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Meet the illustrator: Chris Nixon

In every issue of Alphabet Soup magazine, we interview an author or an illustrator. We can’t include all their answers in the magazine (we only fit so much into two pages!) and we like to put the whole interview on Soup Blog so you don’t miss out! Issue 6 of Alphabet Soup magazine includes a Q&A with Chris Nixon.

Chris Nixon lives in  the southern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. He is a freelancer for a design studio and has also illustrated Crocodile Cake, by Palo Morgan, and Jake’s Gigantic List, by Ken Spillman. Jake’s Monster Mess will be published in May 2010.

When did you start drawing?

My earliest memory of drawing is when I was 5 or 6 and I was drawing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I loved drawing and painting animals and things outside so I started taking art classes painting in oils and sketching in charcoal and pencil. Most of the time the classes were outside so I would get to go on bushwalks and go exploring, which was great fun.

Did you have a favourite artist/illustrator as a child?

I wouldn’t say I had a favourite artist, but I did love the book Where the Wild Things Are. I loved the artwork and story then, and now Maurice Sendak is one of my favourite illustrators.

At the launch of Jake's Gigantic List, signing a copy of Crocodile Cake

What was your favourite book as a child?

Apart from Where the Wild Things Are, I loved Winnie the Pooh and all the Disney books that were adapted from films. I really liked 101 Dalmatians.

Why did you decide to become a children’s illustrator?

I was always interested in art but I

didn’t know how to turn it into a job. I studied design and illustration at university and in my last year I wrote and illustrated my own picture book. I researched a lot of kids’ books and found I really liked the characters. Up until then, I hadn’t picked up a children’s book since I was child. I really enjoyed them again and saw a good outlet for my artwork and passion for bringing good stories to life.

Was it easy to get your first job as an illustrator?

I have been very lucky and haven’t had to go looking for work; it’s always come to me. Fremantle Press saw my work at my graduate exhibition from uni and saw that I had illustrated a crocodile in one of my designs. They had a story called Crocodile Cake and needed an illustrator, and that was enough for them to pick me … very lucky! A few weeks later, I was working on my first picture book.

Do you have a preferred medium? Why?

I have found a medium that really works for me and my style and that is a blend of traditional and digital techniques. I use pencil and watercolour as an under painting and then I finish the work digitally. This allows me to make easy changes on the computer, but allows the work to have a traditional hand painted and drawn look to it.

What do you like to do when you are not working on your art?

I love being outside and traveling so I love surfing, kayaking, mountain biking and seeing as much of the world as possible. I’ve played basketball since I was 6. I also like music, film and cooking, so there is never enough time to fit it all in!

Where do you get your inspiration?

I watch a lot of films, particularly animated and kids’ films. They are like kids’ books brought to life and I always look to them for inspiration. I plan to work in the film industry one day, making movies and bringing great stories to life with my artwork.

Are you influenced by anyone’s work?

The artists working in the film industry are some of the best artists in the world, particularly the artists from Pixar, DreamWorks and Blue Sky Studios. I follow all their work and use it as a goal for my skill as an illustrator. In the book world, I really like Shaun Tan’s work. His career path is something I follow closely as he is also from Perth and now working as an artist making films.

Do you need to meet with the author when you are illustrating their books?

I never met the authors until the books were completed. I worked closely with the publisher to make decisions on my illustrations.

Does the story influence your choice of materials?

Absolutely. If the story is set outside with a more natural setting I will use more traditional materials like watercolour to create a more flowing illustration. If the story is more energetic and fast paced, I might use effects on the computer to make it more convincing.

How long did it take for you to illustrate Crocodile Cake and Jake’s Gigantic List?

Crocodile Cake was my first book so it took a lot longer to finish. From start to finish it took a little over a year.  Jake’s Gigantic List took about 3 months.

Are you working on illustrating a new book?

I just finished my third book, which is called Farmer Mick: Harvest Time Havoc, which is all about farming with some really fun characters including talking horses and tractors. I’m also finishing off my own book I started writing and illustrating in uni. It’s called Chasing Zach and I hope to have it finished this year.

Do you have any advice for young artists?

Find a certain artist or style, or even part of art that you really like and research it to find out what other people in the world are doing. Other than that; practice and more practice. Take a sketchbook and pencil with you in case you see something that inspires you. I have a sketchbook in my car, in my bag and next to my bed in case I dream about something really cool and I need to draw it so I don’t forget it.

Author:

Rebecca Newman is a children's writer and poet, and the editor of the Australian children's literary blog, Alphabet Soup. rebeccanewman.net.au.