Award-winning illustrator/author Catherine Rayner shares her process, projects, and illustrations in this edition of “Illustrator’s Gallery.”
I often get asked why I chose to be an illustrator. Well, I’ve always found drawing therapeutic. I was the child who secretly loved it when it rained as it meant you could stay indoors and draw. I used to draw our pets. We had a sausage dog called Wilfred and he featured in most of my pictures. The first book I ever wrote, illustrated and made was about him being naughty. My mum still has it. I was about four. I think I knew then I wanted to be an author and illustrator. But like most dreams, you don’t expect them to come true.
The next question is usually, “How did you become an illustrator, and when did you write your first book?” At the age of seventeen I applied to Art School and was accepted. I was delighted. I attended the foundation programme at Leeds College of Art in my first year and then moved to Edinburgh to specialise in Illustration. In my final year I spent a great deal of time at Edinburgh Zoo and found myself drawing the tigers all the time. They always looked a bit forlorn (I’d imagine this was mainly due to the Scottish weather!).
It was during this year that I came up with the story Augustus and his Smile. I created a handmade book for my degree show with a full cover and 30 double-spread illustrations. It was spotted by a publisher at a graduate design show in London and the book was published the following year. Augustus and his Smile will mark its tenth anniversary next year and a special GOLD edition will be published to celebrate his birthday!
Since then I’ve written and illustrated a further 13 picture books and illustrated 5 stories written by other authors, including Michael Bond, Holly Webb and Michael Morpurgo. These have been published in 39 countries worldwide. I use a combination of techniques but am frequently drawn back to the pairing of loose hand-drawn characters with silkscreen printed backgrounds; a splurge of ink marks a moose’s nose, a subtle blend of colour depicts an arctic landscape, while a found leaf shape repeats to form graphic foliage.
I am still inspired by my own pets. My horse and cat especially. When I’m riding I take in the shapes of the countryside, plants and trees, and I try to absorb the colours. I often collect leaves and branches and bring them home to scan and draw. I then use these in my silkscreen printing. I also draw houseplants and flowers from my garden, or ask the florist at the end of our street if I need a new and unusual shape.
I am driven by a constant feeling I need to improve on my last book. When I post my artwork to the publisher, I feel a sense of anxiety. Will the publishers like it? Will it actually work as a book? What if the artwork doesn’t scan very well? It’s never quite a relief to get the final artwork in the post as it’s only when I see the book in print and on the shelves that I feel content. For the first time ever I’ve just finished a sequel to one of my books – Solomon Crocodile. It’s been so lovely being able to go back to a character and re-create him years later, with a little bit more experience of what children really enjoy reading about, under my belt.
I read heaps of children’s books and my studio shelves are full of them. Our son is now four years old and it’s wonderful to be able to share my collection with him. The books he chooses from my shelves really interests me as they are never the ones I would have gone for. This has definitely changed my work as I now feel as though I have inside knowledge of what a four-year-old actually wants to read! I think my books have become more fun as a result. I’m currently resisting his request for me to make a book about diggers. I can’t see that happening just yet!
I still can’t believe I get to draw every day as a job. I hope I can continue to do it for the rest of my days.
Award winning author and illustrator Catherine Rayner studied Illustration at Edinburgh College of Art. She fell in love with the city and still lives there with her husband, young son and a handful of creatures: Shannon the horse, Ena the grey cat and a goldfish called Richard. Learn more about her, her projects, and awards on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.