(Early cover art concept for Jimmy Finnigan by Tom Knight, published by Templar)
Tom Knight is one of life’s true creatives, both artistically and musically — when he’s not drawing he will be playing an instrument of some sort. His background is in graphic design, which gave him a great understanding of form and layout — something that is much harder than it looks.
Tom’s new book, Jimmy Finnigan’s Wild Wood Band, published by Templar is quite simply brilliant: small time village, lots of rules, no fun at all… until Jimmy finds a motley crew (Not thatMotley Crew) But a group of unlikely looking musicians who are about to help him shake things up!
Tom joins us at The Bright Emporium for a story time on Sunday 26th March. You’d be crazy to miss it — we know it’ll be
a rock’n’roll extravaganza. So here’s a whole lotta more from the man behind the
Final cover for Jimmy Finnigan, Published by Templar.
I love your style of layout and how polished the finished work is; your characters are so expressive, and the perspective and/or angles and comic timing you use are brilliant (like a film)! What is your creative/illustrative process?
Well, thank you for your kind words! My creative process is essentially all about trying to capture the little movie in my head on paper as accurately as possible. I’ve always had a battle trying to balance traditional and digital art processes, but I’ve learnt along the way that it’s all about the drawing. As long as whatever I scan into the computer is right in the first place, then everything after that will run smoothly.
My process always starts with a big old sketchbook, where I just try and capture as many ideas and expressions as possible. I’ll then scan that in and start refining the ideas in photoshop and arranging them within the page layouts. Once the layout is right I’ll print these out in a very faint blue, and work in pencil over the top. This is where I try and get the drawing right, and this process gets repeated several times.
Draft artwork showing the original cover evolution as Tom works it up into colour. FromJimmy Finnigan’s Wild Wood Band, published by Templar.
Once I’m happy with the drawing, it gets scanned back in again just to make sure everything is working on the page. Once I’m happy, the whole page layout goes on to a lightbox so that I can create the final line work, usually pencils on water colour paper. I’ll scan in the final line, then usually flip the paper over and get some texture in there with watercolours, gouache, charcoal or whatever else seems fitting. All my colour is done in photoshop underneath the line and texture layers.
(Sorry, that answer got a bit geeky)
I really like the idea of a perfect village – where although its all very nice looking, noone is truly enjoying themselves (not that they realise this in the beginning) Jimmy Finnigan is a true hero! What inspired you on a band/music as being the thing that saves all the grown ups from their safe and uneventful village?
I have long believed in music being a great unifier. Jimmy Finnigan’s Wild Wood Bandwas always meant to be a celebration of music and wildness (and parenthood in the early drafts) but I think subconsciously the EU referendum must have been on my mind when I was writing it, and that’s definitely reflected in the villagers attitudes! I’m very fond of the UK and have an indelible romance going on with the English countryside, but I think it’s a great shame that there is so much resistance to change and fear of the unknown here. At the end of the book the villagers find their lives enriched by Jimmy and the animals from the wild wood, and all they had to do was let things go a little bit and keep an open mind. Music just seemed like the right catalyst for that in the context of a children’s book, especially WILD ROCK MUSIC! I think that it’s really important for children to have something other than school or home, whether it be music, sport, beekeeping or square dancing; anything that will take them to other places and meet other people is really healthy.
Draft artwork (left) to the finished book spread – illustrating the rather quiet and ‘too perfect’ village where nothing ever changes. From Jimmy Finnigan’s Wild Wood Band, published by Templar.
Are you musical?
I am. My mum is very musical so there were always various instruments lying around the house for me to plink away on at my own speed. Then I started playing the double bass when I got to secondary school, mainly because it was massive and I was tiny and I liked the juxtaposition. Also the teacher had hilarious hair. I had many happy years playing in orchestras, culminating in a tour of Denmark that was VERY rock and roll for a bunch of classical musicians. (I vaguely remember tying a lot of bedsheets together and climbing out of a hotel room window, but that’s a story for another time.) Inevitably I eventually migrated over to the guitar in my late teens, and then got relegated to playing the bass guitar in a band for several years. I also ended up playing the banjo in The Ragged String Band for a while and we played quite a few festivals and did a lot of busking (in fact I snuck my old banjo into the loft scene in Jimmy Finnigan). Now I play in my friend’s folk band called The Shepherds with my wife, so we can nauseate the neighbours with late night harmony sessions. I’m still trying to find a way of merging my songwriting hobby with my illustration career. Watch this space!
There is a lovely tribute to David Bowie in there when Jimmy finds his dad’s old records. Is Bowie one of your favourites – were you working on this last year when he passed away? (is there also a Nirvana album cover there?)
As I type this it’s the anniversary of Bowie’s death. He was a singular talent and a real testament to ploughing one’s own furrow. I could imagine Jimmy Finnigan being influenced by him for sure! His death was very sad, so I’m glad I could put a little tribute to him in the book. There’s a few other tributes in there too – you spotted Nirvana who were a big band for me from my school days. Same goes for the Lemonheads who are amongst the records on Jimmy’s bedroom floor. There’s also Led Zeppelin, Blur and Meatloaf. Actually the Meatloaf one is a bit weird – not sure where I was going with that. Maybe I was hungry…
Did you have a favourite author/illustrator as a child?
J.R.R. Tolkien was always huge for me. His obvious love of a pre-industrial bucolic England really resonated with me as a child, as did Frodo’s desire to go tramping across fields and over mountains. I grew up on a small farm and would spend days creating my own worlds out of the hedgerows. I think his illustrations are beautiful as well – really strange and dreamlike. I can remember being enchanted by Jill Barklem’s Brambley Hedge books too. She really puts you right down in the undergrowth with the mice, and her cutaways are so fun to look at. Anything by A.A. Milne or Kenneth Grahame were big childhood favourites, though that probably had a lot to do with E.H. Shepard’s perfect illustrations. From a very early age I have been a huge Ronald Searle fan, and have clear memories of trying to emulate his style while I was still at primary school. Hergé was (and is) my big hero though. His draftsmanship and attention to detail are extraordinary, and the way he ‘directed’ his panels are still a huge influence. People also forget how funny the Tintin stories were too. Go and look at the sequence inDestination Moon where Professor Calculus loses his rag with captain Haddock for accusing him of ‘acting the goat’. It’s hilarious!
E.H. Shepard’s illustration for Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne.
The art of Jill Barklem in her much loved Tales of Brambley Hedge, and illustration Ronald Searle (bottom left)
The art of J.RR. Tolkien.
Who or what inspired you to create children’s picture books?
I’d have to say it was my amazing wife and children. As a husband and a dad I think you’re always striving to reach some sort of maximum potential, and while I was in my old graphic design job I didn’t feel like I was doing that. My family really encouraged me to pursue my dream, and provided the support which enabled me to do it. They also gave me the confidence to try, safe in the knowledge that if I crashed and burned it would be ok. The children would come up with great ideas when they were little, and my wife is an excellent sounding board for ideas. She’s got a lot more integrity than I have, so I trust her implicitly!
Did you study illustration/literature?
No, I studied Graphic Design. I feel like my design degree gave me a really good springboard to where I am now. It helped me to understand how to lay out my pages, and also taught me some good software skills. I was the senior designer at a big public sector organisation for 10 years, and we created some really exciting and worthwhile campaigns, so I have no regrets about my journey so far.
What advice would you give to budding illustrators out there?
Keep drawing, drawing, drawing. Always carry a sketchbook. Study your craft. Scour the internet for illustrator blogs and process posts. Eat a good breakfast. Look at what your peers are doing. Find your own voice. Be excited about the world around you. Try and be organised. Walk, run or cycle everywhere. Trim your portfolio. Keep your receipts. Maintain a sense of humour at all times. Find a good agent. Keep going!
“Keep drawing, drawing, drawing. Always carry a sketchbook. Study your craft. Scour the internet for illustrator blogs and process posts. Eat a good breakfast. Look at what your peers are doing. Find your own voice. Be excited about the world around you. Try and be organised. Walk, run or cycle everywhere. Trim your portfolio. Keep your receipts. Maintain a sense of humour at all times. Find a good agent. Keep going!”Tom Knight
What is next on the horizon for you – what can we look forward to?!
There’s a few books that I worked on last year coming out – one is a book by an amazing writer and blogger called Bunmi Laditan which I’m very excited about. It’s called The Big Bed and it’s hilarious. There’s also a chapter book called Ugly Cat and Pablo by Isabella Quintero which is great anarchic fun. I’m also working on a Halloween story called Bone Soup by Alyssa Satin Capucilli which is very cute and spooky, plus a very stinky Christmas tale written by two familiar faces which I can’t really say too much about at the moment. I’ll also be expanding on the characters from my book Good Knight, Bad Knightin the form of two chapter books with Templar, which is really exciting/daunting/exciting! I’ve also got several picture books brewing on the stove, so I’ll be working at getting those on the table this year too.
Tom’s debut author/illustrated picture book, Good Knight, Bad Knight. Published by Templar.
The studio where it sounds like Tom will be spending a lot of his time over the next year!
Huge thanks to Tom for such a great insight into making children’s picture books.