'Everything begins with sketches': an interview with author-illustrator Clive McFarland

Published on: 08 September 2019 Author: Kathryn Anderson

BookTrust NI talks to Omagh-raised author and illustrator Clive McFarland about his beautiful, collage-inspired illustrations, his favourite childhood books and Northern Ireland's thriving creative community.

Hi Clive. At BookTrust NI we are BIG fans of your beautiful books. Can you tell us about your first published book – how did you come up with the idea for it and get it published?

Thank you! I studied graphic arts at Liverpool School of Art Design. After university, I worked various jobs and it wasn’t until four years after graduating that I began working as a freelance illustrator.

My first self-authored book was A Bed for Bear. I had been developing the character of Bernard for a while. A few publishers had shown interest and HarperCollins in the US asked if I would consider writing a bedtime story for the character. So that’s where it started for me.

Your illustrations are made up of beautiful collages – can you tell us a little bit more about this process?

Everything begins with sketches. I create the final artwork digitally using hand-painted textures that I have cut out and scanned in.

By keeping the art layered, I can make changes and respond to feedback as work is always changing throughout a project.

From One Leaf, Two Leaves by Clive McFarland

Your illustrations heavily feature wild animals and insects – can you tell us why you like creating these characters so much?

I create work that interests me at the time. I was employed in a rural arts and cultural venue in Co Tyrone called An Creagán for a few years. Being surrounded by bogland and wildlife influenced the direction of the stories and illustrations I was creating.

Which of your own books is your favourite?

There are different elements that I like about each book. Caterpillar Dreams is my favourite and I had a very enjoyable experience working on it.

I know you’re working on some new characters – can you tell us what animals these are?

I will have to keep that a secret for now. I'm writing new stories but they won't all become picture books. I have created characters that didn't make it over the finish line... but maybe I will revisit the stories one day and see if they can become something new.

What are the top five picture books from your childhood, and your all-time favourite book?

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak; Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins; The Bad-Tempered Ladybird by Eric Carle; On the Way Home by Jill Murphy; Funnybones by Janet and Allan Ahlberg.

These books made me laugh and were a little bit scary! It was easy to get lost in the narrative and pictures. I loved to read as a child and my parents encouraged me a lot. I didn't own copies of these but I remember the excitement of bringing them home from school on the bus.

My all-time favourite book is Watership Down by Richard Adams.

Who is/are your favourite Irish/Northern Irish children’s authors and illustrators?

Oliver Jeffers, Kevin Waldron, Yasmeen Ismail and Chris Haughton have influenced my work.

There are a bunch of great artists creating picture books in Northern Ireland right now. It can be an isolated way of working, and living in NI there is often a sense of being between two places. So we're trying to form a kid-lit community of our own here and hopefully support each other to keep making books!

Clive will be at No Alibis Bookstore in Belfast on 25 October, as part of Cinemagic: Tales at Twilight. You can find out more about his work at clivemcfarland.com

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