Behind the Big Sneeze! With Simon Prescott
Simon Prescott is the illustrator of the Marvin and Marigold books – I say books because these characters are certain to have a long life in the world of publishing, and a Marvin and Marigold Christmas story is due imminently. Author, Mark Carthew lives in Australia, but distance has been no object during this creative process, allowing a wonderful collaboration to happen from coast to coast. The Big Sneeze was recently shortlisted for the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Award 2017 – a fantastic nod to the thought behind Mark’s use of language, something that Judith Kerr was known for in her Mog books.
Here Simon talks about his background and some of his own author/illustrated works which include his first self-penned picture book, Small Mouse, Big City.
SP: I have always loved to draw, and as a child could be found watching cartoons with a big pad of paper drawing away, creating my own characters and stories. I continued to follow my love of art through my school years. After leaving school I studied in Norwich for a BA degree in Graphic design. Following this I took two years out and moved to Finland. This was such an amazing experience — hunting Moomins in beautiful forests, staying in lakeside summer cabins and surviving sub-zero arctic winters!
I then returned to the UK to study an MA in Children’s Book Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art. This was such a great course with knowledgeable and enthusiastic tutors. It gave us direct access to the children’s publishing industry and allowed me time to develop my artwork and practice for that particular area of the creative world.
On joining Bright:
After my first two books were released, I had approached publishers with new book ideas and was looking for general illustration work. I eventually decided to find an illustration agent to help me promote my work further. Bright was the one that showed the most interest. They are such a friendly, dynamic and enthusiastic bunch!
Your first project as a professional artist:
I have always made birthday cards and drawings for people as gifts, and I’ve sold artwork in small exhibitions, but my first paid job as an author/illustrator was my debut — Small Mouse, Big City.
This developed from my final project on my MA course. The initial idea went through some changes but I tried to keep the same feel as the original, the huge scale of the big city from a mouse-sized perspective. I sometimes felt like the country mouse when I first began going to London for meetings and events!
Your technique as a picture book maker:
For my picture books I mainly use traditional mediums — pencils, inks and watercolour paints on paper. I may sometime use Photoshop to clean up images once they have been scanned in. Recently I have also begun experimenting with digital painting but for now the picture books will continue to be hand drawn and painted.
As I mentioned before my first book Author/Illustrator picture book was Small Mouse, Big City. The best part about this book was not only seeing it on the shelf in the bookshop for the first time but going to the Edinburgh book festival to promote it and then having David Tennant (Doctor Who!!) read it on Cbeebies bedtime stories!
On a career in illustration:
Illustration can be quite a solitary profession, working mainly alone in the studio; juggling the roles of the boss, the admin, the finance department and the artist is hard at times. But it is so rewarding and such a privilege to be able be creative for a living. Seeing the positive reaction to your art and stories from kids and adults alike is such a great feeling after putting all the hard slog in. I know I would be making art in some form or other, paid or not. It can sometimes be tough to get inspired to order, and to deal with the tedious admin side of things. However you find a way of working that suits you and for the most part it’s enjoyable and fun.
The process of collaborating with an author:
It was fun working with Mark. He wrote a fantastic story. As I was only responsible the illustrations it takes some of the pressure off me and means I can concentrate on making the images. However the challenge is always fitting in all the action, characters and scenes with the text elements on each page.
Mark lives in Australia and it was interesting working with someone so far away — it just goes to show, distance is no object! We mainly communicated via email as you would with an author in UK. Mark sent me some pictures of his launch event, it looked really fun!
Our next book together is Christmas themed. It seemed an obvious question, but I had to ask if they wanted snow in the book (it being Summer over there at Christmas time, which is often celebrated at the beach!). It turns out everyone wants to see snow at Christmas, though we rarely get any here in the UK either! As picture books are generally made well before their release date, I had to get in the Christmas spirit over the Spring and Summer so I left the decorations up!
What’s next on the horizon?
As well as doing more Marvin and Marigold events, Mark and myself will be celebrating the release of Marvin and Marigold: The Christmas Surprise, and possibly a third book arriving next year.