Sunday, 11 April 2010


How do you actually produce a drawing?
I do a free-wheeling sort of drawing that looks as if it has been done on the spur of the moment, although in reality it's not quite like that. I start with lots of roughs - some of which turn out to be quite close to the finished drawing, and some of which are discarded. For a book there's lots of planning. What goes on which page? Do the actions carry on from one picture to another? Do the characters still look the same on each page?

For about twenty years I've used a lightbox, which I find really useful. On the light box I put the rough drawing I'm going to work from, and on top of that, a sheet of watercolour paperÉ. Ready to hand is a bottle of waterproof black ink and a lot of scruffy looking dip pens. What happens next is not tracing; in fact it's important that I can't see the rough drawing underneath too clearly, because when I draw I try to draw as if for the first time; but I can do it with increased concentration, because the drawing underneath lets me know all the elements that have to appear and exactly where they have to be placed.'

Of all the books you've illustrated, which is your favourite?
This is a very hard question because I don't think I have one favourite book. Perhaps it is easier to explain if you think of all the books as a sort of range of hills, all different shapes, and some taller than others. How Tom Beat Captain Najork was exciting because it was the first book I illustrated by Russell Hoban and it was something I couldn't possibly have imagined; though I love Russell Hoban's The Raindoor, although I don't think it is so well known. (It ought to be!)

I like The BFG, and that is partly because in various ways it was quite difficult to do and I was pleased when I got there in the end; and partly because the relationship between the BFG and Sophie is very interesting and obviously was very important to Roald Dahl.

Of my own books I perhaps like Clown best, because somehow I feel close to the main character, and partly because it was a very interesting task to tell a story entirely in pictures without any words. I was pleased to do a book about city life without (I hope) it being dull and boring.

Do you prefer illustrating books written by other people, or the ones you write yourself?
I like them both, and I'm glad I don't have to give up one or the other, because they are each interesting in their own way. Illustrating a book by someone else is exciting, because when you start reading that typescript you really have no idea what you are going to find there, and it may be something that you would never have thought of. And it's very interesting to try and draw in just the way that matches the book. Is it very fantastic? Or very realistic? Or outrageously funny? Or sad?

The interesting thing about drawing my own books is that it's really a story in pictures, with the necessary words underneath. These books give me the opportunity to draw something that I realise I want to draw.

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