Illustration: An Interview with Catherine Rayner
Here at Pen Heaven, we're fascinated by the relationship between images and words - so who better for us to speak to than Catherine Rayner. She's a successful children's author and illustrator, and her lively, emotive images of animals are shown in galleries all over the world. We spoke to her to find out more about her techniques, her inspiration and her career.
How did you first get into illustration?
I’ve been illustrating since the age of four, apparently! I grew up in a house full of books, and my mum’s got loads drawings that I drew as a child, mostly of the family pets. I went on to take an art A-level, then studied illustration at the Edinburgh College of Art. My first two years were tough, but in my third year I wrote and illustrated Augustus and His Smile. I took the book to a D&AD show in London, and was approached by someone from Little Tiger Press. I never thought anything would come of it, but two years later the book was published. Those two years were both magic and stressful, spent making endless revisions and adjustments, but it was all worth it in the end.
What role does pen & ink play in your work, and what other tools do you use?
I tend to use a dip pen with a liquid acrylic ink, although if I want to achieve different effects I’ll often use other tools such as a blunt pencil or a cocktail stick. Initial drawings, however, are always done in pencil, because I find it offers the freedom to grab a moment and get it down on the page. I then place the pencil drawing on a light box for the ink stage.
You’re both a writer and illustrator. Would you say most of your stories begin as pictures or words?
As pictures – definitely. I tend to begin by drawing a character over and over again, capturing them from different angles until I know them inside out, right down to the finest details such as what they would like to eat. Once I’m familiar with my characters, the writing begins.
We hear a lot about writer’s block, but is there such a thing for artists – and if you do get stuck, how is this overcome?
Yes, there’s certainly such a thing as illustrator’s block. It can be horrible, painful, even a bit depressing, but the solution’s just the same as it is for writers. You’ve just got to work through it – and when you come out the other side, it’s a lovely feeling.
You have a number of rough ideas from your sketchbook on your website. How do you decide which ideas to use and develop into one of your books?
It’s just a matter of drawing and drawing. Once I find a character I really believe in, I’ll take it a step further.
Is it fair to say you draw a lot of inspiration for your artwork from your pets at home?
Yes, I’ve got a horse called Shannon, a cat called Ena and two goldfish called Sally and Richard. I’ve always drawn animals and I use my pets as models, translating their posture and movement to help create other creatures.
What projects do you have coming up or have recently been working on?
Smelly Louie has just been published, it’s about a dog who’s been washed against his will and lost his Special Smell, so goes on a hunt to see if he can get it back. And next year, there’s a new Olga da Polga book coming out with full-colour illustrations. Olga the guinea pig is quite the little storyteller, always impressing the other animals with her tall tales.
You’ve been writing and illustrating books for eight years now, what have you learnt in that time that people just starting out should know?
It’s a process of highs and lows, of working through every challenge. If something isn’t working, don’t give up – just try a different approach.
If you'd like to see more of Catherine's captivating illustrations, visit her website to see early sketches of her characters and beautiful screen prints available to order. Smelly Louie, the rest of her charming children's stories and the first Olga da Polga book are also available here.