My first book was a chance event. I was invited to write and illustrate a story about the Bedouin Arabs called ‘My Arabian Home’ which I made entirely using paper, collage and mixed media. It didn’t sell very well but it was ‘published’ and for that I was most grateful but I knew I had to find a new way of working if I was going to make further books. Mixed media presented problems because it is very difficult to produce a ‘rough’ sketch of what is going to follow as final art when you are working with paper…and publishers need that.
I had always hoped to make books for children but when I began illustrating I assumed my ‘method’ would always be to use black and white…I didn’t have any confident understanding of colour at all.
However, thanks to the support and guidance of two tutors in particular at the Royal College of Art – Dan Fern and Quentin Blake – I began to dip my finger into the chocolate box so to speak and play with coloured paper and then ultimately paint.
Initially, my early years working professionally were still fairly ‘muted’ - mixed media and drawing still dominated the early commissions. These were mostly commercial gigs…wine labels, book jackets - that sort of thing. I was writing stories but not getting the commissions.
When my son was born I decided to start genuinely experimenting with water-colours. They were, of course, notoriously difficult to use and Francis Lincoln publishers were very brave to offer me a first commission to paint a book using them. This was to be a seminal opportunity.
First of all, it was a text by Michael Morpurgo who, after years of producing very successful and much-loved novels for children, had written his ‘first’ picture book tale and I was given the chance to illustrate it.
Secondly, the book was subsequently shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal (it didn’t win) but further commissions followed. In other words my life as a picture book illustrator – which is what I had always wanted to be – had begun.