Gemma’s debut is a beautiful tribute to community and friendship, allowing little ones to explore the magic of nature and the joy of letting their imagination run free. Through elegant illustrations we follow Sylvia who befriends a starling and learns that sometimes things are better when you have someone to share them with. We couldn’t agree more and wanted to share it with you, our lovely Frugi customers!
Watch the bedtime story below and enjoy!
DON’T FORGET TO SHARE YOUR LITTLE ONES ENJOYING BEDTIME STORIES WITH US @WELOVEFRUGI USING #FRUGIBEDTIMESTORIES
Frugi Meets Gemma Koomen…
Hi Gemma, please tell us about yourself?
Hello I’m Gemma Koomen an artist, illustrator and author. I live in Northumberland, UK with my
husband Jody and our two daughters aged 9 and 12. I have been illustrating professionally for
about 6 years, have worked for clients such as Flow magazine and Quarto books, run an online
shop and have my greeting cards and prints stocked in shops all over the world. We like to live
quite simply, currently home educating and spending as much time in nature as we can on the
organic farm we currently live on. As a family we enjoy swimming and traveling, reading books
and sketching together.
Did you always want to be an illustrator?
As a child I was always drawing and was keen to become an illustrator, animator and a fashion
designer. I always knew I wanted to do something visually creative. I ended up doing my degree
in photography but I kept drawing and keeping sketchbooks so when I focused on illustration
many years later it felt very natural.
When did you write your first book and what encouraged you to become an author and
I wrote my first book in 2018 which was published in 2019. I have always loved picture books
and when I had children we spent so much time pouring over them that I felt a huge desire to be
able to make one of my own. I was busy building my portfolio and online audience when I was
contacted by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books to make a picture book for their ‘first editions’
series and this is how the Tree Keepers came to be.
What are your favourite mediums to use when creating? Have they changed or evolved
at all over time?
I find acrylic gouache really satisfying because it’s really nice to layer, I can paint things in and
out until they are how I want them to be. Lately I’ve loved using inks and liquid watercolour
mixed into the gouache and touches of colour pencil. I enjoy the process of playing with
materials. I love to try new mediums out and incorporate them if they are fun to use.
As a parent, have you introduced your little girls to the world of illustrating?
Absolutely, it’s one of the main ways that we bond. We could spend most of the day drawing
together and not get bored. As they get older I have started introducing them to online classes
and courses and we have fun doing them together. Both our girls have their own stories that
they work on and have folders stuffed full of illustrations of the characters and settings in them.
Tell us about your book Flock: A Tree Keeper Adventure and the inspiration behind it?
My book Flock: A tree Keeper Adventure (or The Tree Keepers if you have the paperback)
centers around the character Sylvia who prefers to be alone rather than play noisy games with
the other Tree Keepers. But one day, she finds a baby bird in her favourite hiding place. As
Sylvia and the bird become friends, she learns that sometimes, things are better when you have
someone to share them with.
The inspiration for the story came from a few different places; witnessing a huge starling
murmuration with my daughters at a nearby river, my observations in nature where my mind
imagined the possibility of tiny people interacting with the plants and animals, living in a small
rural community, and what my children were experiencing at the time.
My daughters were particularly sensitive and hesitant about making friends, just as I was at their
age. I wanted to tell a story that could help my youngest, who was starting school, with a
character she could relate to who is able to enjoy solitary time as well as find ways to connect
with others, and find her place within the community.
Your Instagram feed is a visually wonderful journal of illustrations. Please tell us about
these drawings and what they mean to you. Do you carry a sketchbook with you
everywhere you go?
Thank you. I love to share my process with people. I find it satisfying to go a bit deeper into my
inspirations and tell a bit of the story behind a painting. I like to test out ideas too and see what
reaction people have, I find that helps me to refine what it is I’m making. I do carry a sketchbook
everywhere, you just can never tell when inspiration or an idea will emerge.
This season’s collection was inspired by our Design Team’s “Rainbow Days”: a day filled
with all the activities, people and places that bring you joy – what would your Rainbow
Day be and why?
A rainbow day for me would involve a long, lazy, yummy breakfast (in pyjamas!) followed by a
cycle ride and a dip in the river or sea with Jody, the girls and our dog Porridge. We often
find that the best days are often filled with the simple things and time in nature.
You’ve chosen some lovely clothes from the new Frugi Spring Summer collection
– what did you pick and what did you and the girls love about them?
I chose various pyjamas, my girls are both sensitive to the textures of their clothing and are
therefore huge fans of time in pyjamas. I chose the Jamie Jim Jams, as we all love blue tits,
butterflies, flowers and mushrooms and also the Twilight PJs and Praa PJs for
summer. They are such fun designs that are high quality and so comfortable to wear.
My youngest loved the colour and pattern on the Libby Leggings and Rex Jumper. It reminds us of
time in the wildflower meadows near our home. She also chose the Jupiter Leggings, which are
somehow sweet and sporty at the same time, perfect for when she goes to her circus skills
The Pointelle Tops are incredibly comfortable and pair with everything else so well, and the Crafty Pencil Case is a generous size for all the girls’ art materials that we need for being out and about.
Frugi Quick-Fire Questions!
I usually find inspiration in…
Time in nature, noticing the changes in the season, wildflowers, plants and animals, my children.
My favourite thing to write about is…
Friendship, self discovery, feelings, nature.
My essentials for creating are…
Hot tea or coffee, time around plants and wildlife, good quality art materials, a daily practice of
sketching and observing, nourishing food before a painting session, scented candles, an
engaging audiobook, podcast or music to listen to.
The best part of writing and illustrating a book is…
Hearing the stories from parents and children about how the book has helped or inspired them
in some way. It’s amazing how the book has a life of its own beyond me.
What I love about books…
Books can really help me understand things better, human relationships, patterns or struggles in
myself. They open my mind in new unexpected ways. They can transport me into a different
world and I find that very restful.
Reading is important to me/my children because…
When reading a picture book together we find it very connecting. We emotionally regulate with
our closeness and relax in each other’s company. Reading also helps me and my children to
develop empathy for others and opens them up to language to describe their experiences.
I’m currently reading…
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel by Susanna Clark, I just finished Piranesi and had to read more
by the author as it was so incredibly good! I am also really enjoying reading my Charles Causley
poetry book for a poetry for children course I am taking. And I have a half a dozen non fiction
books on the go for my research around wildflowers.
My girls are currently reading…
I’ve just introduced my eldest who is a very avid reader (12) to Dandelion Wine by Ray
Bradbury, a real favourite of mine and she is rereading The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell
for a book club. My youngest (9) is reading the Inkheart series by Cornelia Funke. They often
love to relax with the Moomin comic strip books too and come back again and again to books by
Dianna Wynne Jones.
Thank you, Gemma!
If you’ve enjoyed this Frugi Bedtime Story and interview, why not check out the rest of our series. Click below to discover more stories!