Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tohby Riddle

What's this illustration for?

It’s the opening illustration for my new picture book Nobody Owns the Moon (published by Penguin)

Do you have to wait for a flash of inspiration - how do you start?

I can’t always afford to wait – so I have be on the lookout for ideas and solutions. This illustration, however, was sparked by the words that go with it: the opening sentence of the book. What I like about it is that it turned a plainly worded fact about foxes into children’s literature. It provided a character and the beginning of a story. The rest of the book was written after this illustration was conceived.

How did you get your start as an illustrator?

Doing any job I could get – often for university publications. My first book job came about after I wrote a picture book text, because I thought I’d have a better chance of illustrating a picture book if I’d written it too.

Who or what has influenced your work?

I've no doubt the content of my work is a product of who I am and my life experiences and observations - but that might take some unravelling to define accurately (perhaps by a professional!) Otherwise, my work is influenced by many other artforms: film, poetry, prose, painting, architecture and especially music. To me, the lasting feature of an artform is its emotional quality and I like how music achieves this pungently and meaningfully, without having to be too literal or rational – just moving and memorable. Good qualities for art, I think. As for other artists, it's often the thinking behind their art that influences me – by offering fresh approaches to image-making.

What's your favourite media for creating pictures?

Well, for this book I took a mixed-media approach of "anything goes – if it works". So when constructing a scene, each individual subject in the scene was done in the medium that seemed to suit it (pen, pencil, ink, watercolour, acrylic, stamps, different papers, photographs and more). Then it was all combined as collage, like things seem to be in reality, itself – our environment could be seen as mixed-media.

Do you experience illustrator's block - if so, what do you do about it?

Without meaning to sound like an athlete, I find I need to be in the "zone", to do my best work. A kind of meditative state where I’m just doing – where I’m not thinking too much nor second-guessing my judgement. If I’m not in that state I can struggle and get bogged down or stuck. That’s when physical exercise helps – for me, a long walk – or simply switching my mind to another creative problem as a kind of circuit-breaker.

What's the worst thing about being a freelancer?

Well, potentially freelancers have a good deal of freedom – so the worst things are also the best things – the things you could find yourself craving if you were tied to a job that wasn’t giving you much satisfaction and taking up a lot of your time and energy. These things being the freedom to choose what you will do and when – and being your own boss. But you also have to be your own manager, accounts department, employee, publicist, gofer etc. …

And the best?

The best thing is to reach a stage where you can do your own thing and be financially viable.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a range of things from a YA novel to a series books for the very young, but there’s also an idea mysteriously hovering for a future picture book, which I just can’t quite pin down yet. So I keep pondering this in spare moments.

Where can we see more of your work?

At present the best – and most convenient – place is my website:

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