I’ve been a shelf-stacker, a library assistant, a call-centre monkey, a civil servant and a printer so obviously it was only a matter of time before I tried my hand at illustrating children’s books. Seemed like a natural progression, hence I joined the world renowned Children’s Book Illustration MA at Anglia Ruskin CSA. Turns out it’s actually a lot harder then all of the above, but ultimately a lot more rewarding and I’ve learned an unimaginable amount from the fabulous teaching staff there. Despite being terrified of leaving the nice warm confines of the MA and facing the real world, I am looking forward to seeing what new challenges await me in regards to my story-telling and image making after graduation. Since being on the course I have grown several beards. I live in Kettering with my partner Jo, son Teddy and cat Sofia. You’ll most likely find me trying to “capture the light” in some of the town’s more nefarious drinking holes.
– Dave Barrow
Dave you just won the Sebastian Walker award for most promising children’s illustrator. How does it feel? Have you been approached by any publishers yet?
It feels absolutely brilliant! Having the recognition of a wonderful and discerning publisher like Walker Books makes all the blood, sweat and tears of the last 2 and half years completely worthwhile (I’ve just completed my MA in Children’s Book illustration). It’s quite humbling as the wealth of talent that is about to graduate from the course is phenomenal, so to have won is a complete honour. I am actually already in the process of making a book with the fabulous Gecko Press. It’s been a pretty good year!
Your work was brought to my attention by Steve Antony via a tweet, where he predicts great publications from you. Can you give us any insight into what the future holds for Dave Barrow?
Good old Steve Antony. Something of a legend on the MA course! I’ve developed several ideas for picture books and hopefully they may now see the light of day. One thing that has transpired from both the award and attention from the industry is that I (almost, I still find it weird describing myself as an illustrator) have the confidence to think, maybe, just maybe I might be able to make a career in the thing I love doing!
I read a quote where you say your son is still at the stage where he chews books rather than reads them, my twins are at the same stage. I have a library of amazing books for them to enjoy, I just can’t bring myself to let them touch them (yet).
When Teddy is ready to enjoy reading books, which ones will you be excited about showing him?
Teddy seems to be obsessed with the physicality (and obviously, taste) of books so he has got a collection already that we let him man(baby)handle, but like you, most of our library is currently off-limits! I know exactly how you feel about letting them loose into the hands of children. It’s a shame to deprive them… but the books are just so beautiful! However, I’ve been lucky enough to meet a fair few wonderful picturebook makers over the last couple of years and have managed to to get him a lot of signed and dedicated copies. Superb books such Yasmeen Ismail’s Time for Bed, Fred!, Sara Fanelli’s The Onion’s Great Escape, James Mayhew’s Katie’s Picture Show and Oliver Jeffers’ Once Upon an Alphabet. Obviously he’s not allowed to have them until he’s 18… or until he stops eating them… whichever comes first.
I find the texture in your illustrations really appealing, can you tell us a bit about your creative process and what’s your favourite media to use?
Everything starts with a drawing. Then I deconstruct the image into loads of invividual shapes and recreate them in lots of different media. Ink splats, watercolour washes, oil pastels, mono-prints, whatever’s closest to hand that can make an interesting mark really. It’s a messy business, much to the annoyance of my partner as I currently work on our dining room table. I then collage everything together digitally. I’m sure there’s a quicker, more efficient way of doing it but I always feel I need to have an element of physical mark-making. That’s when happy accidents happen.
I always ask illustrators the following question, mainly because I like discovering new books. What were the last 5 picture books you bought?
Being a picturebook connoisseur yourself, you’ve probably heard of all of these but here they are in no particular order:
House Held up by Trees by Ted Kooser, illustrated by Jon Klassen
The Girl with the Parrot on her Head by Daisy Hirst
Barbosa le Pirate et L’Ile des Plumes by Jorge Gonzalez
The Sea Tiger by Victoria Turnbull
And I was lucky enough to get Home by Carson Ellis as part of my Sebastian Walker prize! I don’t think it’s even out yet in the UK.
If you could collaborate with any picture book creator (past or present) who would it be and why?
I am mildly obsessed with the processes of illustrators so I’d love to sit behind people like Jon Klassen and Chris Haughton whilst they work to see how they create their imagery… Then go away and nick all their ideas.
I’ve recently found out that Laika the Astronaut creator Owen Davey plays in a band, as do I, so it would be good to get together with him. Even if no work was done it would be nice to chat music, perhaps over a cheeky beer? I look forward to the invite Owen…