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Interview with Nick East

posted 8 May 2015, 05:40 by Angie Cheshire   [ updated 10 May 2015, 08:47 ]

May is ART month at the Hayridge and we are celebrating the launch of a brand new picture book by fantastic local author Amy Sparkes. She will be visiting us to share her story The Mouse who Sailed the Seas with our Primary School children. This book is illustrated by Nick East, who is here with us on The Hayridge Hubbub to answer our many questions and to let us peep into his studio.

Hi Nick! Thanks so much for joining us.What was the most interesting part of illustrating The Mouse who Sailed the Seas?
Amy's characters are so fab in this book - 'aliens like purple peas and parachuting goats with hairy knees' - wonderful. Visually creating them was a lot of fun with the elves being the trickiest - the aim was to try and not make them too conventional.

What kind of paper and pens/paints etc do you use?

For line work I sketch on ordinary copy paper with my trusty 0.9 Pentel clutch pencil. And when applying colour I generally use Windsor & Newton watercolours, Inktense Derwent pencil crayons and chalk pastels. A lot is done on the light-box then I scan in the line work and colour separately into Photoshop, getting the finish and colours exactly as I want them.
Do you do a lot of sketching to begin a picture or do you launch straight in?

Yes I doodle in my sketch book to begin with, mostly for character development. Then I produce thumbnails (quick small sketches of a full page layout). After agreeing these with the designer, editor and author I sketch out the full size roughs. So there is a lot of drawing to do before going to final colour artwork.

What is your desk and working space like?
Hmmmm! It can get quite cluttered but I have two spaces; one for drawing and colour work and another for my computer, scanner and printer. I share a studio with my two illustrator friends Ros and Jonty, and their dogs Basil and Alfie. We drink way too much tea (a good excuse to stop working!!) and eat lots of mince pies, even when it's not Christmas!

Do you find it easier to concentrate with noise or quiet?

I definitely don't like it too noisy but love music on in the background - one of our favourites is the 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' sound track from Wes Anderson's animated film. Give it a try, and the film, it is literally fantastic! 

How do you create a character?

Firstly there are always certain factors you can list, these tend to dictate the look of the character anyway i.e. the characters are goats, they have hairy knees and are parachutists. This is quite a lot to go on, so I research images of goats, parachutes and hairy knees (only joking - I use my own knees as reference!). I begin to sketch out rough shapes with arms and legs, this helps with the proportions, as you want all the characters to differ in size and form for variety. Then I think about the clothing and accessories - in the case of the goats I wanted them to look a bit like stunt performers, hence the all in one spangly jump suits, helmets and goggles. Generally it is these additional bits and pieces that give a character his/her identity.

Do you ever struggle to get things looking how you want them to, and how do you deal with problems?

Yes all the time. I usually walk away from my drawing board, have a cup of tea and a mince pie and then try again!

Do you always illustrate a finished story or do you ever interact with an author to develop things together?

Sometimes I do work with the author, other times not. On 'The Mouse who Sailed the Seas' Amy and I had a meeting at Egmont with the editor and the designer before I began illustrating. This was brilliant as we could bounce around ideas between us - they also took us out for a free feed which was an added bonus!

Had you always hoped for a creative job? How did it happen?
Yes I think I would have always done something creative for a job. Up until about three and a half years ago I was working as a designer of museums and exhibitions. My friend and fellow illustrator Rosi Beardshaw saw some of my sketches and showed them to her agent Heather. She rang me up, we had a chat and it all started from there. So I came into children's book illustration as a sort of happy accident.

How did you learn to be an artist?
Well, my good old Dad was a big influence early on - he would sit me on his knee and draw me anything I asked for and I was determined to be able to do the same. But I properly learned to draw at Architectural College. We learnt about perspective and did life drawing. As a design graduate working in the professional world, I constantly used drawing as a tool to communicate my ideas and this has never stopped. But I am still learning all the time, trying new approaches and techniques.

Do you have any tips for keen artists?
Start a sketchbook - this is almost, if not more important than a portfolio. It will become such a useful tool and a fabulous record of your work - doodle, paint, stick, scribble, daub in anything you want. It will become a very comfortable place to do your work and publishers love them! Also study other illustrators' work, look at their techniques and the multitude of different ways you can tell a story in pictures. Get advice from people who know - many specialist illustration agents are prepared to give feedback on your work, this can be a good place to get things moving. Most importantly don't give up, if you want it bad enough you will get there eventually.

If you could choose any classic children’s story to illustrate, what would it be?

'Peter and the Wolf' has always been a favourite of mine - it is quite a dark story and I love woodland settings. Also it's a story written by musical composer Sergei Prokofiev - the music is magical and reflects the characters' personalities so well. So it would probably have to have a cd with the book or an ebook with soundtrack. 

Bigger Trees Near Warter
by David Hockney

Do you have a favourite illustrator or artist or painting?
My favourite illustrator of the moment is Benjamin Chaud, his work is totally and fantastically bonkers. My favourite artist would probably be Laura Knight, I have always loved her work but got the chance to see an exhibition recently, it was awe-inspiring! Painting is a difficult one, there are so many that I love but David Hockney's 'Bigger trees at Warter' is just around the corner from where I live - so that is very special.

Where the Wild Things Are
by Maurice Sendak
Of all the picture books out there, what’s your all-time favourite?T
he one that always sticks in my mind from childhood is Maurice Sendak's 'Where the Wild things are'. It has emotion, humour, wonderful characters and transports you to another world. A truly brilliant book!

The Storm Whale
by Benji Davies
What’s your favourite current picture book?
I really like Benji Davies' 'Storm Whale' - such a cosy little book and a very emotive story. And also Davide Cali & Benjamin Chaud's 'I didn't do my homework because…', a simple but crazy story with superb illustrations. 

Finally, what’s your favourite type of cheese? (If you even like cheese, that is!)

Well if you look in the front of 'The Mouse who Sailed the Seas' I have created my own cheeses, so probably a bit of 'Sweaty Betty' grated on my baked beans and some 'Blue Pongo' with crackers and chutney. Lovely!

To find out more: 
01392 388400