Interview with Children’s Book Illustrator /Author — Jarvis

Already off to a great start this year by being shortlisted for 2017’s V&A Awards (more information on this can be found here), Jarvis’ book Alan’s Big, Scary Teeth, tells the tale of Alan the alligator who has just one talent — scaring other creatures in the jungle with his big, scary teeth — until one day, he wakes up and finds that all his teeth are gone.

According to The New York Times:

The witty Jarvis (“Lazy Dave”) makes all the right moves, drawing Alan’s jungle world with his usual loose, jagged charm.
Image credit: Jarvis

We are thrilled to have Jarvis here to talk about this book, his nomination, and his career as an illustrator so far…

For those of us that don’t know who you are, can you introduce yourself?

Hey nice to meet you, I’m Jarvis…a picture book maker from Manchester.

How was life like after university? How did you become a children book’s author/illustrator?

Straight after University I got a job in designing for music at a small studio in London. It was a dream job but I realised it wasn’t exactly what I enjoyed.

What inspires your work?

Visually I am inspired by the stories, for me the way i make a book changes depending on the story. This could mean I use different materials. For a recent book about trees I used lots of ink to get organic natural shapes, for a book about a fish I’m using blow pens and paper for bubbles and coral. I always go back to the work of Miroslav Sasek, Quentin Blake, Eric Carle and Ralph Steadman.

The stories I write are inspired by images, for my first book I thought of an image of a sleepwalking dog…and pulled a story out of it (Lazy Dave). Its the same with all the books I have written, there always seems to be on iconic, simple image that sets off a story.

What sparked the idea for Alan’s Big Scary Teeth?

I had made a picture of an alligator smiling. Someone asked if I could create a story for him and I sat down with my wife and we chatted about him and came up with the story…so the spark was my wife Jenna!

What were the challenges you had to encounter to complete Alan’s Big Scary Teeth?

There’s always some odd challenges in every book. In this book I remember colour was a stumbling block. Alan needed to be green, and usually Jungles are green…so I had to create a balance so that Alan jumped out of each image.

Did you always wanted to be a children’s book author/illustrator?

Not at all, in fact it was only about 4 years ago that I had the idea to become an author/illustrator. My dream was to make record cover designs for bands…which I achieved but realised it wasn’t what I thought it would be.

What do you wish you’d have known starting out as an illustrator?

In a practical way…to always back up your work online and offline!

It is often said that it is hard to make a living as an illustrator. How long was it before illustration became your primary source of income? And how do you keep a constant stream of projects coming in?

From when I decided to do it, i think it took about 6 months for it to become my main income. Having only done this for about 4 years I’m not sure I have many answers to keeping a stream of projects. I really only make picture books, I don’t do any other illustration projects. Book publishing is slow but luckily it’s very structured, so I know that I am signed up to produce 3 books this year, and 3 books next year as well. Then over the next year I will hopefully push to get some more projects lined up for the future. Also, there are other ways of making an income which came as a surprise — events, visiting schools, literature festivals and bookshop visits supplement income but also lets you meet the kids that are reading your books…which is great!

Besides hard work and talent, what other traits has led to your success?

I think a big amount of luck, and an open attitude to collaboration. It may be my name on the books but there is always a team at the publishers who are not only a client but a resource.

How do you feel in receiving such an honour from the V&A Awards?

I feel like there must have been an admin error! It came as a huge surprise to be nominated. The books I make are usually funny and slapstick…not always something that attracts awards. So I’m over the moon!

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I would say…eat your greens! and also, draw more! For the years after my graphic design degree I stopped drawing and concentrated on design, even though it was the thing I felt most natural doing. Its really started my author/illustrator journey that I began drawing, illustrating and experimenting again.

If you could let people know anything else about you, what would it be?

I would that I still don’t know what I’m doing, so don’t worry if you don’t either.

Any projects coming up you would like to share with us?

Well my book ‘MRS MOLE, IM HOME!’ came out a month ago, all about Morris the mole who works at Gordon Ratzy’s restaurant and can’t wait to go home (Walker books publishing).

Then I have another book called ‘Pick a pine tree’ written by Patty Toht, which will be published this winter, a very different book for me.

At the moment I’m beginning my third book with walker books called ‘TROPICAL TERRY’ which I’m very excited about but you won’t see that until next year.

See more of Jarvis’ great work here: Website, Twitter

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