Monday, 2 April 2012

In the second drawer down

In the garage I find a hand made box. A box I built to put my 3D Figs: in. Deposited and neglected. Dating back to 1995. None created in the last ten twelve years. Some of the stuff has perished. Limbs and bits get mixed up. I bring it to the studio. It's never too late. It's never too late. It's never too late. Said the Guru.
This afternoon the marathon runner observed that 'You have fun in here - don't you.......' In my studio. I have fun. Fun Fun Fun. Everday is Funday. It's an act.

What do you think makes a successful (animal) picture book character ?
Do you always start creating characters through observational drawing?
How closely linked are your illustrations to your sketchbook work?
Are there any particular artists/illustrators that have influenced your work?
Sorry to bombard you with all these questions

What Do I think Makes a Great Story? God what a question..............I'll get back to you

don't hold your breath

You mean in a picture book?

Personally for starters I have to like the artwork but the sequence. the story is the driver. It has to work read aloud.


A twist in the tail?

Thats it

I don't think I will get back to you

short an' sweet

good luck


I briefly mentioned to you that I am working on a dissertation about observation (The role of observation in the creation of the picture book). As you made so clear in your talk, observation plays an important part in your creative process both with visual inspiration and the narrative. One thing that struck me about your work is that in spite of often irreverent subject matter (!) your images still manage to retain sensitivity clearly resulting from close observation. I made lots of notes yesterday which I hope to include in my final piece, but a couple of questions have occurred to me since. If you have time to answer these or would like to contribute any further thoughts to my subject, it would be really super:

You mentioned you don't like sketchbooks...why is this?

Do you always begin a project with observational work or do you often rely on visual memories?

Do you think that observation is essential to the creation of a successful picture book?

Trouble is with sketchbooks they can can become such a weighty precious commodity in their own right and before the era of the scanner, the artist's best work was to be found in their sketch books and the number of times I'd witness a student attempting to reproduce something from their sketchbook, in all it's painful forced spontaneity - God forbid. For years I didn't use a sketchbook, didn't have time. In the last 10 years or so I will occasionally try out ideas for books and more recently I find myself using them more and I think it's because you are able to scan satisfactory images into the computer and work on them from there.

Beginning A Project: Every project is different, it varies with books it's a mixture, but for me the character comes first. Nail your leading actors first. - Tomorrow I will give you a different answer.

I think observation is just one of the essential ingredients . Contemporary books for children that are successful usually display a sprinkling of wit. It is no good forcing humour, it usually arises out of a situation that is natural and the reader identifies with it on some level. Observation and memory are for me personally, as you've asked, possibly essential (I've not thought about it),,

I use different papers what happens to be at the top of the drawer usually, lately it's been bristol board

as for pen the worse type of drawing implement is the rotring get rid of it

go to a decent art shop that still sell nibs and try some out Gillott or Waverly that sort of thing


Hi David,

saw your Mugabe in the Guardian today so thought I would put you into google, so to speak.

Love your stuff, realised have seen it all over the place.

What kind of paper do you generally use, and what kind of pen? I used a rotring but the nib is too thick I find.

Keep up the good work anyway,


I am an illustration graduate student at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Your work has had a major impact on mine and in the direction my work is taking. I was hoping to ask you a few questions regarding the illustration business. I understand your time is limited, but if you could give me a little feedback it would be much appreciated.

1. Why did you decide to become an illustrator?
I liked drawing I was good at it. - Wrong reason.

2. How did you get your first job/big break?
It took me 12 years to get my 'big break' as you put it. In 1984 the designer David Pocknell commissioned me to produce 40 illustrations for a book on fishing by the English comedian Eric Morecambe (Morecambe and Wise). Eric Morecambe died of heart attack just as I completed the book.

3. What do you consider the hardest part, in terms of the art side and the business side of illustration?
The hardest part artistically is starting any new piece. The hardest part as far as business is concerned is getting paid for the damn stuff.

4. What do you consider the earning potential for the Editorial market? Children's book?
If I had six arms and two heads I could earn a lot of money at present in the editorial field
See trouble is when you are at the beginning of this need to be an illustrator you want to get noticed you produce stuff that is full of energy blood spit and crap and you work through the night you work every minute of every hour of the day for the excitement of seeing your 'masterpiece' in print and eventually everyone wants one then you get cynical and along comes the computer and then the energy level drops your wake up and realise there's more to life than fucking illustration, so I'm not rich I turn down more work than is good for me I'm answering this on a Sunday evening having just emailed my latest job, I do a weekly illustration for an Italian magazine, The brief comes in Friday afternoon usually about 3 o'clock and the deadline is 11am Monday morning. So someone attempts to fuck up my weekend, for that I try and get the piece finished by 6pm Friday night so I can get down the pub and not have the damn thing hanging over my head for the whole weekend. This week my discipline let me down I drew it out Friday but hadn't finished it off so I had to work this afternoon and then I have to answer various questions from Illustration students like yourself I have a few to catch up on.
Childrens Books?
I'm in the wrong job, only one of my books as ever earned a royalty. If I want to depress myself I can do it really easily by walking into the childrens book section of a book store.
Books are another pressure totally different to working for magazines. Some days I love working on a book then I begin to miss the adrenalin of a magazine deadline, can't win.

5. What do you find to be most challenging in these markets? What do you find most rewarding?
Think I've just answered that question above. But I do find books to be most rewarding. That is something that will hang about after I'm gone, magazines get read and chucked.

Drawing is a curse

It's a mystery

it's magic

come on pen come on ink

trap that child that you once were and milk it.


It's something that happens after a lot of hard work...............

I'll be in touch

good luck

in your search

leave things to the last moment until it's almost too late wonderful for focusing the mind

Dear Mr Hughes,

I am a mature student studying illustration at my local college of further education. I have been instructed by my tutors to write to an illustrator whose work I admire in order to get a better understanding of them and their work. Of course, I am sure you can think of nothing more annoying than answering the inane questions of undergraduates at parochial colleges and I can think of nothing more cringeworthy than asking them. Joy all round, then! Please forgive me but I will try to be brief (not to mention amazed and grateful beyond words to receive a reply).

1. Of your peers whom do you admire most?
anyone who lasts the distance

2. What's your position on the continuing debate about the present/future relevance of traditional drawing skills?
I personally believe in drawing ...drawing from life......drawing from memory
3. Does using numbers fill you with joy or dread?
I like playing Bingo

4. Most beloved tool?
an axe

5. Sketchbooks : how many (if any) do you use per year?

6. Are self motivated projects important to your working life?

7. Preferred type of work?
chopping wood

8. Preferred way of composing an image? (Plan, experiment or?)
taking a deep breath and do it and finish two three four hours later

8. Aren't you glad you don't live in Charleston?
No actually there was a great bar called Dave's and i liked the atlantic ocean knocking on the door
Hi David,
My name's Kate and I'm studying graphic design at the University of Canberra, Australia. This semester we are looking at illustration, and we have been given an assignment in which we have to ask a published illustrator a few questions about them/their style/etc, and then do an illustration in their style. I really like your style and I was wandering if you could take a few minutes to answer some questions for me?
Did you study formally? Where?
Informally at Twickenham College of Technology
What were the major reasons you chose illustration as a career?
Because to declare that you wanted to be an artist would have been met with derision
How did you get started in illustration?
I had a lot of false starts before I consider that I started in illustration. Probably the moment I realised that a rough I produced for the book cover for Archie and Methabel was accepted as a final in 1988.
What techniques do you use? Could you explain the process you go through to create your illustrations?
Leave it to the last possible moment, wake up with a hangover, take the dog for a walk, make a cup of coffee, read the newspaper watch day time TV get a piece of paper open a bottle of black ink select an old dip pen and start to draw.
How would you describe your style?
Honest like hand writing. By the way I don't think of it as a style, it is drawing that has developed over a number of years I didn't select it it is me
Could you give me your client list?
No too many to mention
Is there any other quirky information about yourself that you would like to share?
I once ran out the former Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh at the Oval
good luck Kate thank you for writing to me
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Right! I am approaching the 'real' world and I would really like to ask a few questions? It wont take long......

As you were entering the 'real world' , did you also approach inspiring artists and publishers?
No I only attempted to show my work to a handful of people......a couple of agents, a single publisher (John Ryder at The Bodley Head) and only because John Ryder saw my college show and invited me to show my portfolio. An art director at Transatlantic Records who gave me my first commission an LP sleeve don't suppose you remember them, the fee was £30.00 and I met a bloke at a party about 4 months after I left college, he worked in the design department of the Daily Express newspaper, he told me the art editor was new at the paper and was looking for illustrators, so I contacted him and he gave me a set of zodiac signs to illustrate, five quid each in pen and ink...............and then I was given weekly cookery article illustration to draw, every Tuesday I would arrive at The Express in Fleet Street at about two o'clock and have to have the finished drawing complete before 6pm. That paid £15. This would be about 1973-75. Not great money even then. I backed the income up by working at various other jobs, I was a road sweeper for short while and then became a hotel worker, worked 6 mornings a week as a hotel chamber maid!. I scratched a living like this for about 3 years before I became completely depressed by the whole business and became a full time postman and gave up illustrating /drawing / art whatever for the next three years.
And to answer your answer your question did I approach 'inspiring artists'? I would never have dared, so no.

What was your first job?
See above.

This is a question that i have difficulty in carrying out

where do you start when deciding to do narrative for a children's book?
The narrative? I start at the beginning............

pictures suggest other pictures/ideas

Last one i promise!

When you left university did you have any idea what your career path was?
I went to the local Technical College, ...a career path?
God no I was so naive looking back I can't believe how naive I was and how I suppose arrogant I was to suppose that I could make a living from producing illustration.

Is this it???
Thank you Yolande for your questions I wish you all the best of luck, and I am greatly flattered that you are reminded of Egon Schiele when you look at my work, I can remember seeing his work for the first time at THe Royal Academy exhibition of the Viennese Succession in 1970, Klimt as well but Schiele mainly. All I ever really concentrated on at college was life drawing. Schiele was and is still one of the those artists that still inspire me I guess. Not too many illustrators, but if I had to name one it would be Maurice Sendak, especially the books Where The Wild Things Are and Higgelty Pigglety Pop, even if it was the thought 'I can do that'

What is your preferred illustration style?
I don't know if I have a 'style' If I had a 'style/ my career may have lasted about 7 years as it is I've been going for far too long

Is your work mostly computer based or do you like to incorporate hand drawn elements?
Hand drawn with digital additions

What are your influences and what inspires you?
Too many to list but here are some, George Herriman, David Hockney, Egon Schiele, Peter Blake,Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Tex Avery,Winsor McCay, George Grosz, Rebecca Horn,Toulouse Lautrec, Holbein, Francis Bacon, Lucien Frued, Paul Klee, The book Jimmy Corrigan, The Bash Street Kids, Dexter a wire hair fox terrier, Robert an ex cat, sex, death sunsets drink chopping wood

Which have been your most successful clients and which illustrations have you been most proud of?
Clients: The New Yorker Magazine, Esquire (USA), Observer Magazine (1990-1992), Gian Carlo Menotti- Spoleto Festival, The Times newspaper (1993-1998) Today Newspaper (1993-1995), Walker Books, Alibaba Verlag (Germany),
If I had to name one, at present I would say The New Yorker.
Illustrations most proud of? I'd say the illustrations for Othello published by Alibaba Verlag 1998, Little Robert (Alibaba Verlag) 1996. Silent Night (Simon & Schuster 2001), Bully, (Walker Books 1993) The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (Walker Books, 2006) and a handful of Observer and Times pieces oh and a series of drawings done for Fons Hickmann for Max Joseph magazine last year.

What qualifications do you have and how did you get into the industry?
I gained a Surrey Diploma (1st class hons !) in 1972 but no one ever asks. I left Twickenham College of Technology in 1972 and hadn't a clue and gave up hawking my portfolio around after a week. Became a road sweeper then I worked in a hotel as a cleaner then met the tea boy come paste up artist working at The Daily Express he was about 3 years older than me at a party he suggested I show my work to the art editor, I did and I was given a set of zodiac signs to design for which I was paid I think £60 for the lot.For the next two years struggled a s a freelance I did a weekly cookery illustration for the Daily Express £15 a drawing, before I gave up completely disenchanted with the business hated it and became a full time postman for three years. In 1980 I got a job as a graphic designer at Granada Television (I had no experience in TV Graphics) but the head of the dept was himself a pretty damn fine draughtsman and I think he felt sorry me. Anyway after 4 years or so I left on the back of a set of illustrations I had been commissioned by designer David Pocknell for a book on fishing by comedian Eric Morecambe (Morecambe & Wise) I was barmy the salary I left behind was far more than I could earn as an illustrator then but I was convinced I was good enough. Fool.

Do you have any advice for people trying to get into the design industry?

How do you find working to a deadline? Do you find it difficult to manage your time effectively?
Deadlines? I find sleeping on it and leaving it to the last minute is a pretty good process. Managing time difficult? Yes.

What do you hope to achieve in the future?
To give up beef.

Thanks a lot for your time and i hope to speak to you soon!
Yours sincerely,


Hello Mr. Hughes,

Sorry it has taken me so long to respond. I hope it isn't too late to send a few questions your way.

Here are some questions, thank you for being willing to do this. I really appreciate it.

when did you start drawing? - Can't remember, probably on the bedroom wall...

what do you do when you hit a creative wall? - wash up the cups/get depressed

what is the biggest obstacle that illustrators face? - getting ripped of creatively and financially

What was the biggest misconception you had when you became an illustrator? - that I might get rich

Do you have a favorite piece that you've worked on? - there's been a few, a drawing of former Manchester United football star Eric Cantona springs to mind

Who is your biggest inspiration/What inspires you? - Dexter-Fox Terrier/Death

If you weren't an illustrator, what would you be doing? - Time?

Who's your favorite artist? Tex Avery Egon Schiele Holbein

Who would you like to collaborate with in the future? Film Maker Daniel Vernon.

What has been your biggest accomplishment/proudest moment as an illustrator?

Raymond Briggs phoning me up for advice

What music inspires you to make your art? I don't think that much music inspires my art but music is important - Today ? Pull Up Some Dust-Ry Cooder. The other day, Madness,

What's your favorite cartoon? Krazy Kat - George Herriman

What is your favorite medium to use? What's your least favorite? pencil is favourite, least favourite? any type of technical drawing pen maybe

What's the hardest part about being an illustrator? What's the best? Hardest part? - Getting paid. Best part - getting paid?

How long did it take for you to support yourself on your art? 12 years

Thanks again,

Dear Tay Wetherbee

I have no advice for any illustrator breaking into the market, it took me 12-13 years, so who in their right mind would take any tips from me.

Favourite clients? The clients who pay promptly. The clients who have a modicum of intelligence and might understand a little of what my work is about.

The client who may even recognise in me something I haven't discovered.

I don't go after markets.

How did I get started? - I have to start again every damn day.

How many projects at a time? Truthfully, at the time of answering your questions........I have no projects on, apart from a weekly portrait for the Italian magazine L'espresso.

Throughout the 1990s and up until three or four years ago I would be juggling 6-10 'projects' at a time. Make of that what you will.

That is the reason you are getting a quick reply.

Good luck

Yours sincerely

1. Do you keep a daily routine? If yes how strictly do you follow it?

No - I leave that to wood engravers.

2. When you were first starting out did you ever supplement your income from your job as an illustrator with any other jobs?
Yes: I was a postman for three years, a graphic designer with Granada television for five years, as well as numerous other forms of employment including
an antiques packer in a warehouse, a clerical assistant at the AEUW, a hotel 'chamber maid' and a road sweeper.

3. While working as an illustrator, what did you find to be the most taxing part. Most students i think are quite intimidated by the business side of things over creating the actual images. how was it for you?

Taxing Part? All of it. The pressure of when a client says I like your work here's some money do me one.
4. Do you actively involve in any particular activities to keep yourself interested in the image-making process?
I play darts - keep's me focused

5. Do you ever set your own personal briefs or do you keep your worked focused towards live briefs?
Perhaps you don't know my work or this is a general question for lots of illustrators...........I am always setting my own briefs although I don't tend to label them as such, I am always noting down observations every day stuff, note making drawing .

6. What methods of self promotion have you/do you use? what do you find to be most effective?
I am crap at self promotion. Even my website is locked in I've attempted a blog site as a weapon of self promotion it's a week old I think besides myself about three people know of it's existence.,

7. How important are sketchbooks to you? do you keep them at all?
I am not a sketchbook keeper ....I kept one for a year or so recently, then i lost the damn thing. Teach me to get precious.

8. What inspires you?
the usual stuff, death sex religion bonfires chopping logs walking the dog other people Egon Schiele Tex Avery Paul Klee Richard Avedon Diane Arbus Matt Monro

9. If you could pass on one piece of advice to an Illustration Graduate, aiming to work freelance, what would it be?

Get everything in writing and a good lawyer

10. Finally, if you could share one truth about working an an illustrator what would it be?

it's only illustration
Dear Kenton Visser
My answers to your questions....
Talk about your education and how it shaped you as an illustrator.

I was 16 when I went to the local technical college It didn’t shape me as an illustrator - apart from the fact I avoided doing any projects, but I never missed a life class and the bar was a pretty good place.

Aside from your formal education, what were other important learning processes for you?

To keep drawing and observe from life

Briefly describe your working process. What is your approach conceptually, and what media/techniques do you use?
I need a deadline - and then I leave it until the last moment I have an inbuilt timing mechanism that I rely on and I can’t work unless I’ve had a coffee or tea
I use many tecniques and media

What have been some of your favorite projects or clients?

The last one..........because it’s over.

Favourite projects include:

Walking The Dog published by Jonathan Cape commissioned by Dan Franklin. 2009

The Hunchback of Notre-Dame published by Walker Books 2006

Shakespeare’s Othello published by Alibaba Verlag 1997

among the editorial clients I would single out

The New Yorker
The Observer magazine 1990-92 and a series of illustrations for ‘A Dr. Writes’

What artists/illustrators have influenced your work the most?
hundreds..........Diane Arbus, Egon Schiele, Edvard Munch, George Grosz,George Herriman, George Remi, Richard Avedon, Maurice Sendak, Heath Robinson, David Hockney,Francis Bacon, Peter Blake, Toulouse-Lautrec, Holbein, Paul Klee, Push Pin Studios are some that spring to mind but I reckon Hockney is the major influence

Besides visual art, what else inspires you?

Death sex alcohol cricket walking running Ry Cooder Neil Young Camille O’Sullivan One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest Dexter my wire hair fox terrier
the birds in my garden, Brighton Sussex

What do you think is the best strategy for marketing yourself as an illustrator?

Commit a Murder

Right now we're seeing an incredible amount of change in illustration and the way images are distributed. How has this affected the way you work, and what do you see for the future of illustration?
For the last 5 or so years a lot of my work has included digital techniques, it’s quicker
it cuts out Fed Ex or UPS and the work has shrunk in size and my paints have all dried up.
I don’t see any future for illustration just more illustrators ( a very limiting term)

What is something you've learned that you wish you had known earlier?
Not to be so trusting

If you had one piece of advice to give to a student in illustration, what would it be?
check out -David Hughes Flogs The Dog at,
Dear Mr. David Hughes,

I am working toward an MA in Illustration at FIT (Fashion Institute of
Technology) and my thesis topic is:
Lure of the Naïve: An exploration of the naïve, faux-naïve and expressive
illustration styles of James Thurber, Lorraine Fox, R.O. Blechman, Faith
Ringgold, Sue Coe, Maira Kalman and Roz Chast

I was hoping you could answer a few questions for the current field, state
of the art section.

1. What/who influenced your illustration style?
Diane Arbus, Egon Schiele, Edvard Munch, George Grosz,George Herriman, George Remi, Richard Avedon, Maurice Sendak, Heath Robinson, David Hockney,Francis Bacon, Peter Blake, Toulouse-Lautrec, Holbein, Paul Klee, Push Pin Studios The Beano Lord Snooty The Bash Street Kids
Death sex alcohol cricket walking running Neil Young Camille O’Sullivan One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest Dexter my wire hair fox terrier the birds in my garden, Brighton Sussex

2. Is there a period in history that influenced/inspired you?

every day influences me but now you ask I suppose the 1940's 50's 60's 70's so that would be latish middish 20th century

3. Is there a geographical location that influenced/inspired you?

The River Thames London

4. Did any of the illustrators named above influence/inspire you? If so,
how so? In your list?
I confess that 4 of those listed I haven't heard of, Sue Coe is the artist who came out of the RCA in the mid 70s an era that was profoundly influential and in London I was in my early 20s that whole period was in retrospect extremely exciting so exciting I was a postman and had given up being an illustrator for three years I was so disgusted with the crap I had found myself producing Sue Coe wasn't really an influence, Chloe Cheese was probably more influential.
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions.
I look forward to hearing back from you.

I have no idea 'what makes a great freelance illustrator'
Someone who has a thick skin. someone who doesn't have the desire to be an artist
someone who is pliable someone who works for little money.

Breaking into the industry? I think that line sums it up , it is an industry and I have never broken into it. Illustrators at best are used like a plumber they are used as service personnel brought in at the end to fill in another 'creative's' idea....................working in design or advertising as an illustrator is so different from working in publishing or editorial. Advice to a budding illustrator? Use your wit and talent and get a job as an art director.
Dear David Hughes,

I very very much like your drawings. I suffer from the terrible affliction that is self criticism... I rarely like my drawings or see meaning in them as I do in other peoples work such as your own. Is it possible to overcome this? Or is that just part of spending one's life cowering behind a rotring pen?

I especially like your unpublished works, those Jane Eyre stamps would make such luck of the postman should he ever see one.
Dear Zsa-Zsa

Thank you for your email.

Stamp on your rotring pen - chuck them in the river. Use a knife. Use a broad brush. Use a lump of charcoal.
David Hughes


  1. Thanks so much for sharing all this. Im sure they're all delighted to receive such honest feedback. I found it thoroughly entertaining and enlightening. Now I shall never have to bother you with my own interrogation.

  2. Well today is another day - nothing is set in concrete Mr. Morris. I am currently lining up those black plastic colour coded barrells in preparation for the next assignment. The thick black ink coagulating within their inner mechanisms. The ritual cleansing. The Rotring or The Rapideograph is back on the menu.....