Posted by: Kathy Temean | January 18, 2020

Illustrator Saturday – Rob Biddulph


 Rob Biddulph with one of his young fans.

Rob is a bestselling and multi award-winning author/illustrator. His first picture book, Blown Away, was published in 2014 and was only the second illustrated book in history to win the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. It was read as a CBeebies Bedtime Story by Mark Bonnar in 2017. His second book, GRRRRR!, was nominated for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal and was read as a CBeebies Bedtime Story by Chris Kamara in 2019. His third, Odd Dog Out, was nominated for a total of eight literary prizes, winning the BSC Festival of Literature Picture Book Award and the UKLA Student Shadower’s Vote Book Award. It was read as a CBeebies Bedtime Story by Tom Hardy in 2017. His fourth, Sunk!, was nominated for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal and shortlisted for The People’s Book Award and Oscar’s Book Prize. His fifth, Kevin, was nominated for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal and shortlisted for the BSC Festival of Literature Picture Book Award and the IBW Book Award. His sixth (Happy Hatchday), seventh (Give Peas a Chance) and eighth (Wide Awake) books are the first three in the Dinosaur Juniors series. Happy Hatchday was awarded a GOLD Junior Design Award in 2018 and Give Peas a Chance was nominated for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal in 2019. His ninth picture book, Show and Tell, was published by HarperCollins in August 2019.

As well as working on his own books he also illustrates for other authors including Jeff Brown (the Flat Stanley series), Piers Torday, Garth Jennings, Jess Butterworth, SE Durrant and Christian O’Connell. Before he became a full-time author/illustrator he was the art director of the Observer Magazine, NME, Uncut, SKY and Just Seventeen. He lives in London with his wife and three daughters and hasn’t given up hope that, maybe, one of them will go to an Arsenal match with him one day.

HERE IS ROB SHOWING HIS PROCESS:

   

Here is the link to watch its construction, layer by layer.

Interview with Rob Biddulp

How long have you been illustrating?

Ever since I can remember I’ve loved drawing. When the careers advisor at school asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I would always say “an artist.”

What and when was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

I used to draw caricatures when I was about 12, and I remember one of my dad’s friends commissioning me to do one of his wife. Does that count?

What made you decide to get a degree in Visual Communication Design from Middlesex University?

In the UK we have a really interesting system for people who want to study art and design at university. The first year is called the ‘Foundation’ year and you get to try out all facets of the visual arts: fine art, graphic design, photography, illustration, ceramics etc. I started that year thinking that I wanted to be a fine artist, but somewhere along the way I fell in love with graphic design (it probably had something to do with the fact that I was told that it was very difficult to make money as a fine artist!). So, I then got a place on the VCD degree course at Middlesex, one of the best courses in the country at the time, and started studying things like typography, editorial layout. I loved it. Still do.

What types of classes did you enjoy the most?

I really loved screenprinting. In this age of predominantly digital artwork, it was fantastic to get down and dirty with some real ink and paper.

Do you feel school helped you develop your style?

It definitely helped me develop my typographic style and design sensibilities, but not my illustrative style. That came much later…

Did Middlesex help you find work when you graduated?

Actually, my graphics tutor was also a practising designer, and he gave me some work in his studio when I first left. It was my introduction to the professional world and I learned so much. I’ll always be grateful for that.

What type of jobs did you do with your design degree?

I managed to forge a successful and enjoyable career working in newspapers and magazines – I was the art director of Just SeventeenSky MagazineNME and The Observer Magazine – but I was still happiest with a pencil in my hand.

What inspired you to start illustrating and writing Children’s picture books?

When my daughter Kitty was about two we started buying lots of picture books to read to her at bedtime. New ones, old ones, favourites from our own childhoods, we bought the lot. And I had an epiphany. Maybe I should have a go at writing and illustrating one. Whether I could do it or not I wasn’t sure, but it suddenly seemed so obvious that I should at least try. Two in particular inspired me: The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers and How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss. Oliver’s book is a work of art. It’s absolutely beautiful and it really opened my eyes to how much potential the medium has. The Grinch is, quite simply, my favourite ever children’s text. The rhyme is just perfect and provided me with something to aspire to from a writing point of view.

So off I went and started to work on a couple of stories. The ideas for both came from Kitty. One was about a doll that she got for Christmas and had decided to name “Nothing”, and the other was about an imaginary friend that lived in the attic space above her bedroom. When I’d finished I sent them out to a literary agent who immediately (and enthusiastically) agreed to take me on.

Don’t stop there. Did your agent get a contract right away?

Ha, I thought my book would be on the shelves in a matter of months! I was wrong. Despite getting quite a lot of interest from most of the publishers we approached, we couldn’t quite get a deal in place. It was a case of so near yet so far. I think I had totally underestimated how competitive the market was. After a couple of years (yes, years!) of to-ing, fro-ing, tweaking and titivating I decided I needed to step back and take stock. I told my agent to stand down and that I wanted some time to think through my next move. I spent the next six months completely re-drawing the imaginary friend story and I approached a new agent, Jodie Hodges at United. She liked my work and agreed to take me on suggesting that I put together a portfolio of children’s staples to take to publishers alongside the book. So I drew a pirate scene, a dinosaur scene, a space scene, a selection of animal characters, boy characters, girl characters and lots more.

This time things were different. Two of the people I met said they really liked a drawing I’d done of a little penguin family and asked if I could come up with a narrative for them. I said I’d try. I had been working on a story about some children who, while flying a kite, get blown away across the sea by a strong gust of wind. It struck me that in fact this story might actually work better with penguins as the protagonists instead of children. It would certainly be fun to get the famously flightless birds airborne. So I tweaked it and finished it very quickly, sketching out some of the key moments. Within a day or two of sending it to publishers we had several offers on the table. I couldn’t believe it. We decided to sign with HarperCollins (home of Oliver Jeffers and Dr Seuss) and haven’t looked back.

So was Blown Away your first published book that you wrote and illustrated?

It was my first published story, yes, but not the first I wrote and illustrated. I think it was the third or fourth.

Didn’t you win the Waterstones Children’s Book Award in 2015? Can you tell us a little bit about this award?

It’s a very big and prestigious award in the uk for for newly published authors. I was lucky enough to win in the illustrated book category AND the overall category. It was super exciting and my book featured in fabulous window displays in every branch of Waterstones in the country for a month or so. It really got my career off to the best possible start.

In 2016 Harper published a book titled The Grizzly Bear Who Lost His GRRRRR!that you wrote and illustrated. Did you know about that book when you signed Blown Away?

I keep a Google document with all my picture book ideas (I literally have thousands – some better than others!!) and that one was always fairly near the top. So yes, I had the idea when I wrote Blown Away, but didn’t necessarily know that it would be my next book. When I pitched four or five of my ideas to HarperCollins, they all thought that GRRRRR! was the best one to follow Blown Away.

It looks like you followed that up with your penguins in SUNK. Did you sign a three book deal with HarperCollins when you sold Blown away?

I did, but my third book in the UK was actually Odd Dog Out. I then signed another four book deal with HarperCollins, the first of which was Sunk! (another story set in the Blown Away universe).

In 2017 Harper took on ODD DOG OUT in paperback. Now in 2019 they decided to publish it in hardcover was this a surprise? Or did you know they planned on doing a hardcover later?

It came out in hardback in the UK in 2016, then the papaerback was released in 2017. The US hardback came out in 2019. Not sure why there was such a big gap before the US release.

Then in 2018 you published two Dinosaur Juniors, books with HarperCollins and then in 2019 you published book three WIDE AWAKE. Do you think they will have you continue the series?

I am going to start the fourth book in the series in the Spring. I’m excited to go back and visit those characters again.

What I couldn’t find is when you wrote and illustrated Kevin. It is still for sale, but they do not list the pub. Date. Can you tell us a little bit about when you did the book?

Kevin came out in the UK in 2017, but I actually wrote it a long time ago. It was one of my very first stories, in fact, and is all about my daughter Kitty’s imaginary friend. It hasn’t come out in the states yet. Fingers crossed that you’ll get that one soon. Actually, there are a few very exciting things happening around that story which, unfortunately, I’m not allowed to talk about just yet. Let’s just say that (hopefully) you’ll be seeing more of Kevin soon.

Do you have an exclusive contract with HarperCollins?

I do as far as my picture books are concerned, yes. In the UK at least.

How long does it take you to write and illustrate a book?

Quite a while, usually about a year from start to finish. Three quarters of that time is spent on the planning and writing, a quarter on the illustrating. People think that because picture books don’t contain many words they can’t take long to write. This is not the case, unfortunately, as every single line has to work really hard. They have to move the story on quickly while still being funny. Plus, in my case, they have to rhyme too. Add this to the fact that I am a total perfectionist (I can easily spend an entire week on one couplet) and it’s a wonder I ever get anything to the shelves!

Which do you prefer, writing or illustrating?

Illustrating is the really fun bit for me, but I think I find writing more rewarding. I write in rhyme, which is a bit like puzzle-solving, and so when you manage to get it to work it’s very satisfying.

How many picture books have you written and illustrated?

I am halfway through my tenth book.

It looks like you do a lot of school visits. Is this something you like to do?

I certainly do. You will regularly find me at festivals, bookshops, schools, libraries and theatres reading my stories and drawing pictures. You can keep up to date with my touring schedule at my events page. If you are a festival, a bookshop, a school, a library or a theatre and would like to request a visit, please get in touch with my publicity team at HarperCollins. Click here to send them an email.

Have you ever tried illustrating a wordless picture book?

Funnily enough, I have one that I wrote (can you ‘write’ a wordless picture book?) about ten years ago. I think it’s quite good actually. Maybe I’ll send HarperCollins an email in the morning…

 

Are you still represented by Jodie Hodges at United?

I am. She’s the best!

What do you think is your biggest success?

Probably Odd Dog Out. It’s my biggest seller in the UK. It was also read on the BBC’s Bedtime Stories TV show by the actor Tom Hardy. That seemed to go down very well with mums!

What is your favorite medium to use?

Pencil.

Has that changed over time?

No. It’s always been pencil.

What materials and/or tools do you use to create your work?

Everything begins life as a sketch in my sketchbook. I hone character and composition there before taking it over to the computer to produce the final artwork. I have a very cool giant tablet thing (called a Wacom Cintiq) which I draw on with a special stylus using lots of customised digital paint brushes. The application I use is Photoshop. It’s really fun – just like real drawing/painting but without the mess. And you can press ‘undo’ whenever you make a mistake.

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

Not really. It takes as long as it takes. That being said, these days my schedule is so packed that I have to allocate a certain amount of time to each part of the process.

Do you take pictures or research a project before you start?

Depends on the book, but usually, yes.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?.

Hard to tell. It certainly helps in terms of promotion. Oh, and research!

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

I’ve just written a novel for slightly older children. It’s being published in the UK in October 2021 and we are all very excited about it. I’m hoping that it will open up a whole new world of opportunity for me.

What are you working on now?

My tenth picture book for HarperCollins. I can’t reveal the title yet but it’s another book that features a few canine characters. Then I’ll move onto my next Dinosaur Juniors book, and then I’ll start writing the sequel to my novel. It’s all happening!!

Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

I use Kuretake pens, Blackwing pencils and Schmincke watercolours.

Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

1) Sketch, sketch and sketch some more. You only find a style of your own if you draw your way to it! An individual, immediately identifiable style is SO important. Try and keep a sketchbook with you at all times – you never know when inspiration will strike!

2) Tailor your portfolio to your target market. The first thing that my brilliant agent asked me to do was draw all of the children’s book staples – a pirate scene, a dinosaur scene, a space scene, animals, children etc etc. Not only do you end up with a portfolio that publishers can readily identify with, but it can also really help you to hone you style and test it’s adaptability too.

3) Don’t give up. There probably will be some rejections along the way but remember that most opinion regarding illustration is subjective. It’s not like maths where there’s a definite right or wrong answer. If you really believe in yourself and what you’re doing you’ll be fine. Also, in my experience publishing can be quite a slow-moving process, so having some patience will definitely stand you in good stead.

Thank you Rob for sharing your talent and expertise with us. Make sure to let us know your future successes. To see more of Rob’s work, you can visit him at: 

Website: http://www.robbiddulph.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rbiddulph/?hl=en

If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Rob. I am sure he’d love to hear from you and I enjoy reading them, too. 

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Great stuff! I will be reading Rob’s books. Thanks for the post.

    Like

  2. I adore your illustrations. I’m looking forward to Odd Dog Out.

    Like


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