Being an illustrator


Owing to current deadlines, I regret that I am unable to answer your questions until further notice ~ Thank you


Q - How did you get into doing this kind of work?


A - When I did my Art Foundation course, we covered a whole range of subjects – sculpture, photography, graphics, painting, printmaking etc. – to see which specialist subject we wanted to choose at Higher Ed. level. One assignment we had was to illustrate a book and that was the thing I really settled into personally, as it suited my nature to sit there and get absorbed in this very particular task.



Q - Have you always wanted to be an illustrator, or did it come later?


A - I actually applied to do textiles at degree/diploma level and was disappointed not to be accepted for that at the colleges I applied to. But I now realise that I wasn’t that well suited to doing textiles; I prefer responding to stories.



Q - For how long have you been an illustrator?


A - I have been working as a full time illustrator since 1986.



Q - What other careers would you be interested in if you weren’t an illustrator?


A - The other jobs that I would have really enjoyed are being part of a production team on a film set, being an animator on stop-motion films or being a garden designer – I have done some garden design. In all these jobs, you work alongside other people in a team, whereas working on your own is one of the biggest challenges I have found in being an illustrator. Although you are part of a team of people, you are usually working in different parts of the country.



Q - Do you think enjoying being an illustrator a matter of temperament?


A - It certainly suits my temperament and there are things I have in common with many of the other illustrators I know, although illustrators have a wide variety of styles, with some working more quickly than others. My work is very slow, but I enjoy the sense of solidity that gives it. There’s something satisfying about doing a very concentrated task which you are applying yourself to completely. There’s a starting point, you absorb yourself, then it’s finished and you can move on to something else. You also get something to hold in your hand and show to the world at the end. It’s not like a job that grinds on and on into infinity. Every job is different, and that keeps it exciting.



Q - What’s the biggest job you’ve ever done?


A - The longest job I’ve done took two and a half years. I did ask myself at the beginning whether I could sustain doing something for that long, but it was broken down into 12 sections so that made it easier to keep my energy levels going over such a long period of time. On the positive side, it was nice to have the financial security and creative regularity of such a long commission and I was pleased with the way the book worked out, although I had to make sure that I let other publishers know I was still working or else I might have disappeared off their radar completely for new work.



Q - Do you think illustrators are happier to work to a brief and fine art people find that terribly restrictive?


A - It’s hard not to generalise about this and it’s an interesting question. I did some art school teaching at FE level a while ago, where I was teaching students who hadn’t yet made their choice of which specialism they wanted to go into. I had set them quite an illustrative brief and the response to it made that distinction very clear: the students who liked clear boundaries and guidelines were much happier to respond to and enjoy the constraints that the brief set. Those who were more fine art orientated found that these constraints were an imposition on their freedom. They wanted to push beyond the rules, to be able to take their starting point from somewhere else. I think value judgements are often made about the latter group being more creative, but I reject this. Why is it any better? I believe that we need both approaches, and I think that they can influence each other positively.



Q - Can you describe what it’s like to be an illustrator day to day?


A - My working days follow fairly regular hours. I get to work in my studio at the bottom of my garden at around 9 am, Monday to Friday.  I have a couple of quick meal breaks for half an hour or so during the day, but am usually working until 7.30 pm or later.I start the day checking and responding to emails, then I get down to drawing. If I’m at the rough stage of a job I need to sit in the quiet to be fully engaged with what I’m doing. If I distract myself, the drawing is likely to have less energy about it, and that is not what I want. The next stage in developing my images is deciding on colours and painting, which again needs total mental attention. The final stage, the crayoning, is the home straight. A lot of the thinking work has been done, so I might listen to the radio while I’m working. Apart from that, there’s sourcing references, making phone calls, dealing with incoming emails, doing my accounts and invoicing. A lot of this is pretty routine and I think you’ve got to be happy with that aspect of the career.


I find that some of my most creative ideas come when I am out of the studio – classically in the bath, but always somewhere more relaxed, when I’ve stepped away from my desk.


I’m sure a lot of illustrators are different in the way they structure their time, especially if they work in a quicker style, and I’d be interested to hear from them. I also do quite a lot on the computer now. I scan in images that I’ve done by hand and then play around with them, changing the colours, working in layers etc. I get completely engrossed in the process, then look up and find that four hours have disappeared.  This amazes me as I’m a Luddite in many ways, but I think the idea that computers are meant to save time is a total myth!


I also have a life outside and beyond my studio which is pretty social and involves music – such a different and complementary form of creativity. I have had to consciously build other things into my week, or I’d literally get cabin fever. That is something that can take a while to get to grips with if you are just out of college.


I did spend time in a joint studio, but that didn’t give me the concentration I seem to need.



Q - What do you enjoy most and least about your work?


A - I know I’m enjoying my work when I loose track of time and that depends on the subject matter, as that is when I get a chance to engage my sense of fantasy. I think that my pictures start to come to life when I work into the paint with crayons and begin to see how the picture is going to look. I always enjoy the challenge of colour – that is, putting colour ranges together. I enjoy having enough time to illustrate to the best of my ability. The least enjoyable side of my work is having to do masses of tiny detail, as it can be hard to sustain your enthusiasm and to feel a sense of satisfaction with the results.



Q - It must be really nice to see your artwork transformed into a book.


A - Yes, it’s wonderful, a real thrill and great to have something to hold in your hand that you’ve done. I felt particularly excited when I got to see the proof pages for The Barefoot Book of Animal Tales, that was a new stage in my career: I felt very proud, and it was a lovely feeling.



Q - Where can your art work be seen?


A - A lot of my originals are on line and for sale from Chris Beetles Gallery



Q - Do you present work in person or digitally?


A - For me these days a lot of the images get sent via email initially to make sure everything is OK, the final artwork is then either sent digitally or by courier.



Q - Is there a particular  piece that you are proud of?


A - I really enjoyed working on this last book The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau, written by Michele Markel, published by Eerdmans Books for Young Children.



Q - We would like to know whether you prefer working in traditional media as opposed to digital.


A - Good question. I usually work in traditional media – water-colour inks combined with either acrylic, gouache or pencil crayons. However a few years ago I took some time out to experiment with Photoshop and found I got very absorbed in it. I mainly create handmade images, but occasionally adapt that imagery using Photoshop.


With Photoshop generated images I found that I was running into certain problems such as not knowing how the images would print, it’s not something I have to worry about with my traditional style, as the publisher usually scans my artwork their end. With digital though you don’t necessarily get the effect and colours you are seeing on screen when the image is printed, therefore you have to learn a lot about colour calibration to be confident about the results the client will get when the image is published. I decided that understanding colour calibration wasn’t what I wanted to invest my time in, so for that and various other reasons I came back to mainly working by hand again. I had also discovered importantly, that digital methods were taking even longer than my handmade images.


My digital experiments have been really useful though – this period gave me a holiday from my normal ways of working and have made me more experimental. I do use Photoshop in my work now under certain circumstances – again in conjunction with my scanned images when producing my roughs, and sometimes on my finished artwork too.


Q - Do you scan your images onto the computer, and if so what scanner do you use?


A - Yes, I have an A3 Microtek ScanMaker 9800XL. I use it a lot to scan roughs etc. and to keep a record of my illustrations before I send them to the client. Many US publishers now want electronic files send via FTP sites (used to send large files via the internet). It’s quicker and it makes it cheaper for them than paying artwork delivery costs by FedEx.



Q - Do you think that digital art is making hand drawn illustration obsolete?


A - My personal opinion is that each – and a combination of the two – have their own qualities and enjoyments and will continue to have a place in the world. Digital art has opened imagery up to new possibilities, but it can look cold and mechanical – too slick. I am also a musician and there’s a parallel between digital and analogue art and music. Now digital music has been around for a while, there are people rediscovering the joys of and special warmth of analogue, I think the same applies to visual art.



Q - Do you like all of your illustrations or do you sometimes feel dissatisfied?


A - Yes, I can certainly feel both excited and dissatisfied with what I produce. Many things affect the attention and conviction I put into an image. A lot of it depends on my enthusiasm for the subject matter I am illustrating. As a free lance illustrator I am working long hours on commissions, so attention levels are bound to fluctuate, although I do have certain standards I make sure I maintain.



Q - As artists we have a lot of sketchbooks and other artwork we don’t want to throw/give away, we would like to know how and where you store your artwork? Do you keep everything you’ve made?


A - Yes, this can be a problem. I don’t have a lot of space, but have kept most of what I’ve produced over the years, apart from most of my roughs. Some of it is in my loft, but I am currently scanning all the artwork and mounting it safely in portfolios in my studio. I also exhibit my work, so some of the pieces are with the gallery I use.


Q - I came across your site after being advised on a forum that maybe my drawings would suit a book and to approach publishers, do you have any advice, I know you are probably far to busy to respond but I thought I would give it a shot :)


I am currently trying to sell my original Illustrations on my own site: (no prints just originals) for £15 which I haven’t seen anywhere else for this sort of price but maybe selling them to publishers would bring me more success?:


Any advice or criticism would be massively appreciate.


A - Just a quick response – you can obviously sell your work as an illustrator AND sell the original artwork, so why not try. You should always get your artwork back from a publisher – as it’s your property and your copyright. Also £15 is far too cheap for original artwork! You could sell prints of your work for that (as well).


Can I suggest that you read through my FAQ pages if you haven’t done already, yours is a fairly general question and you’ll find masses of advice at – scroll down the menu on the left for the different issues covered. If you still have a question or two, then come back to me. You are right, I am busy, but can try to help with a couple of questions not covered already.


One thing I would say looking at your site – I think you could display your work in a way that makes more of it. Make the images larger,  get rid of all the mounts, so that the images can enlarge and breathe – it will also make the site look more contemporary. Maybe the type is a bit too large and again dominates the images too much, but if the images were enlarged, the balance might then work better with the type – the font looks good and goes well with your images, it’s just the scale, so a redesign could really help.