gift guide which Royal Tunbridge Wells Together launched during a special Art Week in the town. I did six black-and-white linear sketches and apparently my illustrations went down very well so I was asked back. This time the brief was to create some festive scenes in colour to depict the beauty of the town for Christmas 2023.


How many illustrations did you do in total and which places in Tunbridge Wells feature in the campaign?

I did four original watercolour and gouache paintings. The ones of the Pantiles and Chapel Place reflect the fun of the Big Reveal event when the town’s lights are switched on. I did bright and luminous for the Pantiles and a slightly more traditional A Christmas Carol style for Chapel Place. I then did two more illustrations for The Amelia and The Clock Tower at Fiveways. For the Amelia I created a sunny, snowy day with carol singers a busy, happy afternoon skating around the clock tower.


Did you pick the various locations or were you guided by RTW Together?

The locations were suggested by RTW. They had a great vision of what they wanted the artwork to include and we were really on the same page. They gave me a lovely amount of artistic license to include a bit of storytelling in each of the paintings.


Which was your favourite spot to paint?

All of them! They were all challenging in their own right and the results were quite exciting because of the use of colour. I think that I find the clock tower painting the most charming because of the soft tones and that the figures look happy! The Amelia Scott was appealing because of the perspective while The Pantiles has great luminosity thanks to the lights festooned along it. Chapel Place was great to paint as it has fantastic atmosphere. It certainly makes you realise how spoilt we are for beautiful architecture in Tunbridge Wells.


Is this the first time you have done something like this project?

It was definitely the first of its kind for me as an artist! Since working on this year’s RTW project I have illustrated for the TN Card app.


What do you love about capturing Tunbridge Wells in your work?

The history, the feel of tradition and the ordinary busyness of a town. It’s a very sociable town. I have always admired the beauty of The Pantiles’ architecture and I love taking my small children to the Amelia Scott. It’s a superb building and has an amazing children’s library.


Can you tell us what the reaction has been to your collaboration with RTW?

It has been so positive. I feel very touched and very grateful. It was a great project to push my skills and expose myself!


Will your festive illustrations be possible to buy as postcards/posters at all?

The illustrations are owned by RTW, but it might well be a possibility. I am always open to discuss future projects and I do have an absolute passion for Christmas!!


Have you always painted and what do you love most about it?

It has always been a part of my life, from a young age. My career before children and lockdown was actually in retail business – I was an area manager – so very different! I feel very lucky to be able to work in something that makes me so happy and that enables me to be present at home too.


What do you do now?

I am a children’s illustrator, also (@lalalu_letters is my instagram handle). I often think that this combined with building portraits and illustrations is interesting, because it maybe brings some more imagination and fun into the subject matter. I really love the way painting pushes me to explore details that I think we could pass by or take for granted. I love working with colour. A lot of people say it’s relaxing…but I don’t, I think it’s challenging – in a really exciting way and the results are nearly always unexpected.

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