Jago Silver says, “Some time ago, a boy called Jago arrived here on Earth with a burning ambition to be …. Superman, Indiana Jones, or quite possibly King Arthur.
After a little hard work and an awful lot of drawing he settled on his fourth choice of career, illustrating children’s books, something he reckons he could be quite good at one day.
He lives in a slightly damp wetsuit in Cornwall with his fantastically lovely wife Alex, beautiful daughter Lily Peach and small round son, Rudy.
He has won the following Awards:
Logos Best Children’s Picture Book Award – Thoughts To Make Your Heart Sing – 2013
Evangelical Christian Publishers Association – Christian Book Awards – Inspiration category – Thoughts To Make Your Heart Sing – 2013
Evangelical Christian Publishers Association – Gold Book Award (in recognition of 500,000 copies sold of The Jesus Storybook Bible) – 2011
ALA Notable Award – The Jesus Storybook Bible – 2010
Sydney Taylor Honour Award for Young Readers – Nachshon Who Was Afraid To Swim – 2009
National Jewish Book Award for Young Readers – Nachshon Who Was Afraid To Swim – 2009
Honors Award Winner – NAPPA Children’s Products Storytelling & Audio Books – The Jesus Storybook Bible – 2009
Amazon.com Best Children’s Picture Book – The Jesus Storybook Bible – 2008
Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards – Gold Medal – The Jesus Storybook Bible – 2007
National Literacy Association Wow! Award – The Little Red Hen and the Grains of Wheat – 2006
Holyer An Gof Award for Best Children’s Book – The Brave Tales series – 2006
International Youth Library, White Ravens, Special Mention – Myron’s Magic Cow – 2005
AOI Images 28 Annual – AOI Silver Award, Student Section – 2004
The Macmillan Prize for Children’s Illustration – Highly Commended Award – 2003
Winner of the UK Further Education Funding Council Calendar Prize – 20001.
Here is Jago explaining his process:
Rough sketch – I like to work with tome rather than just line in roughs as this usually conveys more about how the final illustration will look.
First stage of the final illustration – I block in colours and shapes and often use gradient fills for the sky.
Experiment with lighting and add some layers of texture.
I got a bit carried away with detailing the rivets on the side of the ship here… Added the actual character!
Added some reflected light on the side of the boat.
Another layer of textures and some tweaks to the colour scheme.
Some small additions of texture…
Last minute decision that I think, really made the piece work. I tried a much more dramatic lighting scheme, essentially I placed the whole image under a shadow and then cut away parts of it to reveal sunlight…voila! Finished piece for SixPenney Magazine.
How long have you been illustrating?
I’ve been a freelance illustrator since I graduated in 2003
What was the first thing you painted and got paid for?
I was commissioned to illustrate 5 monthly editions of Cornwall Today magazine whilst I was still at college.
Have you always lived in the UK?
Did you go to school for art? If so, where did you go and what did you study.
I studied Illustration at University College Falmouth and graduated with a 1st Class Honours Degree.
What do you think helped develop your style?
I’ve always thought that my style has developed through the following process:
I see work by other illustrators that I love and try to emulate some aspect of it, but due to my own particular skills/lack of, it comes out differently – and then I repeat the process.
What type of work did you do after you got out of school?
I was given a two book contract by Oxford University Press just after I graduated so my first work was illustrating Fig’s Giant by Geraldine McCaughrean. I then worked on several dual language children’s books for Mantra Lingua.
Have you seen your style change since you left school?
Yes, it changes constantly as I try to improve different aspects of my work and see new influences.
It looks like you have won many awards for your illustrating? Which one do you covet the most?
I was very proud of the award I revived for selling 500,000 copies of The Jesus Storybook Bible. I couldn’t ever have imagined selling that many books (it’s currently sold 1.2 million copies!)
How did you get the job to illustrate The Jesus Storybook Bible?
The author Sally Lloyd Jones had quite by chance, seen a copy of Fig’s Giant at a book fair and remembered my name. She put me forward to the publisher and they agreed. I had to Express FedEx a copy of the book from the UK to Grand Rapids in order to make a Monday morning meeting. Sally later told me that the book was literally delivered as the meeting began and it was seeing it in person that got me the job.
What did you do to win The Macmillan Prize for Children’s Illustration?
I didn’t actually win, I was Highly Commended, I illustrated a lesser known Grimm’s Fairy Take, The White Snake – I was still at college at the time.
How many picture books have you illustrated?
I’ve actually lost track, but more than 40 now, (many are for educational publishers which means I don’t receive a copy of the book….). I have copies of about 20 books.
Do you have any desires to write and illustrate your own book?
I would love to, but first I need to find some time to actually do it. I’ve been thinking about it for years, but sadly that’s all I seem to have time to do.
How did you get the job to illustrate Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim: A Passover Story? Did you think it would win the Sydney Taylor Honour Award for Young Readers? Is that something your publisher submits for you and you never know until you win?
Virtually all of my works comes via my agent, the wonderful Ronnie Herman of Herman Agency in New York. I had no idea about the award until the publisher contacted me to say I’d won! I was invited to an awards ceremony but as it was more than 4,000 miles from me I couldn’t make it…
It looks like you have illustrated a good number of books with a religious bent. Do you want to specialize in Christian and Jewish books?
I have illustrated a fair number of religiously themed books – all I think, as a consequence of the success of The Jesus Storybook Bible. I didn’t consciously decide to specialize in this, but it’s certainly been interesting!
Do you visit the US to promote yourself with Art directors and editors?
I have never visited the US sadly, although I would like to meet my agent one day. Currently it’s hard to imagine having the time to take more than a weekend off work though…
How did you connect with Ronnie Herman for representation? How long have you been with them?
She found me through a student portfolio website that I’d forgotten I was even on, which just shows it’s always worth putting your work out there – you never know who’ll find it! I’ve been with her since 2005, the first job she got me was The Jesus Storybook Bible!
Have you worked with a lot of European publishers?
I’ve worked with several UK publishers but none in mainland Europe. The vast majority of my work comes from the US, with some from Australia and South Korea as well. The European picture book market is so small compared to America that there’s relatively little work here.
Do you do any other types of art to make money?
I sell signed prints of my work (both from my books and other personal pieces) on my Etsy shop (https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/JagoIllustration).
For the past two years I’ve also participated in a local exhibition called Cruel and Curious – which so far as had the theme of “the darker side of the sea” (https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.765344033526985.1073741826.228362140558513&type=1).
This has been a great opportunity to produce work that isn’t for children’s books and lots of the techniques and have made their way back into my usual illustration work. It’s also been good meeting other illustrators and artists as being freelance can be quite a solitary career.
It looks like you have worked with McGraw-Hill on a large number of books. How many do you think you have illustrated for them?
I’ve lost track, particularly as they’ve since merged with a couple of other publishers, probably about ten over the years?
Would you still be open to working with a self-published author at this point in your career?
As long as they could pay me! – why not?
How many hours do you spend illustrating?
About 10 hours a day, 5 days a week
Do you have a favorites medium you use?
All my work is digital, my preferred tool is Photoshop
Do you take research pictures before you start a project?
Occasionally, but mostly I find that Google has a better visual library than any could ever make myself…
Do you use Photoshop with any of your work?
ALL OF IT! 🙂
Do you have and use a graphic tablet?
I do indeed, a Wacom Cintiq 27QHD that I use for everything – I love it, it’s like a digital drawing board….
Have you done any illustrations for educational publishers?
Yes, at various times much of my work has been for educational publishers. I’d recommend it, the briefs are usually super-detailed and helpful and the less than stellar pay is offset by the fact you’ll often complete a job within 7 days.
Has any of your work appeared in magazines?
I have produced illustrations for Cornwall Today Magazine and Total Guitar magazine, I have also had my work featured in ImagineFX magazine. I’ve just completed a series of three illustrations (and a cover) for the launch issue of Sixpenny Magazine – http://www.sixpenny.org/ which I’m very excited about. I got to illustrate a fantastic short story by Judy Chicurel
Have you ever tried your hand at a wordless picture book?
No, not yet, I’d like to though!
Do you have a studio in your house?
Yes, I’m very lucky to have a good sized room at home to work in, it has a door to the garden too which is lovely in summer (and draughty in winter).
Is there anything in your studio, other than paint and brushes that you couldn’t live without?
There’s a few hundred books that I really wouldn’t want to be without and for me, my Macs are essential. I use a 2014 Retina 5K iMac 4.4Ghz, with 32Gb RAM and 1Tb SSD, this is what the Wacom Cintiq 27 QHD is connected to. I also have 2013 2.6Ghz Mac Mini with 16Gb RAM and 1Tb Fusion Drive and 10TB of external Hard Drives which is my backup system and media server.
I also use a 128Gb iPad Air – for sketches and everything outside the house.
What kinds of things do you do to promote yourself?
Not enough really… I mostly rely on my agent, but I have sent out sets of postcards of my work to UK publishers. In recent years quite a few smaller jobs have come via my Facebook Page and Instagram and Twitter accounts. (http://www.facebook.com/jagoillustration) (http://www.twitter.com/jago) (http://www.instagram.com/jagosilver)
Any exciting projects on the horizon?
Well, I’m looking forward to the next Cruel and Curious exhibition, the 2015 theme is “Hinterland”…. I’m excited about a book of mine that’s coming out April 1st, An Ambush of Tigers by Betsy Rosenthal (published by Lerner) – it’s a book about the collective nouns for different animals and was great fun to illustrate.
What are your career goals?
To continue working as a freelance illustrator until my fingers give up… I’d like to write and illustrate my own book at some point (but can’t currently imagine ever having the time…)
What are you working on now?
I’m putting the finishing touches to a book for Penguin imprint Philomel, it’s called Always Remember (by Cece Meng) and it’s about a sea turtle (and life and death…). I’m also completing 38 illustrations for Oxford University Press (Australia & New Zealand), the book is called Does A Tiger Have Nine Lives? and it’s by Sally Grindley. Alongside this I’m working on an album cover for Brad Guldemond and designing my brother’s wedding invites. Very occasionally I am sleeping…
Are there any painting tips (materials, paper, etc.) you can share that work well for you? Technique tips?
As all my work is digital and so my tips are too:
Name your Photoshop layers! It will make your life so much easier when a publisher request alterations. (continued…)
Spend time experimenting with Photoshop custom brushes and get to know which ones work for you – then create Tool Presets for the ones you like (and back them up). (continue…)
Make sure your backup system includes some online component (like Backblaze and Dropbox) for your most important work (don’t just rely on Time Machine). If you buy external hard drives, buy them in pairs and use software like SuperDuper to make them mirror each other – this makes it really unlikely you’ll lose anything.
Any words of wisdom you can share with the illustrators who are trying to develop their career?
You’re not drawing enough… seriously, how ever much you’re drawing it’s not enough. If you’re not eating, sleeping or working you should be drawing. There’s really nothing else that will have such a big impact on your work and your ability to earn a living from it (now I just need to follow my own advice).
Thank you Jago for sharing your talent, process, and journey with us. Please make sure you keep in touch and share your future successes with us.
If you have a minute, please leave Jago a comment. I am sure he would love it and I enjoy reading them. Thanks!