David Roberts: One Cool Cat

Published on: 15 Mai 2012

David RobertsDavid Roberts joins us to talk about his career as an award-winning children's book illustrator, from his background in fashion design to illustrating books by former Children's Laureate Julia Donaldson - and his latest book One Cool Cat.

You trained as a fashion designer and worked as a milliner and fashion illustrator before becoming a children's book author and illustrator. How does your background in fashion influence your work?

Clothes can really help bring out the personality of a character so having an interest in fashion has been really useful in that regard. Also I have a keen interest in fashion styles and period detail and love looking for different surface patterns and fabrics to bring into my work too.

Tell us a bit about your illustration technique - how do you create your illustrations?

I use mixed media such as ink, watercolour, pencil. I use anything that will make the right sort of mark that I want to make for any given illustration. There is no one particular media that I always use.

Which artists or illustrators have inspired or influenced you as an artist?

I love David Hockney's work and find his use of colour and composition very inspirational. I also love the 1960's stylised images of M. Sasek. Illustrators I grew up with like John Burningham, Brian Wildsmith and Maurice Sendak all remind me of my childhood. The highly detailed black and white etchings of Doré I find fascinating and it was from looking at his work that I learnt how to create tone by just using line. Tove Jansson, Heath Robinson, Edward Gorey and Anthony Browne all continue to inspire me in illustrating.

As well as writing your own stories, you have illustrated books for a huge variety of authors including Philip Ardagh, Julia Donaldson, Chris Priestly, Carol Ann Duffy and most recently Susannah Corbett (One Cool Cat). How do you approach illustrating another author's text - and how closely do you work with the authors themselves?

People tend to think an author and illustrator work together on a book but apart from the books I did with my sister I rarely work closely with authors. Usually I work directly with an editor or art director at the publisher. I prefer working on texts by other authors rather than writing myself as it opens up my imagination in ways that I couldn't myself.

Amongst the 70+ books you have illustrated, which are your favourites and why?

It's very hard to choose a favourite as I treat each book differently and each one is a different experience for me. I suppose my favourite tends to be the book I'm working on at any given time as this is where my focus is.

I enjoyed working on the Tales of Terror series by Chris Priestly as it was a challenge to convey the sense of suspense and eeriness of the tales without giving away the plot in the illustration. The book Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty was great to work on as I really allowed myself to be inspired by David Hockney when composing the images and choosing the colours. I've been very lucky to work with Julia Donaldson and her books are always a joy to work on and take my imagination to wonderful places.

Tell us about your character Dirty Bertie - where did the idea for the series come from?

When I wrote the first Dirty Bertie picture book my idea was just to have a book that was funny about a little boy who had 'unsociable' habits and who learned why they were unsociable. This led to the second book Pooh Is That You Bertie about trumping in inappropriate places. It was the publisher who came up with the idea to make Bertie older and put him in a school situation. This opened the door for him to have many different adventures whilst keeping the theme of a dirty habit.

Is there a children's book you would particularly like to illustrate in future?

Yes, my two dream jobs would be The Wizard of Oz and Wuthering Heights. However I also love getting new, original texts from authors which paint wonderful pictures in my mind.

One Cool Cat

Susannah Corbett Illustrated by David Roberts

White Cat is one cool customer - far to cool to care about silly superstitions. But pride comes before a fall, and eventually White Cat tries one boast too many, with hilariously disastrous consequences.

Read more about One Cool Cat

Dirty Bertie

David Roberts, Illustrator: David Roberts

This fun picture book about the not-so-nice side of a typical little boy will make children laugh out loud!

Read more about Dirty Bertie