Featured Illustrator Interviews

Stephen Michael King - Interview (September 2016)

What five words best describe you?

earthy, strong, sensitive, quiet, observant.

What prompted you to sit down and write your first story?

My childhood was filled with books. My mum was a teacher and she wanted me to grow up and be a great reader. I loved books: the shape of them, the colours, the placement of the images.. . . the words were secondary. I remember the ink from an Edward Ardizzone book rubbing off onto my hands. I felt like I was touching his original art. I could feel the pen strokes.

After working in animation for a few years, I landed a job as an inhouse illustrator for a children’s magazine. I was also offered a few book illustration jobs, but it was apparent that I’d have to wait a long time, maybe a lifetime before someone offered me a book that suited me. I forced myself to write every day, although it seemed as though I would never write a picture book. “The Man Who Loved boxes” was written at about 3am one morning when I’d awoken from a dream.

What comes first in your creative process: illustrating or writing?

It’s all a big blobby mess. Sometimes I’m painting, other times I’m scribbling . . . scribbles turn into writing and blobs of paint turn into shapes, then form emerges one splat at a time.

Is there any part of the creative process you don’t like?

Maintaining character. Every line I draw wants to drift off the page and onto the wall. I find it hard to constrain myself. Once the idea is locked in and the book is being painted the creative part of my job settles into a pair of comfortable slippers. I find it hard not being able to chop and change all the time/every day.

Are you a plotter or a panster? (Plotter =Plotting out your manuscript before you write it. / Panster = Putting pen to paper and plotting as you go along)

I don’t want to be called a “panster” (but I guess I am). Creative play would be the best way to describe my process. My studio is my play space and I go off to play every day.

The characters come to life when they want; I can’t even remember thinking about them. When I am thinking about them, then I’m on the wrong path. As they come to life, they bring their own hearts into my stories. My wife Trish is great at plotting and planning . . . sometimes my characters are stuck in the mud and I ask Trish for help.

What excites you about the future of children’s books?

Authors and illustrators give so much of themselves so that children have beautiful books. It takes a year or two to put together a good children’s book.

I’m happy there are bookshops to visit again and the new bookshops are such beautiful places. Books – design/paper/format – are so considered now that reading on a tablet (even if it glows) feels quite dull to me. Children can once again touch and consider well made, paper bound, beautifully designed books and discover why books have been treasured for lifetimes. I can’t part with any of mine. I like making bookshelves too. I remember the day I bought “The complete works of Oscar Wilde”. I felt so priviledged that I could hold a man’s life work in my hand for the small cost of a book.

What’s the funniest thing a child has ever said to you during a read aloud session?

They mostly ask me to draw . . . crazy stuff . . . flying elephants riding motorbikes, bears surfing on bananas. We have a lot of fun creating bizarre pictures. Every picture always ends up with a rainbow somewhere. I love hearing about their dogs, and animal stories. The funiest thing for me is watching teachers trying to keep order while I’m trying to embrace freeform creative chaos.

What’s next from Stephen Michael King?

More books! I recently finished final art for “Snail and Turtle’s Rainy Days” (Scholastic). There is also a series of books with Allen & Unwin about a police dog called FIZZ and a series of books about a dragon named Trouble (Scholastic).

Long ago I studied sculpture at art school and I’m using my sculpting skills, painting bottles and cutting cardboard shapes for a book I’m illustrating.

Once these works are completed I’ll find space and time to write again. My long term plan is to illustrate less for other people unless I’m sooo carried away by their text that I can’t say “NO”. Less drawing/more dreaming!


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