A Journey into Picture Books: The Art of Richard Jones

From the point at which an artist signs with Bright; from early development — to their first illustration project — to the moment their career blossoms, is a wonderful journey to follow.

I remember when Richard Jones joined us. A ripple of excitement ran through the office as we all marvelled at this new artist and his style; the gentle shapes and colour palette — the warmth of his character design. A true draughtsman in his field.

Richard’s first project was a book with author Libby Walden called Feelings, published by Caterpillar Books. This was the perfect beginning — Richard’s gentle, empathetic drawings, coupled with a calming palette are as beautiful as the sentiment of Libby’s words.

That was just over two years ago. From then until now, Richard has been working both with UK and US publishing houses.
His latest book, due out in September this year, is called The Snow Lion, written by Jim Helmore and published by Simon and Schuster.

 

So what next for Richard Jones? Well not all illustrators have a desire to write — it’s not something everybody wants to do. But Walker books thought that Richard could make his own picture books, as did we. As Richard will explain, writing is quite a personal thing — rather like singing in front of an audience; all of a sudden you are visible to all and it can leave you feeling rather vulnerable. But Richard can write — oh WOW can he write.

Here’s Richard, as he embarks upon the next steps in an exciting picture book making career, telling me about his journey so far… LM

RJ: I’ve always been a drawer of one sort of another. I wasn’t particularly competent at school and took any opportunity to make stuff rather than learn complicated things like english or mathematics. I left school at 16 to go to art college and hid there for three years. Although I spent most of my time studying fine art I knew Illustration was what I really wanted to do and got a place at the University of Plymouth, in Exeter.

I enjoyed my time there but it was clear I hadn’t quite lost my love of the fine arts and after I graduated I somehow, and to the complete surprise of anyone who knew me, found myself staying on and reading for a PhD. My subject was the application of the fine arts in illustration and it took me four years to finish. It was a great experience and I learned an awful lot, however, my mum is the only person who calls me Dr now and I don’t use it on my passport just in case I’m asked to deliver a baby or perform an emergency tracheostomy on a plane.

I started working in Exeter’s Central Library before I graduated for the second time. Although I moved between all departments it was the Children’s Library I found most rewarding. Being surrounded by so many amazing picture books and seeing at first hand the affect they had on their readers was very inspiring and I started again to think about illustration as a career.

On artistic development:

I’m not entirely sure how it developed! I’ve always relied heavily on sketchbooks and pencil and paints but it all started coming together when I made an effort to understand Photoshop two or three years ago. I’m a mucky pup when it comes to drawing and painting and Photoshop is perfect for tidying away all the things that aren’t working in a picture and emphasising the best bits.

On Social Media:

I’m relatively new to social media. I joined Twitter first, I think, and only signed up to Facebook last year. I’m quite a private person really and I don’t share any very personal thoughts online. It can sometimes feel quite isolating working from home however, and being able to chat with others in the same situation is really helpful.

It’s perhaps difficult to judge exactly how effective it is at gaining recognition but I have had work as a result of things I’ve shared online and made some good friends along the way so I’m not going to think about it too much!

On The Bright Agency:

I was over the moon when I signed with Bright! It felt at the time like a very important step and it still feels great to be a part of the team. I think for me, signing with an agent helped me professionalise my approach to artwork and with their help I began to position my work in a positive and relevant direction. I love seeing an email pop up from Arabella {Richard’s Agent, Arabella Stein – read more here} as I know there’s going to be some interesting things to think about inside!

Richard has just gotten into making gifs. He made this one for our sister agency in New York @BrightGroup_USA , to celebrate Independence Day.

On Illustrating:

I’ve fortunately enjoyed each project I’ve shared so far. Working with the team at Caterpillar is a real joy. Being an editor as well as the author has meant Libby and I have always had a close working relationship. I’ve not met Jim in person yet (though I will soon!) but we have chatted over email and on social media about the book. I suspect every project runs a little differently from the last but for the Snow Lion I worked very closely with Jane, the art director, who was excellent at passing on Jim’s thoughts as the artwork developed.

From The Snow Lion, by Jim Helmore, published by Simon and Schuster, September 2017.

Making Picture Books:

It is an enormous adventure! I’ll be starting work on my own author illustrated story later this year. I’m not sure how the process will differ from the others I’ve worked on but I suspect it will feel very different. Creating my own story will be the third time I’ve worked with Walker Books and I couldn’t have been more thrilled and humbled when I signed the contract. Just going along to the Walker offices is enough to put a smile on my face for a week!

Influences:

I’m not sure I have a favourite but I’m very much influenced by the giants of illustration such as Brian Wildsmith, Eric Carle and William Stobbs. I also love the work of the American painter and photographer Ben Shahn. If ever I’m in need of a little inspiration it’s usually one of those chaps I turn to!

On writing for children — was it a daunting prospect?

It was a little bit, yes! When Walker asked me to share any story ideas I might have I was a bit reluctant at first. I have been writing stories for years never dreaming of sharing them so I had a few to choose from. In the end I chose one or two I was most happy with and hoped for the best. Fortunately, they liked them too!

Cultural influences:

I’m not sure that I have been influenced by the world outside on a conscious level so far, though I suspect things are never far away. I think all my story ideas have come either from books I have read, television programmes I’ve enjoyed or lyrics from songs I love.

 

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