Why did you become an illustrator?
I’ve always found drawing therapeutic, and I’ve always loved books. (I was the child who secretly loved it when it rained as it meant you could stay indoors and draw.) I used to draw our pets, we had a sausage dog called Wilfred and he featured in most of my pictures. The first book I ever wrote, illustrated and made was about him being naughty. My mum still has it. I was about four. I think I knew then I wanted to be an author and illustrator. But, like most dreams, you don’t expect them to come true...
What paper do you use?
I tend to do all my roughs on basic computer printer paper. I like the smoothness of it. I’ll paint final artwork on board or thick paper. I use GF Smith Papers or John Purcell papers and when it comes to colour work.
What art medium do you use?
Acrylic ink, Indian ink, screen printing, pencils (usually Staedtler ‘H’), Blackwing pencils, watercolour, Watercolour pencil crayons, oil bar, fineliners (all sizes!) acrylic paint…the list goes on, I’ll draw with pretty much anything that’ll make a mark on a piece of paper!
What inspires you?
I am still inspired by my own pets. My horse and cat especially. When I’m riding I take in the shapes of the countryside, plants and trees and I try to absorb the colours. I often collect leaves and branches and bring them home to scan and draw. I then use these in my silk screen printing. I often use draw houseplants and flowers from my garden – or ask the florist at the end of our street if I need a new and unusual shape.
Do you run courses and masterclasses for adults?
From time to time I will run a workshop. Details of upcoming events can be found here
How do you get an idea for a children’s book?
Usually, an animal just pops in to my head and I start to doodle! I can be doodling that creature for months, sometimes years, before a story emerges. My words are inspired by something in the way the animal looks, or an expression he or she might be making. It’s a very organic process.
How would you advise others to go about starting to make a book?
I would advise others to try to work in the same way (see above). Just keep drawing and inspiration will strike at some point. Try not to get too hung up on how you think something should look and instead just enjoy the process. This helps to keep drawings lively too!
Do you have advice for someone starting out on their illustration journey?
Draw as much as you possibly can. Practice is the only way to improve a skill. You’ll need to work hard. Be prepared to take other peoples feedback on board and be honest with yourself about your ability. The Writers and Artists Year Book has loads of really good information in it for people who are starting out.
How do you capture the character of an animal?
It’s a funny thing really, the characters kind of emerge as the drawing is being done. I do a lot of drawings that aren’t quite right, but if I keep on trying to capture the same creature over and over again I eventually sketch one that looks as though he or she could jump, slither or creep off the paper. That’s when I know I have found the character!
It’s really important to observe the animal properly before putting pencil to paper. Luckily, if you can’t visit an animal in real life we now have access to plenty of footage online. It’s amazing be able to watch how a creature actually moves, how it makes contact with the ground and how it’s form changes when it’s doing different things. It’s good to know your subject as well as you can before creating a picture of them. If your first few drawings don’t look great don’t worry – just keep looking and sketching until you feel comfortable drawing their shape. I find that the more I actually watch the animal moving – the more alive my drawing will eventually look!