Interview with Published Illustrator and Printmaker Kay Widdowson
Today, we share the work and thoughts of Kay Widdowson, a vastly experienced and successful Illustrator and printmaker. Kay previously illustrated children’s magazines Jump and Playdays and has an almost never-ending list of work she has done in her 20-year career as an illustrator.
Who is Kay Widdowson? What first prompted your love of illustration?
I’m a published children’s book illustrator and printmaker based in Chorlton, Manchester. I’ve been freelance for over twenty years and before this I worked as an animator in children’s television. I did a S.I.A.D diploma at Chesterfield College of Art and Design and specialized in film and television graphics. I did a work placement at Cosgrove Hall studios and they offered me a job. ( I make a great cuppa tea) I worked there for five years working my way up to key animator before going freelance. I’ve had over 100 books published and my recent clients include Usborne, Lion, Child’s Play, Campbell, Bloomsbury and Primark. I’ve also had cards published by Woodmanstern, Abacus and UNICEF.
I’ve always loved children’s books and spend hours in bookshops and second-hand bookshops. I love John Burningham, Helen Oxenbury, Maurice Sendak, Judith Kerr and just knew I wanted to create children’s books. I tend to fall in love with new styles of illustration all the time. Facebook and Twitter is just great for discovering new art and illustrators and it’s all still very exciting.
Who were your first creative role models and artists who you aspired to be like?
I come from a small mining village so I never thought that I could make a living as an illustrator so when I started art college I just loved Creative Review, S.I.A.D magazine and Graphics magazine and reading about all the great illustrators in there. My tutors at the time used to arrange trips to small studios in London and it really opened my eyes to this wonderful, amazing career I could have if I worked really hard.
I also joined a film club and saw the most beautiful animated film Lautrec by Geoff Dunbar. I just knew then that illustration and animation was the way I wanted to develop. I also love the films by Caroline Leaf. Other influences were the illustrators/designers Brian Grimwood, Milton Glaser, Bush Holyhead, George Hardie, Carol Lawson and Chris McEwan.
You’ve had a wide-ranging career working on some really popular TV shows and projects. Do you have an absolute favourite?
I worked as an animator on Dangermouse, Count Duckula, Alias the Jester and the B.F.G . When I first went freelance I worked on editorial commissions on a monthly basis – Perfect Home magazine and a pregnancy magazine called First Steps, I illustrated a diary page for them about being pregnant and I’ve never had children so I had to use my imagination!! Then I met my partner Phil McMylor who worked at Cosgrove as animator and studio manager. Phil also wrote a few children’s stories so I put a few dummies together and started going to publishers. A Roar for Stanley was published by Walker books then A Fiddling we shall go – with Scholastic, Get Out of my Bath – again with Scholastic.
I also started to illustrate for other writers and illustrated lots of the Walker/Saisbury books. However I love developing my own characters and stories and started to get interested in novelty books. I was then approached by a lovely book packer Oyster books which was run by the late Jenny Wood. At the same time I took on black and white commissions. Minibeasts a collection of poems was compiled by Robert Fisher was published by Faber and Faber. I also did lots of educational books for Oxford University Press.
I took out a page in Contact Illustrators and then I got my work seen by more art directors and this is when Vicki Willden- Lebrecht saw my work and asked me to join The Bright Agency. Lucie Luddington is my main agent and she works very hard for me which allows me to create pictures, drink tea and eat biscuits all day !
I really enjoyed working on my novelty book Big Bird and Little Bird (published by Tango books) and Too Loud (Hodder) both which I wrote. I’ve just finished a picture book with Hinkler in Australia called Nanooka’s Magical Garden. It’ll be published in 2013. I love developing my ideas with publishers and it’s a wonderful feeling seeing them published. I’m very much looking forward to The Fairy Tea Party pop-up/ pop-out novelty book, developed by Bag of Badgers ( a book packer) to be published in the U.K later this year. It’s already published in Italy. I’m very much enjoying the books I’m working on at the moment.
What projects would we know your work from in the modern era?
Well my early picture books are now out of print, although I still get a PLR fee from then so they’re still enjoyed. I do have lots of books on Amazon so I think I’m worth a google! My Usborne getting dressed activity books seem to sell well.
What projects do you have on the go at the moment? Do you have any big plans for the remainder of 2012?
At the moment I’m illustrating a children’s bible for Lion publishing which is the biggest book I’ve done with 128 pages. (gulp!) I’m also working on some more books with Usborne, developing my idea The Circus Cats, a very unusual novelty book with Geoff Rayner at Bag of Badgers, working on a book with a Korean publisher and illustrating a range of prints with a fine art publisher. These are all done through my agents The Bright Group International. I’m also working on my own picture book ideas with my agent which I hope to push soon.
Is illustration something that improves over years of practice or does it require a certain level of skill to begin with?
Yes I’m pretty sure it improves! I cringe at my early books!! I hope my work is getting better as I’m working hard at trying new things at the moment. However, when you first start it’s important to have your own voice and to have an appealing style and let it develop with each commission.
Today’s world for creatives has changed over the years, but what advice would you offer someone hoping for a similar career to yourself?
It’s always important to look at what’s been published and decide which style your work would fit certain publishers. Have a nice variety of work in you portfolio – cover mock-ups, black and white figures, children, animals. The icing on the cake would be a picture book dummy you hope will get published. Send out A5 postcards with image and contact details on the front. Art directors like to file these or put on their wall. Try and get appointments and advice from art directors and visit the book fairs. Also Contact Illustrators is a great source book to show your work. These days I have a brilliant agent (The Bright Group) so you could look at illustration agents, but again make sure your work fits in with what they do. Enjoy what you do, be patient and hard work will pay off. I must add that I still get rejections and still have to redo art.
Have you ever given back to the industries and local schools/college in the form of teaching? Is it something that interests you?
I used to do school visits and the Newcastle book weeks. I don’t have a degree so not really qualified to teach, however I do like giving advice online when I have the time.
Thanks Kay! Best of luck for all your future projects!