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- author Jackie French

Thursday 24 November 2016

Meet the Illustrator: Cat Chapman

Describe your illustration style in ten words or less. 
Comical, imperfect, lively & endearing.

What items are an essential part of your creative space? Music and coffee first and foremost. Nothing happens without these! I like to work alone, and have the perfect studio in our back garden, removed from the house and my family.

Do you have a favourite artistic medium? I have a love / hate relationship with ink and dip pen ~ it takes a real leap of faith to make those lines on your beautiful (expensive) paper, knowing that it can all go terribly wrong at any moment with a big permanent blob of ink landing on the page! Working with ink however, also allows for spontaneous mark making to happen that adds to the fun and charm of the illustration.

Name three artists whose work inspires you. William Steig, Tomi Ungerer & Quentin Blake

Which artistic period would you most like to visit and why? Somewhere between 1975 and 1985, when some of my favourite children’s books were being made. The stories could be edgy and wild, and sometimes quite psychedelic! The illustrations were loose and expressive, reflecting the style and art from the late '70s. Going back as an adult to hang out with my favourite childhood picture book makers would be amazing.

Who or what inspired you to become an illustrator? I had always loved drawing as most illustrators will have, but never knew how to break into the industry and make a career out of it. A year or two after my first son was born, my sister, who is a writer, insisted I create a few illustrations for a story she was working on and was hugely encouraging.

At the same time, a short night course in illustration started at a local college, and I decided to enrol. There I met my agent Sandra Morris, who very quickly got me my first job with Walker Books. I haven't stopped since then!

Can you share a photo of your creative work space or part of the area where you work most often?
For authenticity, I have literally stood up and taken a photo. Can I just say in my defence, I am half way through a picture book and it is due VERY soon, so things have perhaps descended into more chaos than usual. As you can see, I share the studio with my partner who tinkers on keyboards and is very tidy. [We love seeing this authentic pic, Cat! - Ed]

What is your favourite part of the illustration process?
Starting work on the pencil roughs for those first few pages that you instantly have an idea for as you read the story for the first time. Those pages tend to shape the rest of the book for me, and get the ball rolling.

What advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator? Practically, understanding that there are many areas in art and design that require illustrators, besides just children's picture books. It can be hard to earn money from picture books alone, so also finding commercial illustration work is a good idea if you want to make this your full-time job.

Creatively, don’t throw away an artwork because you think you’ve messed it up! Put it aside for a few days and move on to another work and come back to it ~ it might not be as bad as you first thought.


Cat Chapman is a freelance illustrator from Auckland, New Zealand. She enjoys working quickly with ink, pen, pencil and watercolour, and creating characters that are full of movement, humour and personality. Her books include Yak and Gnu, The Mystery Box & Finnigan Flynn and When We go Camping, among others. See more at her website - catchapman.co.nz.