This week we talk to legendary children’s illustrator and writer, Nick Sharratt
Q: Hi, Nick Sharratt, how are you doing? What have you been up to so far this year?
I’m very well, thanks, and I’ve been busy thinking up ideas for new books, as well as doing lots of online drawing workshops with primary schools all over the UK. I’ll have done 40 workshops over the spring and summer terms.
Q: You have been illustrating children’s books for over 30 years, having trained as a graphic designer and working on many other types of publications first. What is it about drawing for children that appealed more? Was it the reminder of being a child yourself or something else?
Actually, it is nice to have a job that takes me back to my early years on a daily basis. I had a happy time during my primary school days which was when I discovered how much I loved drawing and made up my mind I was going to make my living as an artist one day. Working in the children’s book world gives me much more freedom to stretch my imagination and have fun than illustrating for magazines did. And luckily for me, my sense of humour and love of bright colours and bold imagery seems to strike a chord with young children.
Q: Why did you decide to write children’s books in addition to being an illustrator? Please take us through the main differences in the creative experience you go through during these two processes.
Drawing comes naturally to me, and most of the choices I make when image-making are instinctive. Writing is much more of a conscious challenge. I hum and ha over every single word and am constantly changing my mind about whether I think my text works or not. I’m always aiming for simplicity and clarity with my writing, but getting there can be a torturous process.
Q: We have enjoyed Tea Party Parade, part of the Little Gems series, which your publisher kindly sent us. It struck us how instantly recognisable a ‘Nick Sharratt’ illustration is. At what point did you realise you had created an iconic style and was it intentional?
I just draw in a way that is natural for me. It’s not that different to how I drew as a boy. I did try out other styles when I was at art college, and the illustrations in my earliest picture books are a lot looser and don’t have my characteristic black linework. But I’m much happier when my lines join up, and my colouring is neat and tidy, just like when I was a boy.
Q Do you know how many ‘people’ (and maybe even animals) you have drawn at this stage, and how much do you worry about making sure they are all individuals?
Well, I’ve illustrated more than 300 books now, so that’s a lot of humans and animals. I have to admit that some creatures find themselves in more than one book. There’s a white Scottie dog who’s popped up in eight or nine unrelated books so far!
Q: Your partnership with Jacqueline Wilson needs no introduction. We can’t imagine that many parents and children of our generation haven’t read and watched The Story of Tracy Beaker. But it’s come to an end! Can you give us an inkling of what you will be doing next?
It was an amazing experience being Jacqueline’s illustrator for 30 years, and I’m so lucky that she gave me some terrific characters to bring to life visually. But I’ve reached a stage in my career where I need to focus fully on picture books and stories for younger children. I’ve lots of unrealised ideas, and now’s the time to see if I can make them happen. I have a few books in the pipeline, so watch this space!
Q: 1 in 8 schools across Britain do not have a library – have you had experience of the educational inequality within the school system or met anyone who has?
I’ve been into schools with astounding facilities, and I’ve been into schools where it’s been a struggle to find enough sheets of paper for all the children to draw with me. It’s obvious to anyone that there is inequality in the school system, some children have massive advantages over other children, and things should be fairer.
Q: What book or books do you think all children in schools should be given to read?
One of mine, of course! No, to be serious, Pippa Goodhart and I have been humbled at the extraordinary feedback we have had and continue to get from teachers and educationalists about You Choose, a book it’s impossible to share without starting a conversation. For that reason, I’d pop a copy in every classroom!
Q: Ok, so the final question – if all the libraries in the world were burning and you could only save three books, what would they be and why?
I refuse to contemplate such an awful scenario, thank you very much!
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