Sometimes the universe conspires to pair a story with the perfect illustrator, as is the case with Storytime Issue 45‘s fairy tale, Jack the Giant Killer, and the artist who brought it to life so brilliantly – Tom Knight.
We had high hopes for this story because we can’t understand why it isn’t more popular and widely known. It’s the ideal follow-on fairy tale from Jack and the Beanstalk with an even braver hero and even better giants. It even comes with a good helping of ‘Fe Fi Fo Fum’. The campaign to win Jack the Giant Killer the fame he deserves starts here – and Tom’s illustrations are sure to help. Did we mention the giants?
We caught up with Tom to get some insight into his life as a children’s illustrator and he gave us heaps of inspiration along the way.
Illustrator Interview: 11 Questions with Tom Knight
1. Did you do an illustration degree? How did you get started in illustration?
My degree was in graphic design. The design department was part of the art school, so we had access to all the printmaking and life drawing facilities. I loved it! The smell of an art department is one of my top five favourite smells of all time. (The other four are libraries, boat sheds, freshly cut grass and coffee.)
I had a very happy career in graphic design for a long time after I did my degree, but my work became more and more illustration based until I took the leap and started illustrating full time.
2. What drew you to illustrating for kids?
I used to draw a lot of birthday cards for my friends to make them laugh. My friends all have a very childish sense of humour, so it was a natural fit to start illustrating for actual kids. Then I had children of my own, and so the idea of making art that they would find funny or affecting was very appealing.
3. What or who is your biggest inspiration?
I think my biggest inspiration must be Hergé, the Belgian creator of Tintin. I loved the Tintin books so much as a child – the sense of place and adventure that Hergé created had a huge effect on me. As I got older I could see how amazing he was at drawing and creating his scenes technically too. He’s definitely my drawing hero!
4. What’s your illustration process? Do you have preferred creative medium and why?
My process changes all the time! My studio is divided in two with my tidy computer desk on one side and my messy drawing table on the other. I always try to stay on the messy side for as long as possible! I do most of my colouring digitally because it’s so much faster (and easier to change later on for all those fussy art directors). But my favourite bit is looking through all my jars of pencils and pens and charcoal and choosing what to use. I usually end up using everything.
I never thought I would be good enough to write something that would end up on someone’s bookshelf, even though I’ve always had loads of story ideas. My agent basically bullied me into it, and then Katie, my lovely editor at Templar, showed a huge amount of faith in me by signing me up to write two books for them. (Note from Ed – Good Knight, Bad Knight and Jimmy Finnigan’s Wild Wood Band.)
6. You’ve done a brilliant job of Jack the Giant Killer for Storytime – thank you! What’s your favourite fairy tale and is there one you’d love to illustrate?
That’s a good question! I’ve just finished a book for Scholastic about a very naughty bogey who romps through lots of fairy tales and spoils them all, so I had lots of fun drawing the wolf from Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella’s palace, as well as lots more. I’d like to have a go at The Little Mermaid I think. I’m fascinated by the world under the sea, and would have fun painting all the colourful seaweeds.
7. Are there any exciting projects you’re working on at the moment that you can tell us about?
At the moment I’m working on the next adventures of Good Knight, Bad Knight for Templar, which is very exciting. They are chapter books for older readers, and will be out later this year. There’s also The Big Bad Bogey written by Timothy Knapman, which will be out in September, and a spooky Halloween story called Bone Soup by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, which is out in July with Paula Wiseman Books.
I’m very fond of Jimmy Finnigan’s Wild Wood Band, which was the second book I wrote for Templar. It joins my two passions, which are drawing picture books and playing music, so it’s quite dear to my heart. Plus I got to draw a lot of trees, which always makes me happy!
9. Your location on an island by the sea sounds pretty inspiring. Does it influence your work? If you could work anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Yes, our island is quite an inspiring place! The nicest part is coming home when the tide is high (but not quite high enough to cover the road, which happens a lot). When there’s no wind, the sea looks like a mirror and all you can hear is the squawk of the seabirds – there’s no better place! BUT if I could work anywhere it would have to be Machu Picchu, which is a 15th century Inca citadel on top of a mountain in Peru. I’d never get any work done because I’d always be looking at the eagles and the condors.
10. Are there any different creative areas or illustration styles you’d like to explore?
Yes, all of them! I’m really interested in printmaking again, and also fabric and wallpaper design. I won’t rest until the world is covered in my drawings!
11. Is there any advice you can give to aspiring illustrators, young and old?
I would say learn your craft first, and the most important part of an illustrator’s craft is DRAWING. You can’t draw too much. Draw everywhere, all the time! Draw on the bus, draw in the bath, draw while you’re watching telly. You probably shouldn’t draw when you’re mum is telling you off (she won’t like it) or if you’re driving a car.
It would also be useful for you to learn how to use Adobe Photoshop too, because you’ll definitely need it at some point. Finally, remember to be interested in everything! You never know where your next idea is hiding, and you don’t want to miss it. It might be behind you RIGHT NOW!
Fantastic answers and loads of inspiration. Storytime illustrators really are the nicest people in the world. We can’t leave it at that without urging you to visit Tom Knight’s website and encouraging you to check out his print shop, which features a rather wonderful Hunt for the Wilderpeople print. Also, for more eye candy, fabulous giants and brave knights, check out Tom’s blog, his Instagram feed and show your support and admiration by following him on Twitter too. Best of all, buy his books!
Many thanks, Tom, for taking the time to speak to us.
See you next time, story lovers!