I grew up in a town not so far from London called Farnborough, in Hampshire. I have loved drawing for as long as I can remember. I would often draw my favorite characters from books and TV shows such as King Rollo, Jimbo and the Jet Set, Tom & Jerry, Thomas the Tank Engine, and Rupert the Bear.
My love of drawing continued through school and my childhood dream was to make cartoons. So, I followed this dream and studied Animation at college in Hull, in the North-East of England. After graduating I moved to London and I teamed up with one of my University pals, Benji Davies (he is now also a picture-book maker), and we formed animation directing duo Frater.
From 2005 to 2011 we directed TV commercials, music promos, short films, documentaries, virals, and FilmTitle Sequences.
On the side of animation, I was also working as a freelance illustrator for newspapers and magazines. But I wasn’t a very successful at it, my style was kind of ‘all over the place’.
Then I sent out an illustrated promo postcard based on the proverb ‘Fish and guests smell after 3 days’ and it landed on the right art directors’ desk at the right time. The smelly fish landed me my first children’s book commission, illustrating two fiction books written by Kelly McKain under her pseudonym, Matt Kain. Through illustrating these books, I got my first opportunity to illustrate my first picture book, Cats Ahoy!, written by Peter Bently.
Much to my surprise Cats Ahoy! won the Booktrust Roald Dahl Funny Prize in 2011. Since then I have illustrated over 40 children’s books.
I now live in Paris with my French wife, our young daughter, and a grumpy grey cat.
I want to tell a visual story that can keep children and adults entertained. I don’t believe in ‘illustrating for children’. I illustrate to try and bring a great written story to life and something that I would enjoy looking at.
For the setting of the Rabbit & Bear series, I was inspired from a visit to the incredible Yosemite National Park. The grandeur of the landscapes and dramatic lighting have stuck with me.
I’m not sure I have a specific style. Each author I work with I want to try and bring something new and distinct to fit their story. With that, I guess you can usually recognize my style by my humoristic animal characters and my lighting style. I love to create a sense of atmosphere in my books by the lighting and compositions I choose.
I always start with good old pencil and paper, for Rabbit and Bear they start as roughs in red and blue aqua pencils. The red is for the very rough layout and blue pencil to draw the characters and scenes.
The final artwork is a mixture of pencil and digital painting in Photoshop.
Standing at my desk in my Paris studio. I prefer when it’s not too hot and sunny outside so I won’t be distracted. A cup of English Tea in hand and music playing in the background. I listen to lots of music all day, but my favorite artists are Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin.
All the practice is worth it. You’ll get there one day!
My favorite part of illustrating the Rabbit & Bear series is illustrating Rabbit in any one of his fowl moods. Julian’s writing is hilarious and I’m seriously laughing my head off when I read his text. I love trying to capture the fantastic humor of Rabbit’s character with his furious frown, or stomping his feet, or whether he is leaping in the air in his overly melodramatic way. It cracks me up drawing him.
I find the best way, when I hit a creative slump on a project, is to give yourself a break from it. I like to try and draw something completely different from the style of the project, whether it’s a realistic pencil rendered portrait, or a sketchy inky sleeping cat, it really helps me to remember why I love drawing and can help loosen things up.
In advertising, things are fast paced, cut throat, and you’re under pressure to satisfy everyone. The end product is something that’s on TV for a couple of weeks.
The children’s book industry is full of lovely people and it’s slower paced. A children’s book can be shared and enjoyed for years.
I love reading stories to our young daughter. Chris Haughton, who is a friend of mine, has made some of our favorites— Oh No, George! and Shh! We Have a Plan. One of my current favorite picture books is Duz Is Tak? by Carson Ellis. It’s absolutely genius.
To art direct an animated feature film or TV series would be a dream. Actually, to see Rabbit & Bear realized as an animated film would be a dream. The stories lend themselves so well to that format, I think. One day.
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