Illustrator Interview: Tim Budgen

Back in January 2017, we launched something new in Storytime Issue 29 – a continuing series of poems called Alphabet Zoo. Every month, Storytime readers get a VIP pass to meet animals beginning with different letters of the alphabet.

When we started developing the series, we had one illustrator in mind: Tim Budgen. Tim had previously illustrated a poem called Animal Fair for us (in Storytime Issue 11). He wowed us with a lion in hair curlers and a sky-diving flamingo (right), so we knew he was the man for the job. We were delighted when he agreed to collaborate with us.

We’ve been toying with the idea of doing an illustrator interview for some time, and who better to start with than a man who can cockatoo and kangaroo with the best of them? Without further ado, escaped from the zoo… get ready to be enlightened and inspired.

Illustrator Interview: 15 Questions with Tim Budgen


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Illustrator/Alphabet Zoo Keeper, Tim Budgen

1. As well as illustrating for children, you’ve also worked as an art teacher. How has your teaching practice informed your illustration work?

That’s right, up until this summer I have been teaching art from Year 3 (8 year olds) all the way up to Year 11 (16 yr olds). After 18 years of teaching, I finally decided to take a different career path and be a full-time professional illustrator, but more of that later. Spending time with children of all ages has certainly given me a good understanding of their humour and silliness, and an opportunity to put this into my drawings. The younger children were also useful as a test audience. Many times I have shown them illustrations and have asked them what they thought!


2. How did kids at school react to having an illustrator as their teacher?

They loved the idea that their teacher had created books they were able to buy. They were also always keen to see sneak peeks of work that hadn’t been published yet! This had a knock-on effect and many took up drawing and began to illustrate their own stories. It also showed them that people can make a living from art and that they could pursue a career in that field if they chose to do so.


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Some lovely recent work by Tim – we love the Ice Ice Baby number plate!

3. What drew you to illustrating for kids? How did you get started?

I’m very lucky that illustrating runs in the family. My great grandfather used to illustrate for the Daily Express and was an artist in his own right. Fortunately, he was able to pass some of that talent down to me! Although I’ve always enjoyed drawing and illustrating, teaching took up a lot of time. I was always teaching others rather than actually doing art for myself. It wasn’t until I came across an online children’s book illustration course that I thought I could do it as a hobby in between terms. So, in the summer of 2012, I started the course. Believe it or not I completed it using ProMarker felt pens! When I finished the course, I continued to build my portfolio and decided that this was something I wanted to eventually do full time. The first book I bought was the Children’s Writers and Artists Yearbook – a brilliant book that guides you through everything you need to know about the children’s book industry.


4. Do you have any favourite artists or illustrators who have influenced your work? What or who is your biggest inspiration?

I was fortunate to have parents who realised the importance of reading from an early age. I also had my grandfather’s books, which I would spend hours reading. My favourite artists are Richard Scarry, Axel Scheffler and, of course, Quentin Blake – three artists with very different styles, but have always stuck with me.


5. Juggling teaching with illustration work must have been tough. How did you fit it all in and do you have any top tips for creatives in the same position?

I juggled teaching and illustrating for four years. At times it got quite stressful. I spent the evenings and weekends on commissioned work, which I gained through my agent, and continued to build my portfolio. I owe my wife a lot for her continued patience and support! In the summer of 2016, I decided I had enough illustration work to go part time at school. This way, I got my evenings back. This summer, I decided to make the jump to full-time freelance work. I’ve always had great passion and enthusiasm for illustration. It’s something I love and it’s fortunate that I have been able to develop that passion into a career. I cross my fingers that I have made the right decision! There are times, of course, when things become difficult. I guess there are in any profession, but I try and have a healthy balance. I don’t always get it right, I can spend far too many hours working! As for top tips… don’t snack when working!


6. Your illustrations for Hachette’s new Pat-a-Cake fairy-tale books are adorable. Breathing new life into these much-loved classics can be hard. How did you go about doing it for Cinderella and Goldilocks?

Thank you, I absolutely loved working on both of those titles and hope I get the opportunity to do more with Pat-a-Cake. I always wanted to do something a little different with those books, especially Cinderella. Originally, I had an idea to have a Bollywood theme. Although this didn’t materialise, it was felt that the characters should have different ethnicities to reflect the world of the modern reader. I’m really pleased with how it turned out! (See our competition below!)

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A new take on Cinderella for Hachette’s Pat-a-Cake books series.


7. What’s your favourite fairy tale and is there one you’d love to illustrate?

My favourite fairy tale is Three Little Pigs, although I was always on the side of the wolf and disappointed by how he met his grizzly end! I would love to illustrate my version of that tale, so if there are any publishers reading this please do get in touch (hint, hint)!


8. We’ve been so lucky to work with you on our Alphabet Zoo poetry series. How do you go about creating such vibrant animal characters?

I think I’ve been the lucky one! I have loved working on Alphabet Zoo. To develop illustrations for each letter of the alphabet must be a dream for any illustrator. I always try and think like a reader. What would they like to see? I try and create characters that are fun, but also have some warmth about them that connects with the audience. I’m lucky enough to have an art director who pretty much allows me to do what I want, so I try and give the best illustrations I can.


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Pink-bottomed baboons in Storytime Issue 30 – Tim’s favourite so far!

9. What’s been your favourite animal to illustrate so far and is there any particular animal we need to get in before we run out of letters?

I think it has to be the yellow baboons in Issue 30. It’s always fun to draw pink bottoms! I have my fingers crossed that there might be an opportunity to illustrate an orang-utan, or maybe a penguin or a polar bear? (We can confirm that all three will be appearing in Alphabet Zoo – Ed.)


10. Is there any piece of work you’re particularly proud of?

I think completing my first picture book As Nice as Pie (from Maverick) was a particularly proud moment. If you haven’t read it, it’s about a bunch of hungry but naughty birds. It’s written by the very talented Gary Sheppard. I don’t think I will ever get tired of seeing my name in print!


11. Are there any favourite projects you’re working on at the moment that you can tell us about?

I am working on a couple of projects, but I’m remaining quiet about those just for now. I am also developing a couple of my own stories and I’m keen to see if can further develop the Dr Dolittle character I’ve been working on. See more of Tim’s work on his website.

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Doctor Dolittle examines his patients – a personal project by Tim Budgen.

12. What’s your preferred creative medium and why?

When I first started illustrating, all of my work was done with ProMarker felt pens. Since then I have progressed to using Photoshop on a Cintiq. Often publishers like a quick turn around and working digitally means I can correct or change things almost instantly.


13. If you could work in any location in the world, where would it be?

Two of my favourite cities are San Francisco and New York in the US. I love the buzz and excitement they both offer, but there is nothing like being at home and, at the moment, that’s on Hayling Island. It’s very beautiful part of the UK and, fortunately for us, often overlooked.


14. What would be your dream project?

I would love to write and illustrate my own picture book one day and be able to buy it in any bookshop anywhere in the world. That’s the dream and I hope, one day, I will be able to achieve that. I have a few ideas flowing around in my head. I just need to find the time to put them to paper.


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Bringing the joy and wonder to children’s illustration – Tim Budgen.

15. Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?

If you want to achieve anything in life, you have to work hard. With illustration, it’s all about practising and making sure you draw every day or as much as you can. Social media offers great opportunities to get involved with a variety of drawing opportunities. Challenges such as Colour Collective, Sketch Daily and Inktober are great ways to develop your art and share it with others. Equally, never be afraid to ask for help. The joy of social media platforms is that there is always someone willing to help. I get a lot of helpful feedback and support on my Twitter and Instagram pages. Above all, enjoy what you’re doing!


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Goldilocks and the Three Bears for the Pat-A-Cake series from Hachette Children’s Books

Thanks Tim! Great answers from a great illustrator (did you know you can buy his prints here?). We wish Tim every success in his full-time career.

To celebrate Tim’s work, we have a gorgeous bundle of Pat-a-Cake books to give away from the kind people at Hachette Children’s Books, including the two titles illustrated by Tim, plus classics including Ugly Duckling and Jack and the Beanstalk.

To be in with a chance to add these wonderful books to your collection, email us at and tell us the name of the poetry series Tim illustrates for Storytime magazine.*

One last thing before we go… we’ve been turning Tim Budgen’s fantastic Alphabet Zoo illustrations into free animal factsheets, activity packs and posters, which you can download with every issue. Get your latest letter J and K factsheets here!

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See you next time!



*We will choose a winner at random from our entries. Closing date for entries: September 8 2017 at midnight. Terms and conditions apply.