Sunday, 15 July 2018

Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books - Interview with Karl James Mountford - Freelance Children's Illustrator

Welcome, Karl James Mountford, to Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books. It's an absolute pleasure to host you on our little website. We loved your answers to our questions and finding out more about your amazing artwork, particularly for children's books. So without further ado, let me introduce Karl and his amazing post. I hope you all enjoy this. 
Karl James Mountford is an illustrator who works in both traditional and digital media. He has created artwork for such titles as ‘The Uncommoners ‘ by Jennifer Bell, published by Penguin Random House (2017), and ‘The Peculiars’ by Kieran Larwood with Chicken House publishing (2018), to name just a couple. Karl specialises in book cover design and chapter illustrations but also works on picture books, with recent titles including ‘Maurice the Unbeastly’ by Amy Dixon, published by Sterling Children’s Books (2017), and ‘The Curious Case of the Missing Mammoth’ by Ellie Hattie with Little Tiger Press (2017).

Karl currently lives and works in Wales, where his sketch-books rarely get a day off.

How did you become an illustrator?
I went to art college and then Uni to study illustration. But I’ve been drawing since really young.
After uni I started freelancing, the first two years were a bit rough financially and work was few and far between. So I had many a part-time job then I started hunting for an illustration agent while building a whole new portfolio or work.

I didn’t apply to many as I was a bit nervous about rejection but you build a thick skin and after a while, I got signed up with the Bright agency (2nd time lucky) which was a game changer and have now been able to illustrate full time.

What is your favourite medium in which to draw/paint?
Pencil and paper. I know it sounds boring, but it’s always nice (for me) to just sketch using those tools.

Can you give us a good example of a great illustration and what makes it great to you?
A great illustration…anything by Shaun Tan, especially in the picture book ‘The Red Tree’. It’s stunning but his compositions and use of colours are on another level. I think he just delivers the emotion from the page to the reader, whatever that emotion is. Even if you were reading it in another language, the illustrations tell so much of the story.

What is the proudest moment of your career so far?
Work-wise… I'm not sure - I'm quietly proud of it all… I’m a bit proud that I didn’t give up on freelance and stuck it out. Even though some days I think, "Oh maybe you should have been a vet?”  But that thought is usually short-lived because I love what I do.

What would you like to say to the publishing world about illustrations?
Will have to be careful here, don’t bite the hand that feeds you and all that. Erm..the publishing world is a business at the end of the day BUT I think sometimes publishers and sales teams etc can over think the artwork. This is understandable as everyone wants the book to do well but the process can ‘clip the wings’ a bit of an artist, which isn’t great working conditions. However, when you find a client that gives you a bit of trust and freedom to create work that reflects the story inside and still be true to how the illustrator works, well that’s like a lottery win.
I think the most important thing regarding illustrations is that the artists/designers/illustrators are properly credited. For a long time, illustrators names were in a tiny font under the barcode - out of the way or not included at all! In some cases (especially in middle grade/YA and editorials) publishing houses, editors etc should strive to use their illustrator's names and artwork as a good tool to further a books longevity on the shelves. Whether it is credited on the front cover or clearly and visibly on the back.
I know there is a good argument that what's inside the book is the priority ..but 9/10 times people tend to pick up the book because of the cover and illustrations.

What projects get the creative juices flowing for you? 
I love stories that are set in the past or have a darker undertone. The style in past decades really resonates with me, from the clothes to the buildings, cars etc.

Could you tell us a bit about any of your upcoming projects?
I’m working on the cover and internal illustrations for a new middle-grade book, which I’ve really fallen in love with. I read the manuscript in one night - it was that GREAT!. 

It’s a noir mystery by Sophie Green. I think it’s her debut book? I just think the world is gonna fall in love with it too and the main characters. Especially if your reading taste is a little darker, it’s got some right scary chapters … as a 29-year-old, I probably shouldn’t say that - but it’s just great. I can’t tell you how chuffed I am to be apart of it.

I'm working on Katherine Woodfine’s 2nd book in the new series ‘Taylor and Rose’ as we speak. I'm also (slowly) working on my own picture book. But I’m taking my sweet time on it as I love it but it needs to be thought about a bit more as it’s not going to be directed towards children as it’s main audience.

Who are your favourite illustrators and why?
Alice and Martin Provensons, Shaun Tan, all screen printers and there are some stellar current illustrators too, such as Zoe Persico, Matt Saunders, Cally Conway, Sonny Ross. I could list hundreds.

Where should a person start if they want to pursue a career in illustration?
It sounds daft, but just open a sketch-book and start drawing what interests you, then tackle the rest as it comes. 

What's the strangest question you've ever been asked?
I went to art school - most questions were strange and wonderful. 

Karl is represented by The Bright Group.
For any work, enquiries give my agents Arabella or Freddie a shout. /

You can also find him lurking on Twitter: @karlj_mountford 

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