A career in illustration

 30 April 2012

Nick Sharratt is an illustrator and author of books for children, including the books of Jacqueline Wilson. He spoke about how he built his successful career in illustration.

Peas, another of Nick's acclaimed collaborations, part of the 'Daisy' series with Kes Gray
Peas, another of Nick's acclaimed collaborations, part of the 'Daisy' series with Kes Gray

Nick's other acclaimed collaborations include the ‘Daisy’ series with Kes Gray (including the award-winning Eat Your Peas) and Pants with Giles Andreae. His own picture-books include Don’t Put Your Finger in the Jelly, Nelly.

Working as an illustrator

"I am an author and illustrator of children’s books. Primarily I illustrate books, ranging from books for babies up to books for young teens.

"I’m incredibly proud when I get letters from children telling me I’ve inspired them."

"I also write and illustrate my own picture and novelty books. In addition, I do quite a lot of cover artwork for two or three authors whose books I don’t illustrate.

"A typical day has me in my studio for 8:15. I will probably have an hour’s worth of emails and post to deal with (work-related matters, papers to sign from my agent, requests for visits, letters from children that all need a reply).

"Then the morning might be filled with doing rough drawings for a picture book or a Jacqueline Wilson novel (I have two of them to illustrate each year).

"I prefer to do what I call ‘thinking’ work – that is, coming up with ideas – in the morning. Lunch and any errands I have to do between 12:30 and 1:30. Then an afternoon working on another project, usually doing finished artwork – a mixture of manual drawing and digital colouring. I finish at 7:00pm. I work four days a week, taking Fridays off."

Training to be an illustrator

"At primary school age I was  getting enough encouragement from school and my parents to know that art was where my future lay. I’ve learnt a lot over the years that I’ve been working. My confidence has grown but my work is still developing and I feel like I’m still honing my craft.

"I took Art O-levels and A- levels at school. Although to be honest, I was pretty much self-taught at school. I managed to squeeze in Art as an alternative to PE (hurray!), which meant sitting by myself and drawing in the art department’s stock room for one and a half hours a week.

"You can be taught plenty, but it is down to you when it comes to the hard graft involved in making a successful career."

"I completed an art foundation course at Manchester Polytechnic, 1980-81 – the most enjoyable year of my art education.

"I had an inspiring tutor who could see I had the requisite creativity and imagination for a degree and who opened my eyes instead to objective drawing. All I did for the whole year was location and life drawing and print-making. Wonderful!

"Then a three-year B.A. (Hons) degree in graphic design at St Martin’s School of Art, 1981-84, a general graphics course with specialisation in illustration in the third year. A useful all-round training in graphics.

"I was in a good year of talented and ambitious students. The course was particularly strong on contacts, being located in central London, which was excellent for the visiting professionals who came in to work with us on various projects.

"I left with a decent enough folio to get those crucial foot-in-the-door jobs from which one steadily builds up work.

"You can be taught plenty at college. But it is down to you when it comes to sticking at it and being prepared for the (surprisingly) hard graft involved in making a successful career of illustration."

Becoming a successful illustrator

"I think it’s an achievement to have maintained an illustration career for nearly 25 years.

"You can’t become a successful illustrator without being a compulsive drawer."

"I was very proud to be made the official World Book Day illustrator in 2006. I’m incredibly proud when I get letters from children telling me I’ve inspired them.

"It’s fair to say that you can’t become a successful illustrator without being a compulsive drawer. You’ll know if that’s what you are or not. To make a successful career of it really does require an awful lot of dedication and hard work.

"I do hold the conviction though that a brilliant talent, or true masterpiece of a book will find a way through, no matter what."


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