The illustrations on That Boutique-y Gin Company labels don’t grow on trees, or even small evergreen shrubs. An artist creates them, and Grace J Ward is that artist. Want to find out more about her? Let us spin you a yarn...

Take a look at a label on a That Boutique-y Gin Company bottle and you’ll be greeted by a wondrous illustration from Grace J Ward. We thought you might like to learn more about her, and we all know (from watching films) that the best person to go to when finding out other people’s backstories is the wizened character on the edge of town. So that’s just what we did.

After an hour-long trek, dodging Tusken Raiders and speeding Vauxhall Victors, we came across our local wizened character, sat in the shade of an ash tree. A wide-brimmed hat hid his face from any errant sunrays poking through the leaves. We approached with trepidation and sat down a few feet away from him. After a few minutes of shared silence, one of our crew plucked up the courage to speak.

“Do you know of an illustrator named Grace J Ward?”

Another 30 seconds of silence passed before we heard his hoarse voice from behind the brim of his hat.

“Grace J Ward... Now there’s a name I haven’t heard in a long while… I do know of her.”

The old seer slowly lifted his head and took a look at us. His eyes were a piercing blue, and his beard was grey and long. He took out a wooden pipe and lit it with a match. The courageous member of our crew scooted ever-so-slightly towards the man and asked another question.

“Can you tell us of her history?”

Waves of aromatic tobacco smoke filled the air as the old man pointed to a crew member’s satchel.

“Well, legend has it that her story is all on the labels on the bottles…”

Quick as a flash, he shot up and snatched the satchel right off the crew member’s shoulder. The satchel was filled with That Boutique-y Gin Company bottles. The wizened character took one out and examined the label closely.

“This is her work, that’s for sure. I heard on the wind that Grace has left clues of her past on the labels, and these clues coincide with the tales told along these roads. See here,” he said, pointing a gnarled finger at the label of That Boutique-y Gin Company’s bottling of Cotswolds gin, “these are the mad scientists that bestowed to her the power of illustration. And here,” he pulled out the FEW bottle, “this is a reference to the band of evil spirits haunting Illinois that Grace helped to banish. And this,” he pulled out the Greensand Ridge bottle, “is an homage to the brigade of squirrels she can command.”

No member of our crew quite knew what to say. On the one hand, what he said sounded like complete balderdash. On the other, how did he know the bottles were in the satchel, and that they were all different?

We slowly got to our feet, took back the satchel of bottles and left the wizened character, who returned to snoozing and smoking in peace. Feeling like we hadn’t learned anything, there was only one thing left we could do - ask Grace herself. So, without further ado, here’s Grace J Ward in her own words…

About Grace...

My name is Grace Ward, if you Google my name you’ll notice Grace Ward is also the name of a low-growing evergreen shrub. I’m not named after the shrub nor is it named after me as I have been asked on several occasions. My parents tell me I am in fact named after a character in ‘80s legal drama LA Law. As an Illustrator I go by Grace J Ward to avoid search engine results related to the aforementioned shrub.

I’m from Hertfordshire and it’s where I’ve always lived.

Drawing is something that I’ve always done, some people keep journals or write songs, and I draw pictures. When I was 11 years old I either wanted to be an animator for Disney or work for NASA. By 15 I had realised that a PhD in Astrophysics was probably a long shot and that becoming an animator was more to my skillset. My parents were, and still are very supportive, and when my peers were being guided by their folks into A-levels mine were insistent I study a creative subject full-time. So that’s what I did, and it was the best decision I ever made. I studied Graphic Design at Hertford Regional College for two years because it was my best option for getting into animation. I realised during my time there that I was more interested in graphic design and illustration than animation. I went on to study BA Hons Graphic Design and Illustration at the University of Hertfordshire, graduating in 2009 with first class honours and have been working as a full-time freelance illustrator and graphic designer ever since.

During university I became known for my illustrations of coffee cups and Japanese food. I carried this passion for food and drink illustration into my career. One of my favourite things to do is to combine food and drink illustrations with another theme. For example imagining what sushi in the Jurassic era might look like or Starbucks in the Stone Age. This kind of thinking landed me a job illustrating over 100 crazy themed shoes for an app. I’m probably most well known for my illustrations of cocktails. This started back in 2011 when I was going through a jazz phase. I had gotten really into jazz music, and the 1950s. I started going to my local jazz club. I’d been looking at lots of 1950s magazine illustrations and loved the way they illustrated food and drink. So I drew a Martini and a Prairie Oyster cocktail. I used these illustrations as self-promotion and it lead to some exciting work drawing cocktails. Due to these commissions I ended up becoming increasingly interested in the world of spirits. My interest has been growing ever since. I think I like drawing cocktails because they are the liquid embodiment of my love of theming things – cocktails are quite often themed drinks, and they usually have some sort of interesting backstory. So, continuing my journey through the spirit world – the one with booze and not ghosts.

I’m so very excited to be the artist for That Boutique-y Gin Company. Big thank you to @GinMonkeyUK on Twitter who recommended me for the job. I can honestly say that I’ve never received such creative, exciting and detailed briefs. I have wondered if Ben has been at the navy-strength when he’s been writing some of them.

Approaching the Brief

The first thing I do is print the brief off and read through it highlighting all the important details and scribble initial thoughts or concerns on it. I build up an image in my mind of how I think it’s going to look. I do lots of research at this stage, for images and anything to get my head around the task. Depending on the brief I will usually then take some reference photos. I’m very lucky to have a friend who is happy to model for me and really good at acting out all off the bizarre scenarios. I find this helps in lots of ways; it gives me a chance to quickly look at different poses and facial expressions, and consider things I wouldn’t have done if I’d been sketching it out. After I’ve done my research and got my reference together, I start sketching with my Wacom tablet in Photoshop – In the past I worked in technical pen on paper, but now I find it quicker and easier to do everything on my Mac. What I love about a totally digital workflow is being able to sketch something and then move it around, flip it and easily make changes, even post colouring. After everybody is happy with the sketch, I start colouring. This involves colouring all of the objects with a single block colour and then digitally painting them. Glass features a lot in my illustrations and I focus on making sure it looks right and working with the transparency. Sometimes I also create large texture swatches to use as well such as wood or marble. Finally I do all of the finishing touches, like tweaking the colour balance and adding subtle shadows and highlights to make things pop.