Monday, 7 June 2010

Interview with Award Winning Author and Illustrator: CATHERINE RAYNER

Catherine Rayner is the award winning author and illustrator of several picture books.

AUGUSTUS AND HIS SMILE; Winner of the 2006 Booktrust Early Years Award for Best New Illustrator.
Selected as one of five picture books to be recommended on Channel 4's 'Richard and Judy Christmas Party'

Shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal, the 'Read it Again' Cambridgeshire Picture Book Award, the English 4-11 Award 2007 and the Royal Mail Scottish Children's Book awards (0-7 category) 2007.

Catherine was chosen as one of ten illustrators for the The Big Picture campaign’s Best New Illustrators 2008.

CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal Winner 2009

2006:   Best New Illustrator, Booktrust Early Years Awards (winner)
2006:   V&A Illustration Awards (shortlisted)
2006:   Richard & Judy Christmas Party selection
2007:   CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal (shortlisted) 
2007:   “Read It Again”, Cambridgeshire Picture Book Award (shortlisted)
2007:   English 4-11 Award (shortlisted)
2007:   Royal Mail Scottish Children’s Book Awards, 0-7 category (shortlisted)
2008:   Selected for the Book Trust Big Picture Campaign
2009:   UKLA Children’s Book Award (shortlisted)
2009:   Chronos Prize (shortlisted)
2009:   CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal (winner)
2009:   shortlisted for the 2009 Booktrust Early Years Award for the Pre School Award (Sylvia and Bird)
2010:   Sylvia and Bird nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal

Hi Catherine and welcome. Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself?

I grew up in Yorkshire and we were definitely a pet loving family, as I grew up surrounded by animals of all kinds. When I was 13, I was given a pony and at 15 I got my horse, Shannon, who I still own and ride. I find it very therapeutic to escape to the stables and go riding - it often helps the creative juices to flow.

My love of animals and drawing meant I began drawing animals from a really young age. Not long ago my mum found some old jotters of mine and they were filled with illustrated stories I’d written about the sausage dog we had when I was little.

I studied A level art then went on to complete a general art foundation course before studying on a three year Visual Communication degree course at Edinburgh College of Art, where I specialised in illustration.

I now live and work in Edinburgh and I love it. It’s always felt like home and it’s a brilliant place for artists.

What inspired you to write your first picture book, AUGUSTUS AND HIS SMILE? And how long did it take you from initial inspiration to finally achieving the publication deal?

Augustus and his Smile was my final Degree Show piece. My course was for General Illustration but I chose to focus on picture books.

I spent hours and hours at Edinburgh zoo sketching and photographing the tigers. I had pages and pages of drawings and sketches that I used to create Augustus, and the internet came in very handy.
So, it took six months for the completed first draft and then I was approached by Little Tiger Press at a degree show. Little Tiger Press asked for it to be angled more towards their target audience (i.e children instead of art college tutors!), so it took about a further six months for revisions. All in all it took about a year from initial inspiration to publication.

You write and illustrate your books. What comes first, the pictures or the words? Or is it an organic process and they develop and inspire each other? Do you plan your stories in advance, or do they happen on the page?

Oh, I’d say it’s definitely an organic process. They help inspire each other. I have so many sketchbooks filled with drawings, so a drawing may spark an idea but then they develop together.

So to answer your other question, the stories happen on the page. As I draw, as I write, the stories come to life. Although I do consider myself an illustrator more than a writer.

An early colour rough for 'Posy' catching spiders!

Do you have a preferred medium for producing your illustrations or do you like to experiment? Do your characters perhaps subconsciously dictate what medium you should use?

I would definitely agree that the characters subconsciously dictate what medium I use. I consider myself a messy artist. I love finding and using different mediums, from all kinds of sources - DIY stores, specialised art shops, children’s crayons, you name it, I’ll try it. Sometimes I’ll have to buy a whole box of paints just because I love one of the colours.
But surrounding myself with different medium and tools means I can experiment, I can push the boundaries and quite often I find my subconscious automatically making me pick up a rusty old brush with stubby bristles, or grabbing a certain type of paint that somehow is just right for the character I’m creating.

Sylvia the Dragon features in 'Sylvia and Bird'.

Feathers, fur, scales, all have different qualities in real life and as such I try to recreate that difference in my illustrations.

Miles and Giles
Variable Edition Silkscreen Print

But I do have some favourite ways of working. I like to screen print my backgrounds and I enjoy using acrylic inks.

Variable Edition Silkscreen Print

I consider picture books an important way of not only teaching a child to read and enjoy books, but also a way to let them appreciate art. Picture book illustrators demonstrate such diverse styles it’s a wonderful way for children to explore drawings, paintings, collage. To explore creativity in several ways.

Are there any limitations to the kind of artwork you can produce?

Not really. I do have to work to a certain size so the images can be scanned. But as far as materials are concerned I have free rein to work however I want.

Do you use your own children or any others as a ‘sounding board’ for your books?

I regularly visit schools to talk about my books and I thoroughly enjoy the experience. If I’m working on a book and the children give me feedback, I will make changes to the book.

I think it’s important for parents, grandparents and the children to enjoy the books. Often the adults are reading to the children, so it becomes a joint experience to be enjoyed.

One thing I absolutely love is knowing how many times one of my books has been borrowed from a library. It’s thrilling to know that a child has made that decision, has chosen my book because they are drawn to my pictures and story.

Rewrites and Revisions: How much do you do throughout the creation of each of your books?

I’m always tweaking my work, sometimes the only reason why I stop is because the deadline is upon me and I must send it to the publishers. It still makes me feel a little sick when I send the manuscript out into the world. I think as creative people we’re always worried we haven’t done enough, that we could do just a little more. Sometimes I think knowing when to stop is as important as knowing when to carry on tweaking.

How long on average does it take for you to produce a finished manuscript of drawings and words?

Each book, approximately 7-8 months.

Did achieving a book deal change the way you approach your writing and illustrating?

No, because I was published so soon after graduating, I was thrown into the world of publishing straightaway.

One thing I am very grateful for is the wonderful support I get from all my publishers. Sometimes it can be hard to be truly objective about your own work and their Art Direction, feedback and comments can really help motivate and improve my work.

Before achieving publication did you have to deal with rejection along the way?

I didn’t have to deal with rejection before being published but, and I think it’s important writers and illustrators understand this, I do have to deal with some rejection now. Rejection is part and parcel of the publishing business, so it’s important not to take it to heart. It’s nothing personal, it’s just the particular project may not be right in its present form or there’s already a book just like it. So many reasons but none of them because of the individual writer and illustrator.

What made you think ‘I want to write for children?’ Is it a genre you enjoy reading?

I loved picture books as a child and I love them now. When I was little I used to read Roald Dahl’s ‘The Enormous Crocodile’, illustrated by Quentin Blake, over and over again. I don’t really know why but it made me feel safe and the memory has stayed with me ever since.

What do you think makes for a successful picture book that young children will love and want to read again and again?

I’m not sure I do know. I think it’s so subjective depending on the individual child. I know children love rhyme but I think both parents and children come into the equation. Perhaps a child will love a book because a parent will read it and act out each part. Perhaps they just love looking at the pictures. So many reasons and that’s what makes it so wonderful when a young child does love a book

Can you tell us about any future projects you are working on or that are to be published in the near future?

Yes, I recently finished work on, Solomon Crocodile, which will be published by Macmillan.

Iris and Isaac – a story about two polar bears is out in the Autumn and published by Little Tiger Press.

Catherine's Books


Augustus and his Smile

Written and illustrated by
Catherine Rayner
Published by Little Tiger Press,
April 2006

Harris finds his feet

Written and illustrated by
Catherine Rayner
Published by Little Tiger Press,
April 2008


Written by Linda Newberry,
Illustrated by Catherine Rayner
Published by Orchard Books,
April 2008

Sylvia and Bird

Written and illustrated by 
Catherine Rayner
Published by Little Tiger Press,

Feb 2009


Written and illustrated by 
Catherine Rayner
Published by Macmillan Children’s Books
September 2009

Norris, The Bear Who Shared

Written and Illustrated by Catherine Rayner
Published By Orchard Books
April 2010

Posy - Sofa Scratcher
Ink, watercolour and collage

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