Interview with Karl James Mountford

I have recently had the opportunity to interview one of my favourite illustrators, Karl James Mountford. Karl has featured regularly on the blog with his illustrations for ‘The Last Stop on the Reindeer Express’ and ‘Maurice the Unbeastly’ to name but a few.

I was particularly interested in his work around Maurice the Unbeastly, a book with a very important message of staying true to oneself even if one feels not to fit in. I have read this book to my year 3 class and it has become one of our favourites, mainly because of the brilliantly funny illustrations which beautifully support the storyline.

 

How do you go about illustrating a book like Maurice the Unbeastly? Where does the inspiration come from?

The publisher in this case asked for character designs first. So I did a bit of research into ‘beasts’- a lot of them (beasts) are mixtures of two or three different kinds of animals in myths, so I started there. Making weird hybrid beasts and after chatting with the lovely art director Ryan, we agreed that Maurice should be big and masculine looking, to try and break the idea that kind creatures were small or timid. I’m a massive fan of illustrator Maurice Sendak, I think there is definitely an echo of my love for his books in the visual of Maurice.

Maurice sketches

where the wild things are illustrationsWhere The Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak

 

What are your influences when illustrating books?

Colour palettes, especially limited ones. I’ve always been fascinated by how much you can do with just a few colours and mixing them with textures and shape. Also the tone of the text, too.

Mountford studio

 

What was your favourite children’s book when you were seven years old? A question my class was particularly keen to ask.

I reckon ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ was and still is.

where the wild things are cover

 

Which is your favourite book you’ve illustrated?

Maurice, naturally, but I’ve just finished a middle grade cover called ‘The Peculiars’ which I’m a bit proud of, as everything you see on it is my idea. The publishers really trusted me with it and the job was just seamless and fun.

Is there anyone you would like to illustrate for?

 

I’d love to illustrate something for Philip Pullman, but I’m not sure my work would reflect his AMAZING stories well enough.

For aspiring illustrators, what top tips would you give them to get into the profession? I have some amazing artists in my class who were curious.

Start with making things you love, paint, draw whatever interests you, because it’s there that everyone else will see what you might be about.

 

What was the first book you illustrated? What did you wish you’d known back then that you know now?

The first proper paid book with a publisher I illustrated was by Jennifer Bell, ‘The Uncommoners’. I wish I’d trusted myself a little more when developing the artwork.

If you weren’t an illustrator, what would your profession be instead? Again, my 7 year olds were keen to find out.

I’ve often thought of this. I’d be a vet, hands down. I love animals, especially dogs!

What is the last book you bought and why did you choose that book?

I bought a book by Pam Smy, called Thornhill – it’s really creepy but so brilliantly done.

 Thornhill

 

Is there a book you think all children should read?

‘The Journey’ by Francessa Sanna or ‘The Memory Tree’ by Britta Teckentrupp or Shaun Tan’s ‘The Arrival’ (sorry, I couldn’t choose just one). All of these books deal with subject matters that adults might think twice before reading it to a child, but I’m a firm believer that kids are the most welcoming and understanding sort of humans towards new ideas, situations and people. They handle the truth a lot better than most adults. I don’t think we need to talk down to them about the world they are a part of. Plus, these books are illustrated in such a beautiful way.

the arrival 

What’s the last gallery you visited and what did you enjoy the most about it?

I visited the gallery Oriel Myrddin in Carmarthen, a local artist made screen prints and wooden bird sculptures that hung from the ceiling in a mass of colour. I’ve forgotten the artist’s name, but it was beautiful.

OrielMyrddin_logo

 

Thanks very much to Karl for taking the time to answer our questions. It’s very interesting to get an insight into other people’s work and my Year 3s now have a few more book recommendations to read. When I first showed ‘Maurice the Unbeastly’ to my mother, she immediately commented on the Sendak like style. I grew up with ‘Where the Wild Things Are ‘ and mum had to read the book to me until the pages started falling apart. When I told her that Karl is a ‘massive fan’ of Maurice Sendak she could hardly contain her excitement for having spotted the similarities.

Maurice the Unbeastly, definitely worth a read. Written by Amy Dixon, illustrated by the brilliant Karl James Mountford and published by Sterling Children’s Books.

 

 

Interested in reading more? Here are the links to the reviews:

https://magpiethat.com/2017/09/24/maurice-the-unbeastly-by-amy-dixon/

https://magpiethat.com/2017/10/15/last-stop-on-the-reindeer-express-by-maudie-powell-tuck/

Egyptomania

Have you ever wondered what it was like living in Ancient Egypt? Find out in this fact filled book,  perfect for curious minds, old and young alike.

Egyptomania is a beautiful book about all things Ancient Egyptian. The illustrations are stunning and the lift-the-flaps on every page make the book all the more interesting. Learn about what Ancient Egyptians wore, what’s inside a pyramid, how a mummy is made and much much more.

I can’t wait to share this book with my Year 3s when we are learning about Ancient Egypt later on in the year.

A truly stunning book! Written by Emma Giuliani and Carole Saturno, published by Laurence King Publishing.

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Curiosity by Markus Motum

Have you ever wondered if there is life on Mars? I know the seven-year olds in my class have!

Discover the incredible story of the search for life on Mars, told from the unique perspective of Curiosity, the Mars Rover sent to explore the red planet. Markus Motum’s stylish illustrations and diagrams reveal how a robot travelled 350,000,000 miles to explore a planet where no human has ever been.

“One of the coolest picture books I have ever read!” Dulkifli (age 7) thinks… and I agree. Filled with facts, figures and tons of interesting information, this book is a must read for anyone wanting to become a scientist.

Written by Markus Motum and published by Walker Studio.

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Strong as a Bear

Strong as a Bear is a book of similes. From ‘free as a bird’ to ‘shy as a deer’, ‘wild as a tiger’ to ‘chatty as a cockatoo’ this book is filled with fun similes. The illustrations are beautifully simple but effective and clearly show the meaning of each simile.

I am always amazed at how quickly children learn. Georgie took one look at mum and described her as ‘red as a lobster’ and herself as ‘hungry as a wolf’. If only all literacy lessons were that easy.

Strong as a Bear was written by Katrin Stangl and published by Enchanted Lion Books.

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SWAP!

What could you swap a button for? In this book, a button gets swapped for two teacups. The teacups get swapped for ropes. The ropes get swapped for….and the swapping continues until the sad friend has everything he needs to turn his old ship into a new one.

This book is a great tool when teaching children that sharing and swapping is important.

The illustrations of the swapped items are in colour, the rest are in black and white. A very effective way of highlighting what is happening in the story.

Written and beautifully illustrated by Steve Light, published by Walker Books.

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The Nutcracker by Shobhan Patel

The Nutcracker was one of my favourite ballet productions when I was growing up. So it’s no surprise that this picture book has already made it into my top 5 picture books of all times.

The papercut pop-ups are a true piece of art and make the book so much fun to read. We used a torch to project the images onto a wall as we read the book. What a masterpiece by Shobhan Patel!

This book is a fantastic Christmas gift for adults and children with careful fingers.

The Nutcracker, a papercut pop-up book, written by Shobhan Patel and published by Thames & Hudson.

 

 

Mustard’s Christmas Wish by Sophie Scribble

Have you ever wondered how dogs see Christmas? This lovely story about Mustard, the sausage dog, is a wonderful modern spin on the classic ‘Twas the Night before Christmas’. Beautifully written and illustrated, we follow Mustard as he attempts to deliver his Christmas Cards on a cold Christmas Eve.

The illustrations support the story beautifully and the rhymes make it fun and easy to read. This is definitely the perfect Christmas book for dog lovers. I know we will be reading this with Chip and Georgie under the Christmas tree.

Written and illustrated by Sophie Scribble and printed by Amazon.

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