1. Tell us a little about yourself and how you became an illustrator.
I am from the UK, in a county called Kent, and I live in a small village in the countryside surrounded by fields. I am forty-one years old and have been illustrating books for the past four years, freelance full-time for the past three years.
Before becoming an illustrator, I worked for the Emergency services on ambulances as an EMT for nine years. For the last few years, I had planned on trying to break into the illustration world, but a back injury made me take that leap sooner than expected, as I had to leave the Emergency services due to the injury.
When I left school, I went to college and studied fine art, art history, and photography. I got back into drawing about eight years ago after my second child was born. My wife encouraged me to get back into it. I took a course in children’s illustration and managed to get signed by an agent quite quickly, and I have never looked back.
2. Can you walk us through your creative process?
I work digitally in Photoshop, and I draw on a 24-inch Wacom Cintiq (a monitor you can draw straight onto). I also use an iPad Pro for sketching.
The first part of my process is to have a good read-through of the story that I have been given. I like to start by designing the main characters. I love character design, and this is a great part of the process for me, coming up with different character styles. Then, when the publisher has decided on the style of the characters, I start to sketch out each page. It starts really rough and scratchy, and I gradually tighten up the lines and details. My roughs generally end up quite neat, as this makes coloring the final work much easier and quicker. Once the roughs have been agreed on and accepted, I will start coloring. I color on a lot of different layers under the original rough pencil lines. I lay down all of the base colors first, and then I work on shadows, highlights, and little details.
3. What inspired the art for Eppie the Elephant?
I really LOVE drawing animals—and elephants in particular—so this was a really fun book for me to illustrate. I wanted the characters to be cute and appeal to a younger audience, and I wanted the reader to empathize with Eppie as she nervously goes through her first day at school.
With Eppie, I tried to show her emotions and feelings through the movement and position of her trunk. I quite liked the challenge of this.
4. What were some challenges you faced while working on Eppie the Elephant?
I didn’t have many challenges at all with Eppie. It was a great project to work on and everyone involved was really lovely and super easy to work with, which always makes things so much easier. The only problem was my fault…at the start of the project, I misread something in the brief and roughed up a cover that was for an older reader, with a much older elephant and a totally different style of drawing. But this was still not really a problem, as I enjoyed coming up with that older Eppie, and I think that helped me make the younger Eppie easier to come up with.
5. What is your favorite medium to work with?
I work digitally in Photoshop on my Cintiq. I still like to doodle and sketch in a sketchbook and use a bit of watercolor now and then, but I mainly work digitally now.
6. What are your perfect working conditions?
I have a studio at the bottom of the garden. My ideal condition for working is a nice sunny day, as my studio looks out onto my garden and the fields at the bottom of the garden. I don’t like working in silence, so I will usually have music, movies, or TV shows playing next to me. I tend to work while my children are at school or day care, and then again when they go to bed if I need to meet deadlines. I try not to work weekends so I get time with the family.
7. What is your all-time favorite children’s book that you think is a must-read for children now?
My favorite book as a child, and the first book I remember reading, was The Twits by Roald Dahl. I can still remember sitting in my back garden on the patio finishing the book and feeling pleased that I’d finished my first “big book.” I also loved the Frog and Toad series of books by Arnold Lobel. I still have my original copy of The Twits that I read as a child and Frog and Toad Together. For me, Roald Dahl books are a must-read for children now. My oldest two children started with these and still love them, and I’m looking forward to introducing my youngest to them too.
8. What is your favorite part of your job?
Without a doubt, my favorite part of my job is knowing I get to do what I absolutely love every single day. I’ve loved drawing ever since I can remember, coming up with characters and scenes, and now I get to do that every single day. Working from home also means I get to see my children and wife much more than before, which is wonderful.
9. Is there any type of project you haven’t done, but dream of doing someday?
I would eventually love to write and illustrate my own picture books. I have some ideas for stories and have been developing one in particular in between deadlines and projects that I hope will one day get snapped up by publishers.
10. Any upcoming projects that you’d like to share with us?
I’ve just been signed on for a series of fiction chapter books. I can’t really say much more about those yet, but I’m really excited to be doing this, as I’ve wanted to get into illustrating fiction books for some time, and these will be really fun to do.
11. If you had one piece of advice to give to aspiring illustrators, what would it be?
Practice, practice, practice. That’s the only way you’ll improve your drawing skills. Draw everything and anything, and don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. I went to a picture book conference a few years back, and a children’s author named Tracey Corderoy was speaking. She said, “Never put up walls, just say yes, and then work out how you’ll do it after!” This stuck with me for years, and I’ve done just that. If something comes along that I think, “How am I going to do that?” I do it anyway, have a little panic about time management and my ability to do it, and then I just get on with it.
So that would be my advice—challenge yourself and never give up on your dreams. They really do come true.
Written by Livingstone Crouse
Illustrated by Steve Brown
It’s the first day of school for Eppie the elephant, and she’s a bit nervous about one thing: that her new classmates won’t understand her allergy to nuts. Like many kids today, this fun-loving elephant can’t partake in peanuts, pecans, or pistachios and has to be careful about what she eats. Eppie makes fast friends with Allie the alligator and Pearl the squirrel, but when Eppie’s allergy is explained at lunch, will her friends still stand by her side? Readers of all ages will relate to this heartwarming, lyrical story of understanding and acceptance.