Lessons Learned.

There are three things that I’ve learnt during my career as a children’s book illustrator.

First of all, you can’t always rely on there being someone out there who actually wants you to illustrate something.
Sometimes you can wait for weeks, or even months, before a “sniff” of work lands in your inbox, and you can finally give a gasp of relief.
I have to say that I’ve been really lucky over the past thirteen years, and these stretches of time where I’ve sat twiddling my thumbs and wondering whether I’ve chosen the right career path have been very few and far between.
The first six months of this year, mind you, were a different kettle of fish altogether. By all accounts there was a “lull in the industry”, and the commissions completely dried up.

Work was slow. It was slower than an asthmatic slug. So slow that time started going backwards, and the theme from “Chariots of Fire” played whenever I walked down the street. You get the idea.
In fact, things became so dreadfully unrushed that my “savings” quickly turned into “spendings”, and I had to go and look for a “proper” job to supplement my rapidly dwindling income. I have to admit that the thought of doing that filled me with dread.
I hadn’t left the warm, comforting glow of my little studio for an eternity..how the hell was I going to survive?

It turns out that I needn’t have worried.

At the beginning of May I became an employee of Oban Distillery, and found myself working alongside proper, honest to goodness human beings for the first time in years….and it was great! I loved every minute of it, and the fact that my colleagues were such a pleasure to work with made the job so much easier, and more of a joy to do.

The second thing I’ve learnt during my career as a children’s book illustrator is that “Something always turns up”.

This sounds like I’m crediting an sudden influx of work on “fate” or some sort of “higher power”, but I’m not because I don’t believe in either. All I know is that, in my experience at least, if you wait long enough then commissions turn up like buses, and that’s exactly what happened after only two months in the Distillery.
A sudden rush of intense illustration work meant I had to scuttle back to my little studio, and wave a sad “Goodbye” to both my new found employment and the real world.

Balance had been restored to the force.

Thanks to the hard work of my two fantastic Agents (Kidshannon in the U.S.,and the wonderful Sylvie Poggio in the UK, who has represented me since the year dot), and not to mention a not too shabby amount of hard work from yours truly, I found myself swamped with work….and it felt great!

In the past few months I’ve done work for Magazines, Picture books, Educational Books, and things I can’t share with you on pain of death. Top Secret, and all that.

Here are a few of the pieces I’ve done.
The first three are for an American magazine called “Clubhouse JR”, who wanted bright, colourful images to go with some animal stories.

Picnic

FOFCJ0915.indd

Dog2

In June I started working on a series of books for Sourcebooks, in the U.S.
The first is going to be called “How to Catch a Leprechaun”. Here are a two rough ideas for the cover, as well as a full colour version of one of them.

Lep

Click for a HUGE version

In the end we went with a different design completely. Click here to see it *roll up, roll up, order your copy now ūüėČ

Apart from these I’ve done work for a publisher of educational books, some pieces for a major toy manufacturer, and I’m about to start illustrating a piece of classic literature.
I don’t think I’ve ever been busier.

Which brings me to the third, and most important lesson that I’ve learnt
No matter how tough things get, no matter how desperate the situation might become, if you have the passion to create something artistic in your life and then pursue that passion as a career, then never, ever give up.

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Oh, RATS!

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, but a severe case of “hopelessness” has prevented me from doing so.

Back in the dim and distant past that was the month of March I wrote about the uber-talented Amanda Sutton, who I commissioned to take one of my pictures and make it into one of her amazing creations.
Here’s the final thing, and the images he’s based upon.

 

RatPhoto
Rat
He’s fantastic! He’s got a gun, and a little set of keys, and big, brass wings, and everything.
He currently lords it over the living room from up his position up high, perched like a rodent Batman (Ratman?) ready to swoop on injustice as soon as the rest of us have gone to bed.

The latest injustice we’re the victims of is that we’ve been infiltrated by a single slug (before anyone raises an eyebrow we live in a “currently” rather damp and wild part of Scotland), who leaves us a fresh silvery trail across the carpet each morning.
As of yet the Rat has done nothing.

I’ll keep you posted.

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Try as I might I can’t think of a witty title!

Recently a number of books I’ve been working on over the last year or so have finally gone to print, which means I can throw non disclosure agreements out the window and blab about them to my hearts content.

Firstly, the biggest illustration job I’ve ever been involved with will be seen in classrooms overseas.
“Oxford Rooftops” is a series of ELT (English Language Teaching) books, published by Oxford University Press and illustrated by yours truly, which are aimed at children who don’t speak English as a first language.
They revolve around the adventures of a small group of children and their families and friends, and contain more of my artwork than anything else I’ve ever been involved with.
It took all of last year and some of this year to complete, with the aid of lots of coffee, lots of hours, and sometimes very little sleep.
To think that my work is part of a curriculum, and can be found on the bookshelves of schools abroad is equally mind-boggling and fab!
Rooftops

Another book that should be out on the shelves just about now is “The Egyptian Cat Mystery”, published by Franklin Watts and written by Penny Dolan.
When Jed and Ruby spot an Egyptian cat statue at the local museum, things soon get a lot weirder than they were prepared for.
After illustrating this story my advice, as far as museums are concerned, is to keep away from Security Guards with ancient amulets *taps side of nose.
You’ll thank me in the end.

The Egyptian Cat Mystery (Cat not shown)

The Egyptian Cat Mystery (Cat not shown)

 

Finally, although you’ll have to wait a bit to see this one, Usborne Publishing’s take on Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” is due to come out in March 2015.
Is it wrong of me to admit that I’d never actually read the story before doing this job?
Isn’t “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” one of those books where grown ups nod sagely and say they’ve read it when really they haven’t? like “1984” and “Wuthering Heights”.
I thought I knew the story because I saw the 60’s movie of it when I was a kid, but I’ve just “googled” the movie and found that what I saw was actually “The Adventure’s of Tom Sawyer”.
Oh the embarrassment! The number of posh soir√©es and dinner parties I’ve attended, where I’ve regaled an eager crowd with stories of Huckleberry Finn, but have in fact been sharing stories of Tom Sawyer can be counted on the fingers of one foot!

Huck

Huckleberry Finn. (Not as weird looking as the kids in the 70’s tv show)

Mind you, I definitely remember this Huck Finn children’s show in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

I think it’s the same sort of exotic, “foreign” thing from my youth that I’d put it in the same box as The Flashing Blade, Heidi, White Horses (frankly you can turn that one off as soon as the music finishes), and (best theme of the bunch) The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.
It always struck me as weird how the people in these shows generally seemed to move their lips far more than was necessary for the words that came out of them!
Strange that….

A few months ago I was delighted to hear that a book I’d illustrated for Scholastic, called “Time Jump”, was a finalist in The 2014 Extensive Reading Foundation Awards.
Unfortunately the book didn’t win, but to be nominated for anything at all is a real privilege.

TimeJump2

Time Jump (Jumping not shown)

 

I love my job!

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Kevin calling.

PhoneI’ve just had a lovely telephone conversation with a chap from India, who was phoning on behalf of Microsoft Tech Support. It was a very poor line I must say, but the man on the other end seemed so eager to help that I knew he was legitimate.

He introduced himself as “Kevin” and, after asking me a few questions, became terribly concerned that I hadn’t received ANY of his alert emails.

Apparently I was “infected” and it required his immediate attention. I made some half-strangled noises along the lines of “Who will look after my family?” to which he revealed he was actually talking about my computer. Phew!

I told him that I didn’t actually know much about computers, despite having worked for over fifteen years in the computer games industry. He listened attentively and sympathetically, before offering to help me fix my problems right away.

He then gave me lots of instructions, which I was determined to follow as fastidiously, meticulously, and most importantly as slowly as I possibly could.
After each direction I asked him to wait a moment whilst I neatly placed the phone down on my desk, and prodded at my keyboard with a single finger.
At first Kevin accompanied my efforts lots of sympathetic “hmm’s” and “ahh’s”, but as I don’t actually know that much about computers those little noises soon turned into frustrated grunts and grumbles after twenty minutes had passed and he hadn’t progressed very far with me at all!

Finally he got me to open the Windows Command Prompt and type in some letters and stuff.
“What does it say now?” he asked.
“It says Kevin is a Jerk” I replied. “It says Kevin is a BIG Jerk”.

Well, Kevin wasn’t at all happy with that. He said some very rude things to me, including some words I’d never even heard before.
Then he hung up.

I think Microsoft needs to introduce more stringent criteria for employing it’s staff.
I shall write to Bill Gates immediately!

I hope you get your own little “Kevin” who gives you a call sometime soon.
Apparently there are a lot of them around at the minute, so please don’t fob them off with a terse “Not today thank you”.
Engage them in a long, drawn-out, clueless telephone conversation that will surely brighten their day, and quite possibly  teach you a few sweary words of Hindi too. Result!

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“TAXI….dermy for Mr Elkerton”

Apart from painting, I’ve never really had a hobby that’s obsessed me throughout my life.

Back in my younger days I did the usual “geeky” stuff like…*cough… play Role Playing Games, and I still dip in and out of comic collecting to the extent that I’ve got a ton of them stored safely away in protective sleeves inside special acid-free boxes………..yep, I’m that guy!

More recently, however, the spectre of a possible future “obsession” has been tapping at my shoulder.

It all began when we bought a budgie from the local pet shop.
We called him “Chirpie”, and we loved him very much indeed.
The fact that he didn’t eat very much, move, or indeed “Chirp” a single note didn’t seem to matter at first, but it became a bit more of a concern when this strange behaviour continued, and a couple of months had quickly flown by……which was a hell of a lot more more than “Chirpie” had done!

Click Here

Burd

Dearest “Chirpie”…who was originally going to be called “Poe”
after the author Edgar Allen Poe.
Until I realised Poe’s famous poem was actually “The Raven”.
Stupid Andy

Editor’s note:
The above story is, of course, absolute nonsense. However, it is marginally more interesting than me writing “One day I bought a stuffed crow.”

Anyway, as soon as I pulled that crow out of the box that it arrived in I was hooked.
If I saw any poor deceased animals on the side of the road (I live on the West coast of Scotland….there’s a lot of that kind of thing around here) I’d think “I bet that would look great stuffed!”; the fact that I don’t know any taxidermists was the one thing that would stop me pulling over and bundling the poor “whatever it is!” into the back of my car. That and my wife and kids, of course.
Then I found the website of Amanda Sutton, which you can visit here.
Amanda does some absolutely beautiful work inspired by the Victorian taxidermist Walter Potter; creating steampunk themed works of art that look amazing.
For a collection of creatures that, by their very nature, are well and truly dead, they have so much life to them.
I love them!

Animals

Click for a bigger image

So I put crayons to paper and immediately asked her if she’d do a commission for me.
Some time ago I did a pencil rough of a Victorian, Superhero rat, which ended up looking more “Sneaky” than “Superhero”.
I coloured him up, emailed him to Amanda and asked if she’d like to make him for me. She said “Yes!”

Rat

I can’t wait to see what she comes up with, and hope that she might do some more commissions in the future.
So, stop what you’re doing and go and take a look at her site.

Go on….off you go!

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Catching up.

I started this Blog with the idea of coming here regularly to write down the stuff and nonsense that wafts through my brain tubes.
It hasn’t really worked out that way has it?

The irony that it’s called “Andy’s Procrastinating Pencil” isn’t lost on me either, since procrastination is the one thing I haven’t been doing since late 2012.
I’ve been doing quite the opposite in fact. Over the past year and a bit I’ve found myself being entirely focused upon the jobs in hand; applying myself diligently and fastidiously to produce beautiful pieces of artwork within the allotted time.

Oh God….what have I become?

The main reason for my “radio silence” is that I was working flat out for over a year on some educational titles for the lovely people at Oxford University Press.
It was the biggest job of it’s type that I’ve ever done. There were hundreds of illustrations that were needed, and the weight of the work meant that I regularly worked seven days a week, and sometimes for more than a 24 hours day. At times, I have to admit, it was tough.
Before you say anything, I realise that the concept of “toughness” is an entirely relative thing and it’s not like I’m putting out fires or fighting in the trenches or something; however I think you should know that spending an entire day colouring things in can hurt your wrist, and make your eyes feel very sore indeed!

Someone with a sore eye, yesterday.

Someone with a sore eye, yesterday.

Luckily, I had a fantastic Art editor who was fighting in my corner (I’m looking at you Buzz Mitchell), who was an absolute joy to work with.
I haven’t seen the finished books yet, but I hear from those in the know that they look good…..so Yaaaaaay! I’ll post pics when my copies arrive through the post.

I’ve also illustrated a little book for the lovely people at Franklin Watts, called “Stinky!”
I’ve been illustrating one of these little books a year for Franklin Watts for quite a while now, and they’re lots of fun to do.

9780230443655_Text2.indd

Stinky.indd

The story is all about Bill Brady and his performing Guinea Pig, and was written by the hugely prolific children’s writer Ann Bryant.
It’s got furry animals, rodent acrobatics, and copious amounts of Guinea Pig poo and wee! What more could you ask for?

I’ve also done nine little stories for MacMillan, aimed at the Middle eastern market; and I’m soon going to begin on illustrating a “classic” story for Usborne. I’ll tell you what it is as soon as I get the nod that I can share it with you!

Alongside all of this I’m currently attempting to brush up my portfolio for the annual Bologna Book fair later this month, and am working on a story I’ve written myself too.
To be honest, I’ve been working on it for years but have never had the opportunity to devote all of my time to it. This year I’m determined to get all the pages done and dusted.
Here’s the most recent…

Knits

Finally, here’s a man with a prize winning leek….just because

Veg

Fruit and Reg

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Busy, busy, busy.

I know, I know…I’ve been neglecting my “blogging” duties, again (see here for further evidence) but this time I’ve got a cast iron excuse.
I have been hugely, extremely, phenomenally, extraordinarily busy. I have been so busy that my skin looks like pale tissue paper and my eyes are the size of plates! I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I prefer to work in a darkened room, by no other light except that from my monitor; so any prolonged amount of time spent in that sort of working environment really plays havoc with one’s boyish complexion!

Now I’ve a tiny break in my workload I thought I’d fill you in on what I’ve been doing and show you some new bits and pieces.
First off I finished illustrating a play written by Julia Donaldson ( the current Children’s Laureate and the author of “The Gruffalo”, of course) called “The Fish in the Tree”, which is published by Pearson. It was terribly exciting illustrating something written by her, but there was a little hiccup at the start.
The initial designs I did had all the characters wearing contemporary clothes, when they should have been wearing more medieval, old-fashioned stuff. Doh!

Anyway, with a bit of tweaking they went from looking like this…

Must try harder Mr Elkerton.

to this.

Much better.

Andy’s Tip of the Day: When you get an art brief read it slowly and then re-read it, slower still. Do not excitedly jump in feet first, especially when it’s for Julia Donaldson.

I’ve also done a couple of stories for Macmillan Publishing.
The first was about a little group of very adventurous toys, and what happens when they go out into the world.
Here they are.

The second was about a very regal elephant and her canine best friend.


Here’s a book cover for Oxford University Press. The Lunar Buggy was thought to be a bit too toy-like at first, so I tried to add a bit of realism to it.

I’ve also done a book for Scholastic, lots of educational stuff for Nelson Thornes, and a couple of book covers for Usborne. None of these are currently in circulation, so I can’t show you any at the moment.

Next up I’m doing a big project that’s going to last something like a year and a half.
Who knows, by mid 2014 I might be so pale that I’m transparent!
Hmm…I bet there’s a book in there somewhere.

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The Dinosaur Who Lost His Roar

Six years ago I illustrated a little, A5 sized, hardback book for Usborne Children’s Books.
It was a story called “The Dinosaur Who Lost His Roar” and was written by the uber-talented and prolific Russell Punter.

Yesterday, a parcel arrived at the house and inside were six, full-sized picture book versions of the book, which I had no idea were going to be made. Result!

It doesn’t come out until August, but “Hooray” for Usborne and “Hooray” for unexpected presents.

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A Public Information Announcement.

Please be aware that Laundrettes can be dangerous places.
Luckily, the people who work in them are highly trained.

A Laundrette yesterday. Click to bigify.

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April 23, 2012 · 8:11 pm

The Astounding world of C John Taylor.

Today, for the first time in months, the sun has been shining brightly. It was far too sunny to be stuck indoors so we decided to get in the car and go for a drive.
I say “drive” but I think “pilgrimage” is more fitting, because we ended up in a place I think I’m becoming slightly obsessed with; the fantastically peculiar Highland Arts Exhibition.

The Highland Arts Exhibition is located in the picturesque village of Ellenabiach, on the Isle of Seil.
The village is a pretty little place with fantastic views out to sea, but the gaudy Exhibition Building sits bang in the middle of it all like some great, unmentionable lump.
If Ellenabiach were a seemingly well-adjusted family, then The Highland Arts Exhibition would be the distant cousin it kept locked in the attic and never spoke about.

Build it and they will come.

At first sight you’d be forgiven for thinking that The Exhibition is nothing more than a glorified gift shop. The windows are cluttered with all kinds of Chinese-made, authentic Scottish tat competing with each other to be rescued from the place; but once you enter it’s hallowed doors into the strangely reverential atmosphere within you’ll see that it’s much more than that.
It is a Gift Shop on Acid.

If you need china Scottie Dogs, bagpipe-shaped fridge magnets, or a plastic cockerel that crows each time you walk past it then you’ve come to the right place.
Need a tea towel with a castle on it? How about little Nessie holding a “No Fishing” sign? What about a stuffed otter? A moldy, flea-bitten bear skin? Half a moldy, flea-bitten zebra skin? A grotesque, blonde-haired “collectors” doll in a velvet dress, with arms as long as it’s body? A two foot high copy of a Greek statuette…with bird poo on it?
What about a Golliwog?

I’m not kidding.

I have watched people walk around the gift shop area of The Highland Arts Exhibition in stunned silence; blinking wildly as the garish shapes and colours destroyed their retinas.

Go beyond the gift shop however and you’ll find yourself in the inner sanctum. The art gallery itself. This where the real fun begins.

The Exhibition itself is entirely dedicated to the artistic output of just one man, C John Taylor. He was the brainchild and glorious creator of the whole place.

The great man himself

C John was born in 1915 and during his lifetime he composed music, wrote poetry, and created obscure “outsider art”, meaning work created by any artist who paints in a naive fashion or has little or no contact with the mainstream art world. C John was so “outside” he was practically on a different continent.

C John’s work is not only obscure but in some cases it’s downright weird, like he painted it by accident…with a spoon.
There are a few pieces in pencil that have been done really well, so he obviously had artistic talent, but for the most part it’s as if he said “Oh, Bugger it!” and just rushed stuff out as quickly as he could.

As far as I can make out there were four subjects he enjoyed painting the most. Landscapes, characters and scenes from the Bible, well-known celebrities of the time (60’s and 70’s), and members of “The Establishment”. Squiff-eyed portraits of Prince Charles and Prime Minister Harold MacMillan hang shoulder to shoulder with Paul Mcartney, Richard Branson, and Snow White (?). The walls are full of them. The ceilings too!

Margaret Thatcher
(I think)

Gordon Ramsay
(not really)

I’m certain that few, if any, of the subjects actually “sat” for their portraits (especially not the ones from the Bible), as most look as if they were copied from photos in magazines or newspapers; and copied at funny angles perhaps with one eye closed, or maybe two.

As I mentioned earlier there is a peculiarly hushed atmosphere within the gallery, which stems from the speechlesness that afflicts the visitors.
People stifle giggles, and God forbid you catch anyone elses eye or that would be it. So you simply walk around the place in silence, eyes wide and lips tightly pursed. It is impossible to avert your eyes from the art, it’s like driving past a traffic accident; and it’s unfathomable that there is an entire gallery dedicated to it.

Or at least I used to think it was unfathomable, but I think I’ve had an epithany.

It’s easy to laugh at C John Taylors work because, not to beat around the bush, his paintings aren’t very good. Best of all he was an eager amateur.
However, it’s plainly obvious he had huge reserves of self-belief, was a fantastic self-promoter, and most importantly had an utterly unqenchable appetite for producing¬†joyously bizarre artworks.
What’s not to like about that?
He was succesful too! At the height of his career he owned a number of galleries, which sold his work all over Scotland so he must have been doing something right.

Thirty years or so later and our tastes are more sophisticated. A majority of his galleries have gone and so has C John. He died at the age of 84 in 1998, on a cruise ship that catered for the “senior” market, just off Tahiti.

Today the Highland Art Exhibition carries on regardless, in a frozen state of faded glory. You could say that it carries on in spite of itself, as I doubt much of C John’s work is ever sold. The eyebrow raising gift shop seems to keep the whole place afloat.
It’s difficult not to like it though, and not just because of the laughs. C John’s family still run the place and all seem genuinely glad you’ve visited; offering out free shortbread as people wander around.
What I can’t figure out is whether his family are aware of how funny the place is. They must have seen and heard people laughing, but do they know why? Do they just accept the fact they run a gallery of strange pictures and pretend not to hear, or are they completely oblivious to it and just think that they have extremely upbeat clientele?

I don’t think I’ll ask.

Before I left the Exhibition I bought myself a little book of C John Taylor’s artwork and poetry.
On the very last page is a black and white photo of the man, resplendent in jaunty cap and thick rimmed glasses.
Beneath it, without a hint of the absurd, the caption says;
“Photographed during a colour television programme.”

Perfect!

My new favourite book.

 

After a day of "art".
Still stupid...but happy!

Go visit it HERE.

 

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