Jess Mikhail, Illustrator
Interview by Hereward LM Proops.
Booksquawk: How did you come to be a children's book illustrator?
I went down the 'art' route at school and college not really knowing what an illustrator was. I knew I wanted to be creative and draw but during my art foundation year my tutors criticized my work as being 'too illustrative'. It was then that I realized that was exactly what I wanted to be! I stumbled upon a brilliant Illustration course at Loughborough University and it went from there.
Booksquawk: What is your favourite children's book of all time?
That's a hard question because I like so many different books for so many reasons. I love 'Dogga' by Shirley Hughes because the story is so involving and when I was a child, I remember feeling so sad at the thought of the little boy and his toy dog being separated. I'm not all that keen on the illustrations though - too much brown for me.
I love 'Olivia' by Ian Falconer on the other hand because I think the illustrations are so expressive and funny - so much character comes through in each drawing that there doesn't need to be much of a story at all.
Booksquawk: Where do you get your inspiration from?
I love fabrics and wallpaper so the patterns in my work come from that. As for my characters, I like 70's children's book illustrations. When my ideas run dry and I need inspiration I find watching Sesame Street or The Muppets does the trick. I think Jim Henson is my hero. The rest comes from spending too much time with my fluffy dog and my strange mind I guess.
Booksquawk: Which other artists or illustrators do you admire?
Richard Scarry, Alain Grée, Pat Hutchins, Jim Henson, Tove Jansson...
Booksquawk: Tell us a little bit about the creative process. Do you have a fixed idea of what you want to draw before you put pen to paper or is the process a bit more organic? Do you have any particular space in which you work best?
Very organic, yes. I draw in pen and I think very little about what I am going to draw. More often than not, I hate it and screw it up and throw it away. Then sometimes, I like what I have drawn and my idea starts from there. A slow way of working perhaps...
My flat needs to be tidy otherwise I cannot work in it. Radio 4 needs to be on and I need a cup of hot tea at my desk.
Booksquawk: Writers are terrible creatures of habit and often have very rigid writing routines. Is this the same for illustrators? Do you have a routine when working?
Yes, as mentioned above, my flat need to be in order. I am also very strict with myself when it comes to when I work. I like to work between 9-5 so that I feel I have fitted a proper working day into my day. I do this because I am so easily distracted by absolutely everything especially coffee with friends and charity shops. If I didn't do it then I just know that nothing would get done. It's difficult though...
Booksquawk: “I Love You, Little Monster” is a beautiful book. How did the collaboration with Giles Andreae come about? How long did the book take you to draw?
Thank you for saying it is beautiful. It is my first picture book. Before that I mainly illustrated educational books. It took me a very long time, probably because it was my first and it was a massive learning curve. I still find it hard to look at it without remembering the time and pain it took ha ha. It was pure chance that Giles and I came to work on the book together. I was working on a book with Eva Katzler (Florentine and Pig) and Eva taught Giles' son the piano. He saw my drawings for Florentine and Pig and then contacted me. I am still very excited by the thought of illustrating a book for Giles Andreae, he is very talented.
Booksquawk: I couldn't help but notice that there are a lot of different textures and patterns in your illustrations. How do you work them into the pictures? Do you like using computers or do you wrestle with modern technology?
Arrrrggggh! Horrible, horrible computers. I swore I would never use one but these days it is essential. I can't imagine doing everything by hand as it would take so long. I wrestle very much with them. I have just bought a new imac and am now wrestling with Photoshop CS5. If it wasn't for my computer however, I wouldn't be able to add patterns and textures so easily.
Booksquawk: Anything else in the pipeline at the moment?
I am working on a series of books called “Penny Dreadful”. They are older children's fiction so the illustrations are black and white. So far there are four in the series. The first one, “Penny Dreadful Is A Magnet For Disaster” has recently been shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize 2011. Joanna Nadine is the author and she is a hilarious writer.
“Florentine and Pig Have A Very Lovely Picnic” is also due out this summer. It is the first of four books about a little girl and a pig who get up to all sorts of adventures. It is based around cookery and craft and is created by Eva Katzler www.florentineandpig.com.
Read the Booksquawk review of "I Love You, Little Monster" here.