How did you become an illustrator?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be an illustrator. I drew all the time when I was a kid, everything else was boring, I just wanted to draw. I couldn’t wait to leave school and enrol onto a course in Art & Design at Bradford College and then an Illustration course at Middlesbrough College.
I was fortunate to have some great tutors including the illustrator Chris Mould who was a great source of support and encouragement and has remained so in the years since I completed my further education. It was Chris who gave me a nudge in the right direction (or kick up the backside!) just when I needed it most. I was beginning to think I might not make it as an illustrator but Chris encouraged me to continue sending work to publishers and hey presto, it paid off when Helen Boyle (then at Templar Publishing) commissioned me to illustrate the ‘Henry Hunter’ books. I couldn’t have been happier and I’m eternally grateful to them both.
Do you think an illustrator needs a style?
I think it helps Editors and Art Directors to commission illustrators who work in a particular style, however I think it’s good to be adaptable and willing to attempt new methods and to push yourself. Some of my favourite illustrators have the ability to produce work that is very recognizably their own but they also adapt and develop it to move in new directions. A good example would be someone like Shaun Tan who has a very distinguishable style, but with every new book he seems to push and challenge himself to produce new and unique illustrations.
For me it’s a process that comes about through experimentation and channelling influences. It took me a good while to find a method of working that was comfortable and felt like my own. I’m influenced by something new everyday and forever pondering how it was
produced. By experimenting it’s possible to integrate certain aspects of those influences into your work and little by little you develop your own style, it should be a natural, on-going process.
What is your favourite medium to draw/paint with?
Initially I’ll sketch roughs and final compositions in pencil and then crack on with the good part…inking-in. I use a Micron 01 black fine line pen and work in a crosshatch style. The technique is a painstaking process and one which does my eyes no good at all! With the fine line pen I make a tiny mark in one direction and then turn the image around and add another layer in another direction to create shade and depth or leave bits out to hint at light and space. The image might turn ten to twenty times until it’s finished. It’s a very enjoyable process but a bit mindboggling at times.
Could you tell us a bit about any of your upcoming projects?
I’m really excited about my plans for this summer. I have the third book in Charlie Fletcher’s ‘Dragon Shield’ trilogy to illustrate for Hodder, it’s been a fantastic series to work on, a real privilege. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed exploring London and it’s statues through Charlie’s eyes, I’ll see London in a different way from now on.
I’ve been working in my black & white crosshatching style quite a lot these past couple of years so I’m really looking forward to doing some experimenting with colour techniques. I really like the little pots of ‘Magic Colour Acrylic Ink’ as you can fill the empty cartridges of Rotring pens with them and this enables me to do- wait for it…colour crosshatching! It’s something I’ve been hoping to play about with so I can’t wait to get cracking.
I’ve also got a couple of ideas for Picture books rolling around in my head. Writing and illustrating my own books is something I haven’t attempted yet but the ideas are up
there somewhere and they’re refusing to go away so I’m going to finally put pen to paper to see what comes out. I’d love to illustrate a picture book, it’s a long held ambition so I’ve got my fingers crossed.
Who are your favourite illustrators and why?
There are three illustrators/authors whose books inspired my own ambitions to become an illustrator; they are Raymond Briggs, Tove Jansson and Maurice Sendak. Their work made a huge impression on me when I was a kid to the point where even now looking at the books they made brings back thoughts and feelings I had about them as a child. They were a little bit unsettling, frightening even. Stripy monsters, mysterious islands, lighthouses and bogeymen populate my childhood memories, it explains a lot! Aside from being scared witless I could also see the beauty in these books and I return to them again & again.
A contemporary illustration hero of mine is Shaun Tan. His illustrations have the same ability to unsettle, fascinate and inspire me much the same as Raymond, Tove and Maurice did in my childhood. I think his work will stand the test of time; ‘The Red Tree’ ‘The Arrival’ and ‘The Lost Thing’ already feel like Classics.
There are lots of other artists, authors and illustrators whose work I love and take inspiration from; Levi Pinfold, Jim Kay, David Roberts, Neil Gaiman, Jon Klassen, Aardman Animation, Carson Ellis, Gustave Dore, Faye Hanson, Philip Pullman, Chris Riddell, Alan Lee, Heath Robinson, my old tutor Chris Mould and tons more.
What helps you to be more creative?
I love listening to audiobooks when I’m in the middle of a project. I’ll work in silence when I’m sketching the initial roughs and ideas (for me that’s the worst part, agonizing!) but when it comes to inking-in the final illustrations give me a long night, tea and an audiobook and I’m a happy man. I know I need to get out more!
Where should a person start if they want to pursue a career in illustration?
Ooh that’s quite a difficult one and I guess I can only speak from experience. As I said, it took me quite a few years to achieve my ambition of becoming a published illustrator with a few wrong turns along the way. Persistence and self-motivation are good strengths to have. Editors and agents are the folks you need to approach but they’re very busy people so you need to try and stand out. Sending emails with loads of jpegs probably wont get you very far. There are so many hugely talented illustrators out there all trying to get published so we have to use our imaginations to make an impression. If it seems you aren’t getting anywhere don’t give up (like I almost did) just keep trying.
What do you read for pleasure?
Unfortunately I don’t get much time to read nowadays, that’s where audiobooks come in useful. I quite like ghost stories on audiobook, ‘Dark Matter’ by Michelle Paver is a favourite as is ‘Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You My Lad’ by M.R. James. Both are great on a dark and stormy night. Other favourites include ‘Watership Down’ and ‘The Box of Delights’.
I haven’t read the ‘Harry Potter’ series yet but I’m clearing a space in my diary for the forthcoming new editions which are being illustrated by Jim Kay, it looks like he’s done an amazing job from what I’ve seen so far.
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Web Site: http://nicktankard.co.uk/