When illustrators speak instead of draw


Above: one of several quotes from illustrators I’ve collected together in a single browsable interface.

You can learn a lot about drawing by looking at the work of your favourite illustrators. Certainly you can make conscious deductions about their use of colour, composition, or media.

But there are some things that no amount of staring at pictures is going to tell you. While you can guess at things like inspirations or working methods, only the illustrator’s words are going to tell you the answers for certain. Perhaps it’s ironic that we need the written language to understand a visual artist properly?

In any case, I’ve found myself reading a lot of interviews with illustrators lately. I suppose it’s the same instinct that makes me pay for a ticket to go and see them speak: I want to lap up their thoughts, note down their insights, and learn more about their processes.

Every artist has different inspirations, methods and routines, and so it’s not – it can’t be – a hunt for the magic formula. A great deal of it may just be reassurance: these people have doubts, too. They have pictures that go horribly wrong, and days that they hate everything they draw. Sometimes there are nuggets of advice, ways of dealing with setbacks or generating ideas.

With all this in mind, I have started a collection of spoken snippets from my favourite illustrators, and you can see it here. I hope you’ll have a sniff around, and find a quote or two that interests you.

In short, it’s a collection of statements with an emphasis on working methods, inspiration, and truths about the art of illustration. These are statements I’ll want to visit again and again, and read for reassurance, enlightenment, or even my own inspiration. And I’ll be adding more snippets regularly.

 A note about the software I used

As with my Chile sketch diary, this post represents a fortuitous link between my day job and my interest in illustration. The software that I’ve used is called SayIt and in its current iteration, it’s a bit like a Pinterest for the spoken word: it was developed by my workplace as a piece of civic/democratic software that would enable people to publish transcripts of the spoken word.

It is envisaged that it’ll be used for publishing what was said at council meetings, or major trials, et cetera. The great thing about it is that, once transcripts have been imported, they can be searched, browsed in different ways, and linked to easily.

It certainly wasn’t developed for collections of quotes from illustrators, but it’s beautifully flexible and it certainly works for my needs in this respect.

More about sketch diaries – from Katriona Chapman


Since finishing my Chile sketch diary, I haven’t drawn a thing.

That’s partly because I am thinking through exactly what I am going to do for the Cape/Comica/Observer graphic story competition. For the first time, I am very consciously examining where my ideas come from, too – it’s hard work, creating a cartoon world out of nothing! No doubt I will write a bit more about that once my concept is a bit more fully-formed.

To make up for the lack of drawings, though, I am sharing a great post from someone else. I think I came across it via Twitter, and the correct phrase to use here would be relevant to my interests.

Katriona Chapman is a London illustrator who recently made a cartoon diary of a trip to the Scottish Isles with her mum. Not only that, but she published a post sharing her inspirations for the project, and thoughts about how she approached it.

Here it is – if you enjoyed my recent post on ‘everything I know about sketch diaries‘, you’ll love this.

Once you’ve read that post, be sure to go to the beginning of the Scotland comic and read it all. The photos are breath-taking too!

Scotland Comic b y Katriona ChapmanImage: Katriona Chapman

Lizzie Stewart travel diaries
Image: Lizzie Stewart

As an extra bonus, that original blog post also introduced me to the stunning travel diaries of Lizzie Stewart. Why, this holiday sketch-diary malarky is a whole movement! And a very inspiring one, too.

The secret thing about picture books is that they aren’t for children at all

Mini Grey, Chris Riddell, John Vernon Lord and Emily Gravett by Myfanwy Tristram

I’ve got rather a busy couple of weeks coming up, thanks to the flurry of booking I indulged in a few weeks ago when the Brighton Festival programme came out.

Tonight, I went to see a panel of children’s book illustrators: John Vernon Lord (revered illustrator, to quote the blurb on the back of his Nobrow book) led the conversation and Mini Grey (born in a mini, or so she claims), Chris Riddell (author/illustrator of Goth Girl) and Emily Gravett (Rather Good At Rabbits), all Brighton graduates, chimed in with their experiences.

 Click to see bigger:

Mini Grey, Chris Riddell, John Vernon Lord and Emily Gravett by Myfanwy Tristram


Mini Grey, Chris Riddell, John Vernon Lord and Emily Gravett by Myfanwy Tristram

In case you can’t read my handwriting (who could blame you) here are my take-away snappy quotes:

Vernon-Lord (talking about whether he uses digital media): “I like the noise of the nib scratching across the page”.

(talking about how writers can sometimes interfere too much): “I like illustrating dead authors”.

(talking about inspiration): “It’s a lifetime of looking. Looking and listening should be on the school curriculum.”

Riddell: “I’m addicted to Tumblr”

“Kickstarter is a very 18th century way of doing things” (ie, get your sponsors to commit to the work before you make it).

“You can watch people walk past Carluccio’s” (because the branch in Brighton has a huge window you can sit at and observe people walking by, and this is a good source of inspiration).

Grey: “The secret thing about picture books is that they aren’t for children at all” (they are also for the adults who buy and read them, and there aren’t any other channels where you can match illustration and text so perfectly. She was a bit doubtful about graphic novels – too much on the page).

“Sometimes your best ideas come from playing with your food.” [Shows slide depicting a toy dinosaur with a hat made from a raspberry] “Lots of my books feature food going out of control”.

Gravett (talking about where to find inspiration): “What do I fancy drawing?” – ie, draw whatever you feel like drawing.

Illustrators in Conversation: Oliver Jeffers and David Mackintosh

Mackintosh and Jeffers2

Last night, I went to see children’s picturebook illustrators Oliver Jeffers and David Mackintosh in conversation, here in Brighton. It was a fun event – there seemed to be real rapport between the two writers and their Editor (whose name I can’t find online, sorry, Editor!).


You could buy all their books, of course. Here’s the bookstall – a good opportunity for me to loosen up my drawing before the main event.

Mackintosh and Jeffers

One reassuring thing that David Mackintosh said was that he draws many many pictures before selecting the ones he uses. So that’s how you get that ‘every one’s a winner’ carefree drawing style…

Mackintosh and Jeffers3

I hope this doesn’t make the Editor look too awful – more of a cariacture than a likeness. She was very attractive, as it goes.