'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 22 February 2018

Meet the Illustrator: Peter Carnavas

Describe your illustration style in ten words or less.
Light, usually colourful, simple, often with lots of white space.

What items are an essential part of your creative space?
I always need music on when I’m illustrating.  Over the years that service has been provided by my record player, ipod, radio, and sometimes myself, as my guitar is always within reach.  Playing music is a useful little time-filler when I’m stuck on something.  The rest is quite standard - pencils, pens, brushes, paints, lightbox.  And my dog sleeps in an old armchair beside me.  That helps. 

Do you have a favourite artistic medium?
I’ve primarily worked in watercolours, not necessarily because I think I’m great at it but it’s just what I’ve always done.  When I started out, I loved ink/pencil and watercolour illustrations, so that’s what I picked, and haven’t strayed since.  I’ve worked out a few things over the years but I learn something new about watercolours - and illustration generally - with every book.

Name three artists whose work inspires you.
I love the flowing simplicity of Peter H Reynolds.  I love the perspective in Freya Blackwood’s work.  And I love the scratchy charm of Quentin Blake.

Which artistic period would you most like to visit and why?
I wouldn’t mind travelling back in time to peer over Michelango’s shoulder as he chipped away at David. 

Who or what inspired you to become an illustrator?
I always wrote short stories and scribbled pictures for fun, but I really became inspired to make picture books when I was a primary school teacher.  I read so many beautiful and powerful picture books to students, so I started to wonder if I’d be able to have a shot.  It also helps to have supportive people around who don’t tell you that you’re crazy for pursuing it.

Can you share a photo of your creative work space or part of the area where you work most often? Talk us through it.
This is a photo of my desk.  My studio is our old single car garage.  This end looks like an illustrator’s studio but what you can’t see in the picture is all the other stuff that gets piled in there: camping gear, bikes, old furniture.  It’s actually much brighter than it looks in this picture. 
The desk:
From the left, you might spot the edge of my paint box, then my coloured pencils.  In the left corner is my ipod and speaker.  Then running along the back of the desk is just an assortment of mugs, each holding a particular category of something: lead pencils, fine black pens, coloured pencils, brushes.  There’s a jar of ink there somewhere, and a few toy elephants, from when I made The Elephant
On the right is my drawing board, which sits at an angle, on top of another wooden tabletop desky thing I made.  I’ve set it up like this so I can stand while I draw and paint.  Years of leaning over a desk have not been good for my back. 
Under the drawing board is my lightbox, covered in a small blanket, to keep the dust off. 
The wall:
One of my daughter’s pictures is on the wall, which she painted in Prep (my other daughter’s Prep painting is on another wall you can’t see).  Then there are just a few things I stick up: photos, little drawings, postcards, and a sheet of colour mixing for reference.  These things are always changing, different pictures, quotes and postcards.

What is your favourite part of the illustration process?
My favourite part is when I’m scribbling up the roughs, working out where everything will be placed, and how the whole illustration comes together.  When I do this, my drawing is light, scribbly and quite free, and I often wonder how I can get my final illos to have the same quality.  

Rough page from Jump and Shout, written by Mike Dumbleton, illustrated by Peter Carnavas, Little Book Press, 2017. 

What advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator?
-  Try to develop a style that feels natural to you.
-    Try to practise every day.
-    Try not to compare yourself to others - everybody draws trees and tortoises and houses in their own way.  But still dive deep into the work of others to enjoy. 
-    Give yourself more time than you think.

Final page from Jump and Shoutwritten by Mike Dumbleton, illustrated by Peter Carnavas, Little Book Press, 2017. 

Peter Carnavas writes and illustrates books for children and their grown-ups.  His books include Last Tree in the City, The Children Who Loved Books and his novel, The Elephant.  Peter’s work has been translated into many languages and he is a popular presenter at schools and festivals.
You can find out more about Peter by visiting his website.