Emily Gravett

The double winner is shortlisted again this year for her new book Tidy Your Instagram feed shows lots of doodles, do you find these help your process?
I doodle all the time. Usually people, words or even numbers, but also the characters I’m considering using or animals that interest me. Characters must have started as doodles.

How do you get personality into characters?

Part of doodling characters is learning their Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears. I coated plain paper with yoghurt and left it in their cage for ‘distressing’. I had a dog called Tip, who I tried to get to chew the corner of an illustration for my Wolves book, but he was too well behaved so I had to chew it myself.

In Tidy, Pete (the badger) ends up destroying personalities. I know how they would react in situations. My website has had a rebuild, and one of the features is Q&As for the characters. I realised how well I know them.

I heard your pets have been ‘hands-on’ in your illustration process…
The rats (now long deceased) were brilliant nibblers and useful during the making of the forest in his efforts to keep everything just so. Where did this idea spring from? Tidy started as a different idea about a badger, mole and hamster going on a treasure hunt, but I couldn’t make it work.

I started to think about what badgers eat (worms) and what would happen if he couldn’t get any worms, which made me ask why he couldn’t get any worms. I was driving home from the Hay Festival when I saw a woman hoovering a car park. It seemed excessively tidy, so I worked it into the book.

Your book is set in a forest. Do you have any top tips for drawing trees?
I didn’t have a clue how to tackle all those trees. I spent a lot of time staring at them, thinking about the seasons, and looking at how other people depict trees. I settled on a mish-mash of approaches. I painted the framework of the trunks and branches with a loosely held Japanese brush and watery ink, and then linocut the leaves.

What’s your studio like?

My studio is in my house in what should be the spare room. My partner made a spare bed that flips down from the chimney breast, and when it is folded up forms a magnetic board I can stick work to. My drawing area is in the bay window, and my computer tucked into an alcove. I have a row of drawers to store work in, and a whole wall of book shelves which I worry about filling.

What’s your favourite children’s book?

The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord. As a child I’d spend hours poring over the illustrations. I loved – and still do – being able to follow characters that aren’t mentioned in the text through the book.
The rhyming was exciting and comforting at the same time, and the countryside in the book felt familiar and safe.

What’s your tip for getting into illustration?

Everyone I’ve talked to has come a different route. But you must put yourself out there because I can guarantee that you won’t get picked up if no one sees your work.

See more of Emily’s art at www.emilygravett.com. Tidy is published by Two Hoots, £12.99, www.panmacmillan.com

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