How would you describe your work?
Quirky is a word that gets used a lot so I might as well go with that. Also scratchy, eerie, funny and (depending on the commission) strange and charming.
Did you like drawing and painting as a child? Do you still have your first drawings or paintings?
I always had an interest in drawing, scribbling and splashing paint around – there might still be old pictures up in my parents’ attic, among the old books and fish tanks.
What does your family think of your illustrations? Do they have a favourite character?
My nieces and nephews love Dinkin Dings and Stitch Head. My mum reads my books to children at the primary school up the road (which I went to) – she likes Stitch Head and The Raven Mysteries.
How did you become a professional illustrator? And what is your favourite medium to work in?
Years ago I did some underground type comics but I also loved Dr Seuss and I wanted to mix the two. That style led me into animation design rather than children’s’ books for a long time, but then my work was seen by the art editors for Dinkin Dings and The Raven Mysteries who were looking for an new illustrator. It all led on from there – now it’s 4 1/2 years and 30+ books later. I love working in black and white on watercolour paper with a nib pen – I can get a scratchy line but then add dark washes in watercolour, and then work into the watercolour to get a specific atmosphere.
What’s being an illustrator like? How does the commissioning process work?
Sometimes I think it’s a bit odd that I now make a living from drawing as my career plan was actually more of a day dream than anything sensible or planned. It’s often great, often frustrating (like any creative work), often it’s just a job I have to do – but then I meet people who have jobs they dislike or stumbled into careers that they never really meant to have, and I realise how lucky I am.
Where do you take inspiration from for your characters? Do they have personalities before they appear on paper for the first time?
The books themselves have to have a personality in their own right, and the individual characters’ personalities are part of that. The writers always do a good job of breathing life into the characters in the manuscript – I visualise them to the best of my ability. Inspiration comes from everywhere – films, books, old black and white photos, previous characters I’ve designed that I want to develop further.
Where do you illustrate?
In a small box room in a quiet cul de sac in a small town in Kent. When I work late into the night on a book I can watch foxes boxing in the road outside.
Can you tell us a little bit about your work in animation? How is this different to illustrating on paper?
I design characters but these are then turned into puppets – either in CGI or as stop motion puppets – they’re always less ‘edgy’ or ‘quirky’ than my illustration work as they need to sell mainstream products. I rarely have to do finished artwork so it usually involves drawing lots and lots of characters and then narrowing it down after feedback from clients. A few years ago I was looking through some old files at the animation studio and realised I’d done hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of designs over the years, many of which I had no memory of doing.
Do you ever suffer from the equivalent of “writer’s block”? Does that have a name?
I’m lucky in that I’m always working from a manuscript so I can keep referring to that. I’m not really working with a completely blank canvas. Also, as I’m doing 40-50 illustrations a book, if I run out of inspiration on one image I can go to another one in the book and do that, and that might inform how I approach the image I’m having difficulty with. I’ll often have a few images at the end that I’ve put off until the last moment – they very often come out well as I seem to get a burst of inspiration when the end of the book is in sight.
What do you do when you’re not working?
Sleep or look after my daughter.
Who’s your favourite illustrator?
Leigh Hodgkinson – she’s incredibly creative.
What are you reading at the moment?
Up In The Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell, The Age Of Innocence by Edith Wharton, Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood, too many grumpy bloggers.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Endless mugs of coffee while watching Homes Under the Hammer.
What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?
Study at university so you’ve got a network of creative people for later in life, and illustrate as much as humanly possible – the 10,00 hours of practise rule applies to illustration as much as any other other art form. Ideally, tutors and fellow students should help you reach your own vision more quickly than if you were, like me, trying to come up with something while in a more isolated situation. Take inspiration from absolutely everywhere.
Pete Williamson is represented by Clare Wallace. You can find out more about Pete here.