How did you get started in children’s books?
I’ve always been really interested in picture books, because of the weight of images compared to text. You can cover the page with your artwork, and sneak in some beautiful text.
In 2012 I was selected for the Sendak Fellowship, and that really helped open doors, although I did already have a book deal. He’s always been my favourite illustrator; I remember when the letter arrived I was cooking pancakes for my friends, and I opened the letter and my head just exploded. In the end I was too excited to eat any of them!
What has been your favourite project?
I think it might be my most recent book, How To Be A Cowboy (released Nov 2015). I actually started working on it during university. For our final project we could do anything, which was terrifying! I was reading a lot of Annie Proulx at the time, and loved the idea of these wide, rolling plains, so I latched onto the idea of cowboys.
I’m really proud of it, my publishers let me do some really cool things with design. At the back I have a die-cut cowboy that you can take out and dress up, and gate fold pages with recipes on. I like to get quite involved with the production; things like the paper stock really matter to me because books are tangible objects so they have to feel right in your hand.
How do you create your work?
I draw outlines and shapes by hand first, then I scan them in, and everything is digitally colored and layered. I have a library of textures that I scan and then apply in different ways. I used to do lots of screen-printing, but it’s too expensive now I’ve left university, so I work this way to try and make my work look screen-printed. It’s all pretty rough until I get to the point where I’m working digitally. I find the way I use paper is very similar to that Paul Klee quote, “drawing is taking a line for a walk”.
How does illustrating for adults differ from illustrating for children?
In many ways it doesn’t, it’s most often the brief that is different. I think there is sometimes a tendency to be patronizing towards children. The UK especially has been slow to catch up with other markets in terms of sophistication, that’s changing with publishers like Flying Eye Books, a part of No Brow, Wide Eye Editions, and Big Picture Press who are producing big, beautiful books for kids. A couple of pioneering people had to prove that there was a market for them in the UK.
What role do books play in children’s lives?
I think that children’s books are incredibly important, although I would say that! So often they are the beginning of children discovering something of their own. It’s the first glimpse of an outside world, something which isn’t just your family, and your home. It’s a way of looking at the world without the lens of your parents, and I think that is invaluable.