Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books: Q&A Interview with Illustrator Jamie Littler

Hello! You may be wondering who on earth I am. Good question, my friend, good question.
Here are some things you may, or may not, know about me:
My name is Jamie Littler, and I am an author - illustrator, who lives in merry ol' England.I especially specially specialise in children's books and graphic novels, with the odd bit of fantasy art and vis-dev here and there for added flavour. 
How did you become interested in illustrating literature for children?
Perhaps it sounds incredibly clichéd, but I think I've always been interested in illustrating for children's literature. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by illustrated books from a young age, my parents reading to me every night, and I used to pour over the illustrations and love every second of it. When not doing important things like playing with action figures or climbing trees, I used to draw for hours, creating stories and comics, often completely ripped-off from books and films I had been watching that week, but it was all part of that sense of creating world and characters through illustration. I loved it, and I guess I never grew out of it. Telling stories and illustrating for all ages is something pretty special, but to illustrate literature for children: there's some kind of magic and wonder there that I don't think can be replicated.
Could you describe your journey to becoming an artist? 
It was mostly a case of just drawing, all the time, and enjoying it! When you're at school, there's that funny thing that happens when there's always a kid in class who is 'best' at something. The 'best' at football, the 'best' at maths, the 'best' at spinning round in circles. I had been, very kindly, I might add, labelled as 'best drawerer', and that really helped to egg me on, as well as the amazing support from my parents. I always thought I wanted to get into film and animation as a teenager, I used to draw out storyboard after storyboard for story ideas, but when it came to actually picking up a camera or making an animation: I seemed to lose interest. I realised, as I was deciding what to go on to after school, that it was the act of illustrating stories that I really loved and where all of my energy and effort went in to. I did an Art Foundation (which taught me a HUGE amount) and then went on to do a BA(Hons) in Illustration at the Arts Institute at Bournemouth, which I loved. Not only was it 3 years studying and creating illustration, they taught us a lot about how to make a career out of it too, which was pretty invaluable information. Then it was just the simple (hah!) case of getting my portfolio in front of as many publishers as I could. My agent, Jodie, was super important and helpful in this regard.
What were your original inspirations?
Ah, lots and lots! I am hugely influenced by animation (my dad is an animator so it was an ever-present thing in my house), so the movies of Disney, Don Bluth and Studio Ghibli had a huge impact on me, and also animated shows on TV, like the animated Batman series. I still love them all to this day! I think that always made me want to create a real sense of 'movement' and energy in my illustrations, and the process I go through when planning an illustration is usually to imagine it moving, like a film, in my head. I used to read lots and lots of comics too, things like Asterix and Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes (still one of my favourite artists and comic strips to this day), and a huge, massive interest in Japanese manga. As for books themselves, I have been hugely influenced by the free, scratchy line-work of Quentin Blake (surprise surprise! I don't think there's a UK illustrator alive who isn't influenced by him!), Arthur Rackham and Ronald Searle. I just loved the way their illustrations could looks so messy and full of humour and franticness, yet still be completely endearing and fitting in a book.
Do you think an illustrator needs a style? 
Ooo, tough question. 'Needs' is a strong word, but I believe it's very important. It's great to try out new and different things, with different mediums and in different ways, but I do think it really helps that no matter what you do, it still retains that signature 'you' about it. It helps you to make a name for yourself, for readers to recognise and hunt down your work, and for you to stand out from the crowd. Luckily, I think a personal style is quite a natural thing, like your own hand-writing. It tends to force its way through in anything you do, unless you actively try and suppress it. Then it's just a case of developing it and making it something entirely unique to you. Influences are great, important, inspiring and inevitable, but it's your own style that will leave a lasting mark, not something someone else probably does much better than you.
What is your favourite medium to draw/paint with?
I do a lot of my stuff digitally, using a Cintiq tablet. Not only does it allow you a lot of control over your drawings and compositions, I just really enjoy it! I can play around with things until I am really happy with them, and it enables a real ease to make changes and corrections, which are usually inevitable! I still love using ink pens and watercolours though. It's fast and messy, and makes a really nice change of pace and method compared to the slower, more methodical digital stuff. Thin, spidery, splatty pen lines and messy, textured watercolours – if I can include these in an illustration I will try and find a way!

What's the basic process to making a good book cover?
Trying to be bold, striking and getting the essence of the story across in the most dramatic way you can! It's quite hard, funnily enough! I think these are the main things, though. Often, the publisher will have a really clear idea of what they would like to see on the cover, and what colour it will be, and it will usually include all of those elements. For children's books, it's usually got to show the main character, and an element or two that really get across what the story is about, such as the monsters that will be the main baddies, or the vehicle the characters will make their epic journey with, or a location from the world the adventure is set in, stuff like that. I think the key seems to be all about composition, colour and excitement, as there are a lot of book covers in those book shops, so you want someone to see yours and think: 'Ooo, that looks cool! And intriguing! I think I'll buy it!'.
Do you remember which illustrated children's books were your favourites back when you were a young reader and why? 
Definitely Roald Dahl's books, illustrated by Quentin Blake. I don't know why, I just remember it so distinctly. Our teacher read us 'George's Marvellous Medicine' in year 2-3? I just remember loving it's edginess, it's hilariousness and, well, it's complete nastiness! I was really into ghosts and monsters and stuff like that as a kid (and adult), and even though there were no such things in that book, that grim, modern-fairytale feel it had really ticked all of my boxes. I rushed out to find and devour (in a literary sense, of course, I was quite a well-fed child) every other Roald Dahl book I could, after that! But yes, anything with ghosts and monsters in it, I was usually happy. I remember 'The Monster Bed' by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Susan Varley, very fondly, and when I found 'Goblins of the Labyrinth' by Brian Froud (basically the art book for the film: 'Labyrinth'), in my parent's book shelf, I felt like I had discovered a most mystical and ancient of magical tomes. I was obsessed with the creatures and world it showed (and I hadn't even seen the film at that point, so my imagination just went wild!).
What’s your favourite piece of art equipment?
Traditional artists will probably chase me with pitch-forks, but I'm going to say my Cintiq tablet. It's just so useful and fits perfectly with the way I work, mostly due to the amount of work I have to get finished before the ever-looming deadlines! Even when doing traditional illustrations, I really enjoy the way I can adjust and move my drawings around to be the way I want them, and then print it out and use a light-box to ink them from there. Don't get me wrong, I still LOVE using pencils in my sketchbook to relax or to design characters (and I always draw and colour my picture books with traditional tools to retain that 'hand-crafted' feel), and LOVE needle thin fine-liners (it's just the way it's so delicate and easy to make loose, scratchy line-work with), and really do enjoy the 'happy accidents' you get using drawing ink and watercolours, but for final artwork, I'd be amazed if my Cintiq isn't used in one way or another, even if it is just to tweak this colour or that line.
Could you tell us a bit about any of your upcoming projects?
Lots of exciting things! I shall be continuing to work on a few fiction titles which I really do love working on; the Hamish series by Danny Wallace (book 3!), the Wilf the Mighty Worrier series by Georgia Pritchett and the Jim Reaper series by Rachel Delahaye. I will also be starting a new National Trust-linked historical fiction/factual ('faction') series with author Philip Ardargh, plus hopefully beginning my new comic series with the Phoenix Comic, later this year. Busy times, and I feel incredibly lucky!
What do you read for pleasure?
Lots and lots, and I try my hardest to mix it up and go by recommendations, just for variety. But truth be told, I really have a soft spot for fantasy and always go back to it when I just want to relax and have fun. Fantasy series like His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve and books by Joe Abercrombie, a fantasy writer for grown-ups, are just a few of my favourites! Ooo, and historical fiction by Bernard Cornwell and Conn Iggulden. I LOVE history, so to have exciting adventures set in researched histories, I really do love it. That, and loads and loads of comics. 

Website: jamielittler.co.uk

Twitter: @jamieillustrate 

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