Ian Morris on what it takes to be a successful children's book illustrator

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Ian Morris's profession arsenic an illustrator has sewage disconnected to an explosive start. Having graduated from nan University of Salford, he's gone connected to activity pinch nan likes of Thames & Hudson, Bloomsbury, and The National Literacy Trust, arsenic good arsenic scooping up prestigious awards and nominations for his image book work.

And it's nary astonishment to spot why he's truthful successful demand. His style, which is astatine erstwhile unsocial while echoing nan greats for illustration Quentin Blake, is truthful beautiful and packed pinch characteristic that viewers of each ages can't thief but get drawn in. Little wonderment past that his activity is nan culmination of a lifelong emotion of drawing.

"My emotion for illustration was location from a young age," he tells Creative Boom. "The expertise – and emotion for — drafting runs done nan Morris family. My Grandad 'Naughty' Morris was encouraged to be creation schoolhouse by his teacher. However, he was from a mediocre working-class area of Manchester. His dada thought it was nonsense, making him get a due job."

Thankfully, a akin destiny did not befall Ian. He tin juggle his illustration activity pinch lecturing astatine nan Manchester School of Art, though astatine nan spritely property of 28, he's sometimes mistaken for a student himself. "I revel successful seeing nan students blossom, and they thief support maine grounded pinch remembering wherever I was once," he explains.

Origin story

Like galore artists, Ian tin retrieve nan activity that initially grabbed his attention. In his case, it was nan Beano and Dandy comics that his grandad would show him connected his play visits. "I utilized to redraw nan characters and create my ain comic narratives for them. They are happy, cherished memories."

In position of image books, though, it was a transcript of The Last of nan Sky Pirates illustrated by Chris Riddell, which caught his oculus astatine first. "If anyone knows of Chris's work, I deliberation nan instant attraction is nan value of draughtsmanship and elegant item successful his work," he reveals.

"I was successful awe of his drawings, and I still am, which is why it is still surreal that he endorsed my first image book, The Library Book, created pinch writer Gabby Dawnay. When I revisited my superior schoolhouse to unfastened nan recently refurbished room for World Book Day, his book was still connected nan support almost 20 years later, enjoyed by different procreation of readers."

Curiously, though, reference was a spot of a trouble for Ian early on. His acquisition astatine a Montessori nursery successful Prestwich encouraged him to research his earthy interests alternatively than a general curriculum, resulting successful overmuch much drafting than reading.

"However, erstwhile I did drawback up pinch my reference successful superior school, my fondest books were The Edge Chronicles, Captain Underpants and The War Diaries of Alistair Fury series," he adds.

"Two of those books were very influential. The first, illustrated by Chris Riddell, was Captain Underpants because I could subordinate truthful overmuch to nan characters George and Harold creating their ain comics and bringing their creations to life. Despite my early struggles, I'm a very avid reader, moreover promoting reference arsenic a Literacy Champion for Manchester Central Library."

Ian didn't specialise successful children's book illustration correct away, though. To statesman with, he pursued a schematic creation people that offered 3 imaginable pathways upon completion. Fortunately, 1 of these routes was illustration, and Ian felt progressively drawn towards it arsenic clip passed.

"After my BA, I studied for a Masters successful Illustration astatine Manchester School of Art," he says. "Reflecting now, it whitethorn person been wise to study nan MA Children's Book Illustration people astatine Cambridge School of Art. They person a dense output of students entering nan publishing world; however, moving down southbound was ne'er feasible. Manchester has ever been my home, and I astir apt would've hated nan confederate h2o arsenic I emotion a bully brew."

Getting to work

When making his illustrations, Ian uses thing that tin make marks. "I predominantly usage dip and reed pens for linework, pencil crayon and pastels for texture, and brushes for much painterly marks pinch watercolour and gouache," he says. "However, I americium besides willing successful printmaking methods, screenprinting, mono printing, etching, and existent grain. This is usually utilized for individual activity distant from nan children's books.

"I'm ever looking to improve, whether pinch guidance from a awesome creation head (Susi Martin!) aliases reference galore books connected nan greats to understand their technique. I deliberation it's important to beryllium humble and not position yourself arsenic a vanished article. We should each beryllium continually learning and developing."

This commendable activity ethic reflects his outlook connected different illustrators. Ian admires Raymond Briggs, Quentin Blake, Andre Francois, Gerald Rose, Ronald Searle, John Burningham, and Emmanuel Luzzati; however, he thinks modern artists time off thing to beryllium desired.

"Personally, I judge a batch of children's book illustration has go excessively homogenised and little focused connected nan idiosyncrasies of nan ocular language, which is still prevalent successful older illustration work," he says. "It's really rather uncommon that I get hooked by modern illustration, though I do for illustration nan activity of Beatrice Alemagna."

Ian's discerning oculus quickly stood retired to commissioning editors. His first paid illustration occupation was pinch BBC History Magazine, wherever he worked pinch creation head Suzanne Frank connected an article astir cross-dressers from nan English Civil War.

"I'd vanished my Masters successful September 2018 and had posted her a newspaper of my work," he says. "It wasn't until 9 months later that I received an email offering an editorial commission.

"As a weird coincidence, she sent maine an illustration of a erstwhile committee by Ben Jones, now 1 of my colleagues astatine Manchester School of Art. This first committee was a catalyst successful increasing my confidence, school maine that location is worth to my activity and I tin prosecute this arsenic a career."

Gaining recognition

This proved to beryllium nan first successful a agelong statement of commissions. Since then, Ian has gone connected to activity for various clients and publications. But nan world of editorial illustration attracted him nan astir for a while.

"It was a awesome pleasance to beryllium nan monthly illustrator for Prospect Magazine's Upfront article section," he says. "Mike Turner, nan creation director, was superb to activity with. I ever enjoyed nan adrenaline of producing a bid of spot illustrations pinch short deadlines, immoderate pinch arsenic small arsenic 24 hours to complete earlier heading to print."

The worth of Ian's activity was further recognised successful 2023 erstwhile he won nan Children's Literature Book Festival Awards successful nan Illustrated Young Reader category. This grant was handed to Ian for his activity connected Alfie's First Fight by Oliver Sykes and was very typical to him arsenic children voted for it.

"That's our audience, and if it's resonating pinch them, much publishers request to make note," Ian says. "Oliver's penning offers a diverseness lacking successful children's literature. That's go moreover clearer successful his caller poesy collection, We Are Family: Six Kids and a Super-Dad, published successful May 2024."

Having met Oliver successful 2021 astatine Manchester Central Library, nan brace quickly realised they had overmuch successful communal and couldn't hold to collaborate. "Oliver's altruistic quality is why I bask moving pinch him," Ian adds. "He genuinely cares astir others, building group up and giving them opportunities to flourish.

"I bask really he envisages a communicative aliases poem while still allowing my ain mentation to springiness different position to nan writing. It's a symbiotic narration betwixt his words and my pictures. I judge Oliver has a awesome early up of him."

Looking ahead

Speaking of nan future, Ian's activity connected Oliver's adjacent book, We Are Family: Six Kids and a Super-Dad, has precocious deed nan shelves. And conscionable for illustration immoderate different project, Ian's illustrations started arsenic drawings successful a sketchbook. "For We Are Family, it was filled pinch indistinct scribbles, doodles and drawings that only I could decipher," he reveals.

"In this shape of nan work, I'm trying to spot myself wrong nan protagonist's shoes and understand nan situation, ambiance and reside of nan writing. This allows maine to simply make ideas without prejudice of really they appear. This allows maine to create them further erstwhile I statesman reflecting upon nan outcomes."

The hardest parts to exemplify were poems pinch a beardown affectional tone, arsenic Ian did not want his illustrations to overpower them and bargain their focus. " I do bask nan situation of efficaciously communicating an illustration without overshadowing nan words and allowing nan penning to beryllium engaging and thought-provoking," he says.

"My favourite illustration from nan book is for nan poem Space and Time. I bask my solitude, truthful I related a batch to this work. The image I created was really based connected a representation from my childhood.

"I had a friend successful superior schoolhouse called William, who lived successful a beautiful area called Birtle. A immense opposition to Middleton, wherever I lived. Anyway, I retrieve we went to a adjacent spot of onshore by a stream. This illustration evokes galore memories of that area.

"I deliberation erstwhile illustrating aliases penning for children, you should ne'er suffer that principle of what it meant to beryllium a kid and really we each saw nan world. I don't deliberation I've ever mislaid that."

As for what's successful shop for Ian further down nan line, poesy collections and much books look to beryllium successful nan works. "I'm presently processing my ain image book stories pinch nan guidance of my agent, Neil of Spring Literary," Ian concludes.

"We came rather adjacent past twelvemonth pinch a communicative astir a dragon called Bernard, but unfortunately,' location are excessively galore dragons successful nan book world' was nan response. I still deliberation Bernard will radiance successful nan future."

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