New post at Picture Book Den

About how my illustration technique has evolved etc. Including a dodgy video. . .



It’s a Hard Life. . .

Reading this excellent post on Brain Pickings,

featuring an inspiring and wise address to students by Bill Watterson, inventor of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, on the subject of creativity and life etc, I was struck by his declaration that “My job is essentially to come up with 365 ideas a year.”

It made me wonder what my job was if considered in those terms. As a Children’s Writer/Illustrator, to keep things ticking over and my life muddling along on an even financial keel I have to come up with two ideas a year. That’s right, TWO. Call that a job??

But before you roll your eyes and groan, there is a caveat to that statement. I have to come up with two publishable ideas, two workable, saleable, marketable, appealing, enjoyable and downright inspired ideas a year, and I have to continue to work at that level year after year. I hope that makes it seem a bit less of a breeze.

Oh, and of course I actually have to do the artwork.

I’m not trying to make it sound like it’s hard grind or anything, and I’m not trying to elicit your sympathy, just to add a bit of perspective. Of course it’s a great way to earn a living. Of course it’s wonderful to get paid to do something you love, something that expresses who you are and something you are bloody good at. Don’t think I’m not grateful every minute of every day to whatever powers made this life circumstance possible, because I am!

But it does involve work 😉

Obviously, to arrive at the aforementioned two successful ideas a great many lesser ideas have had to be jettisoned, often after a great deal of (mentally) strenuous refining. Ideas have to pass a lot of tests before being allowed to proceed to the next stage of the selection process, and likewise to the next and so on. It’s a war of attrition, weak ideas go to the wall. The few that make it through your own rigourous selection process then have to make it through that of a potential publisher, which is often predicated on a quite different set of not readily predictable criteria. However good your idea might be, they might already have a book about tap dancing rabbits coming out next autumn, or the editor you worked with may have left and the new editor might want to establish herself (it will be a her, this is children’s publishing and for whatever reason, it is 99% female) and you may not be part of her plans.

And then, though a publisher has given your idea their full backing, it can fail miserably when exposed to the buying public. Then, obviously, it was a deeply crap idea all along and you may not get published again for a while as you are obviously a purveyor of deep crap of the unsaleable kind. . .

So, even if your inspiration and appraisal apparatus is firing on all cylinders, the nuggets it produces might still be duds. . . ( I do so love a good mixed metaphor . . )

Well, as you can now see, it’s a hard life after all here on the creative coal face, hacking out my two ideas a year and you should all feel really really sorry for me and send me flowers and money and cake, don’t forget cake. . .

Not a Lot I Can Say. . .

It’s all very well having a fancy blog and intending to post a lot about what I do and all that, but it turns out that the main thing I do, Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating, isn’t something that lends itself to sharing.

I can’t really show you what I am working on right now, as that would break confidentiality with the publisher. So no ‘in progress’ pictures. . .

I can’t really share ideas I’m working up with a view to publishing, as somebody might nick my idea. . . So no ‘I had this great idea for a picture book!’ posts. . .


I can show you stuff I have just had published, but that isn’t going to keep a blog going for long 😉


It’s a bit frustrating. But I guess I can write something more general about picture books and my approach to them etc, but I have to avoid at all costs being like all those earnest websites with endless tips for would be authors who want to ‘realise their dream’ and publish a children’s book. . .

Call me cynical, but tip one would be ‘Lay off the inspirational websites and start doing the necessary hard work!’

Tough love Dude. . .

I’ll address the issue of what feels right to post about and what doesn’t, and hopefully come up with something worth reading, but in the meantime I drew some more cats. . .

cat5 cat6cat7

I’m a Denizen

I did a guest blog post for a site called ‘Picture Book Den’ a couple of weeks ago. You remember. . . hah, course you don’t 😉

Anyway, the post went down well, and I have been asked to join the select band of eminent and widely published Children’s Book writers that make up the site’s admins and regular posters. I have graciously accepted the offer of course.

So now, and henceforward, if you visit the site you will see my name on the important list just under the banner at the top, and if you click on said name you will be spirited straight to the ‘about’ page where you can marvel at the wonders there revealed concerning who I am and what I do. That is, if you weren’t fully clued up on my wonders already.

It will be nice to feel like part of a community of writers. Writing and illustrating is an isolated profession, we all beaver away in our own little bubble.  (which makes me want to draw beavers in bubbles but I shall restrain myself) This relative isolation does have it’s advantages of course, like not having to commute anywhere, and not being required to deal in or with office politics etc, so it can be a perfectly pleasant way to exist, but not all the time. It can be isolat-ing as well as isolat-ed. 

So being able to connect with people who know what I am talking about because they do the same thing as me will be a refreshing and valuable thing too. I’m pleased 😉

That being said, as I will be posting there four or five times a year at least I had better start working out what to post about. . . hmmm. .

Oh well, if all else fails, draw rabbits. . . in shades. . . that’s what I say.



I put a design into the Spoonflower monthly fabric design contest last week. The theme was Baby Animals, which I thought was just up my street. I repurposed an existing drawing as a simple repeat and sent it in.

Kind of like this mock up.


Anyway, I came 111th 😉 Out of about 500 though.

I should have made it more of a design I think, it’s just a drawing set to repeat, which isn’t much of a cleverly worked out surface pattern at all really. I thought it was fun though.

Just started up a Tumblr

Which sounds odd. .  ‘A tumblr’ as if a tumblr was a specific thing rather than a type of blog or blogging platform. Still, it has it’s own sort of feel, something a bit more throwaway and loose than a ‘proper’ blog. Somewhere between a flickr page and a pinterest board (which I haven’t explored yet. . . do I need to? I dunno)

Any road up, here it is –

I’m going to put an old illustration, a digital pattern/artwork and a photograph up every day and see if I get any likes or follows or whatever. It does seem quite a hassle free process so I’m enjoying it in a quiet way. There does seem to be quite a lot of good stuff on Tumblr. It’s easier to find it than on WordPress or Blogger I reckon.

Here’s a pic from my tumblr, which, by the way is called ‘lessisless’ which isn’t necessarily true but I had to call it something.



Jon x

Cambridge Drawing Society

Well, it’s that time of year again, and my partner, Gill is getting her pictures ready to submit to the Cambridge Drawing Society open exhibition. She paints lovely watercolours, and gets voted the favourite in the show quite often. This sort of thing. . .


A portrait of my daughter Isobel

Good huh?

For my part, I have never indulged, mainly because I draw directly onto my computer for work purposes these days and computer prints are not allowed. Also, I have never been that sure if my stuff would fit in with the ethos of the show seeing as it’s work from my imagination and is humorous in style and content. But there is nothing in the guidelines that says that submitted work has to be drawn from life or be deadly serious, so this year I thought,’Well, why not?’ and sent in my entry form just in time. Which left me about five days to come up with four actual physically-drawn-on-paper type pictures that I had hurriedly called on the entry form, ‘Cat 1’, ‘Cat 2’, ‘Cat 3’, and ‘Cat 4’.

Well, I’ve managed that, for better or worse, and found that I actually enjoyed the process. What the ‘art loving public’ will make of these daft fat cats I don’t know. They may not even get accepted in the first place. Still, Ronald Searle was the honorary president, so daft fat cats may resonate 😉

Here they are.

cat1 cat2 cat3

cat4I think I may have priced myself out of the market at £120 a go, but I had to think of a figure off the top of my head and subtract the CDS’s 40% not to mention framing costs. . .

The exhibition is at Cambridge Guild Hall and is on from Saturday 13th to Saturday the 20th April. Pop in and have a look if you are in the area.