An illustrator with a back catalogue of fantastic books to his name, not to mention other exciting creative projects, we were delighted to welcome Aaron Blecha to The Bright Agency back in March of this year. With an exciting creative project currently under way with the Sea Life Centre in Brighton, and a forth-coming exhibition of his work at the Hove Museum and Art Gallery in February 2018, he is not only a successful working illustrator, but he is exploring the boundaries outside of children’s book illustration.
Where did it all begin – in terms of becoming an artist?
From an early age, I was always drawing and working on projects of my own — lots of castles, pirates, monsters, and Star Wars aliens. I was a student with pretty average grades so luckily I had art to carry me through and keep me interested. I had an inspiring art teacher in high school who let us explore our style rather than demand you stick to specific rules (Captain Calamari was the title of my comic book senior project). After university, I worked as a graphic designer and then a 2D animator, but I’ve now been a freelance illustrator / character designer for over 12 years.
What possessed you to leave sunny California to come to the mostly grey UK?!
Ha ha! Well, after living in San Francisco for many years I met a nice English woman there that talked me into moving to London with her! I have always been interested in the European lifestyle and backpacked around here a bit, so I was up for a new adventure (although I didn’t realise how grey the summers could be)! That nice English woman is now my wife and after five years in London and wanting to start a family, we moved down to Hove. We love it down here — lots of creative people/events around, all surrounded by inspiring coastal and hilly scenery everywhere — a little like San Francisco!
You’ve worked on projects for companies like Disney – are you able to talk a bit about that and what you’ve worked on there?
Sure — sometimes I’m hired to help design characters for television development pitches for studios (Disney TV, Cartoon Network, Curious Pictures, eOne Family). There’s usually a cartoon pitch already written and they need an artist to bring the characters to life. I enjoy the process of working with a team of writers and creative people to find the personality of the show. Like many development projects, none of the pitches I worked on made it to production but they are still super fun to work on.
I also work on other fun side projects like creating zombie, dinosaur and monster-filled art for stickers, cards and temporary tattoos for a variety of companies.
Can you talk about your influences in terms of style, other artists you like – say from books or comics from your childhood to present day.
I’d say my influences are mostly Mercer Mayer’s early monster books, Sendak’s seminal Where the Wild Things Are, Paul Galdone’s scratchy, creepy folktale stories (Tailypo) and Richard Scarry’s fun creature-filled worlds are still influential.
I would especially say Mercer Mayer has a lot influence on me as an artist. He created such a rich world of goofy characters and monsters that still live with me to this day.
I have two young daughters so I now have extra incentive to keep up on new picture books and their creators too. I love the humour and characters in Mo Willems’ and Jon Klassen’s books.
I’m also influenced by a lot of other creators and concept artists outside of children’s publishing — Marc Davis (Disney Imagineer), Jim Henson (Muppets genius), Ralph McQuarrie (original Star Wars concept artist), Frank Miller (The Dark Knight), Charles R. Knight (vintage dinosaur artist), Gary Larson (The Far Side) and Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes) to name a few.
Jim Henson’s The Muppet Show
UK and US markets differ quite significantly sometimes in terms of trends in publishing: Do you find that working as an illustrator in the Uk means a change in perspective in terms of what publishers are looking for?
Yes, definitely. The majority of my projects have been from the States, but I’m gradually now working on more UK books. I’ve been told I have an American style, which I think comes from my years working in animation and what entertainment I consumed while I was growing up. As time goes by, I’m still keeping true to my outlook and style but I’ve been altering some character proportions and mixing up the media I use to create my art. I think my style works well with middle grade books and I’ve been lucky to work on several long running book series in America: George Brown, Class Clown (Penguin) and Shark School (Simon & Schuster). I have just started to work on the super fun series, Dino Wars, here in the UK. I’m looking forward to engaging more with readers and book stores here rather than being far away across the ocean!
What aspect of your job do you most enjoy?
I absolutely love the initial spark of visualising new characters and their undiscovered world. I’ve authored and illustrated two books for HarperCollins that follow a bear named Grizzle Grump on his adventures to find a quiet place to hibernate (Goodnight, Grizzle Grump!) and then when we finally wakes up, his journey to find a springtime snack (Good Morning, Grizzle Grump!)
The problem solving on how an illustration creatively fits on a page is a fun challenge too. I also enjoy the last few days of project where I add finishing touches like shadows, highlights and textures to my illustrations.
I also love a good cover design project- I just finished one titled Margot & Mateo Save the World!
What are you looking for in future projects?
I’m interested in projects that are fun and funny that take place outside of the normal events of day to day life!
I’m busily working away on my upcoming exhibition at Hove Museum titled Aliens, Zombies & Monsters! The show starts in February 2018 and will run for six months. My sketchbooks and illustrations showing the process of creating children’s books will be displayed alongside 3D models of my aliens, zombies and monsters – there will be strong emphasis on interactivity and fun for all age groups. Stay tuned for more news and hope to see you there!
My huge thanks to Aaron, and we recommend his exhibition if you’re in the south of England, it’s going to be great fun!
If you’d like to work with Aaron, you can get in touch via his agent Arabella Stein here.