One of my students, Henry Minns, came up with a great set of questions for me and was kind enough to let me reproduce them here.
1. Can you describe the processes you go through when working on an illustration/animation commission from start to finish?
It starts with a publisher contacting me and giving me the text of the book. Then my agent starts negotiations about the fee and the deadline and all the specifics of the contract (what exactly they will be using the work, when I get paid, how much the royalties will be etc). I usually receive the first installment of the advance at this point, once I’ve signed their contract.
Then I start work on sketches for the characters in the book and e-mail these to the publisher for approval. Then I’ll start planning out what will be on each page (leaving room for the text). I do this with little thumbnail sketches. Once I’ve got this worked out I start on the rough drawings for each double page spread in the book. As I complete these I e-mail them off to the publisher for approval. If there are any changes requested then I make them.
Usually I get paid once all the rough drawings are approved, and in theory the publishers shouldn’t request any more changes to the drawings after they’ve been approved. I’ll now start work on the final artwork, usually working through the book from start to finish. The cover is generally left until last as the publisher usually has something very specific in mind for this and the marketing department might get involved too.
The final artwork is all submitted as CMYK format TIFF files, either uploaded to a publishers FTP site or posted to them on a DVD. I would usually be paid again at this point.
If the book is for a trade publisher (one that sells books in bookshops, rather than educational publishers who sell direct to schools), then it will be published anytime between 3 and 18 months after they receive the artwork. Sometimes I’ll receive the final part of my advance then.
2. Which commissions do you enjoys the most, and which are most beneficial to you (if these aren't the same)?
Generally I’d say I enjoy the commissions most, where I have the most say in what I’m doing. With some books I am just given the text and left to get on with it (which is great), other times the publisher is really specific about what they want (which makes it quicker and easier but not as fun).
3. Would you say that a technical or manual process has a more important role in your work (I mean computers opposed to pen and paper)? Why?
I would say that drawing is by far the most important process, but whether it is digital or pen and paper doesn’t make much difference to me.
4. Which programs do you find most helpful when illustrating/animating?
I use Adobe Photoshop CS3 almost exclusively, but I also occasionally use Corel Painter X. I have also used Alias Sketchbook Pro and Art Rage for digital drawing from time to time. I work on an Apple MacBook Pro (2Ghz, 2Gb RAM), connected up to a 22” screen, an A6 Wacom Intuos 2 Graphics Tablet and lots of external hard drives (about 2TB altogether). I also have a pretty powerful PC but I don’t find it reliable enough to work on (I use it for storage and occasional games).
5. The AOI helps new illustrators publish their work etc. How helpful were they in terms of where you are now career-wise compared to when you were just starting out/fresh out of your degree?
I found the AOI really useful when I was just starting out, I had a portfolio consultation with Fig Taylor and found their Rights publications very useful. I wasn’t really taught much about copyright and contracts at college so the AOI were great for that. The online forums are still a really great resource for advice and information from very experienced illustrators. I have to say I wasn’t very impressed with the new Varoom magazine and am no longer a member, but still use the forums.
6. How would you compare your work to that of other modern illustrators and animators in the same league as yourself?
Hmm, not sure about this, I guess my current work has some similarities to Alison Jay, Niamh Sharkey and maybe Lane Smith (but I’d consider all of them to be in a different league to me!).
7. Whose work do you admire within illustration and animation; who or what inspires you from outside your own medium of work (if anyone/thing)? -What first inspired you to follow the route you have taken?
Far too many to mention them all here, but Shaun Tan, Dave McKean, Craig Thompson, Jeff Lemire, Alison Jay, Nicoletta Ceccoli, Kent Williams, Joel Stewart, Oliver Jeffers, Lane Smith, Niamh Sharkey, Mandy Field, Chris Stonehill and Peter Malone have all influenced my work in one way or another. Not all of these are children’s book illustrators and I’m also influenced by the drawings of lots of animators too (mostly found via the Drawn! Blog).
8. Is there anyone's work that you don't like? - do you have and rivalries or competition?
I tend not to like work that’s obviously a rip-off of someone else’s style. I think too many children’s picture books are watered down versions of other illustrators styles, like Quentin Blake rip-offs, or Michael Foreman rip-offs.
9. What is your favorite style of illustration/animation?
Hard to say, but I guess I like illustrations with a lot of texture in them, that’s probably the only common thing, other than that I like all kinds of wildly differing styles of illustration.
10. How do you keep your work fresh? Do you need to consciously adapt your style or does it progress naturally? (I don’t mean to suggest that consciously adapting a style is any less talented than it occurring naturally…)
Personally my style always seems to come about like this: I see someone else’s work that I really love, and try to figure out what it is I like about it. Then I try to incorporate that into my own work, but because of my own particular strengths and weaknesses it never comes out like the other persons… and so it goes on. So I guess you could say that every now and then I consciously try to adapt my style (or technique) but that in the end it’s probably a natural process.
I think it’s really important to make yourself aware of as many different illustrators/artists as you can.
11. Where did you study for your degree?
Falmouth Art College, I received a 1st Class Honours Degree in Illustration.
12. Where and what did you study before your degree? Do you feel that you gained anything from your previous education i.e. A levels?
I started out doing A Levels in Archaeology, Classical Civilisations , Chemistry and Physics, with the aim of being an archaeologist. After getting a place at university I changed my mind and came back to college to do a GNVQ in Art and Design. I’m really glad I did this as I don’t think I would have been as motivated to work as hard as I did if I’d done the GNVQ straight out of school.
13. What advice would you give an aspiring illustrator/animator? -In hindsight, would you have done anything differently?
Get a sketchbook that fits in your pocket (so there’s never any excuse for not having it with you), and draw as much and as often as possible. I still feel that my drawing skills are the weakest bit of my technique and really wish I’d spent more time a college just drawing.
13. Where would you like your work to lead you? Have you any aspirations or plans for the future?
I’d like to continue illustrating children’s book and perhaps write one, one day. I’d also like to branch out into other areas of illustration, perhaps book jackets or editorials.