Sunday, 22 August 2010

British Society of Children's Book
Writers and Illustrators

I was recently interviewed by Author Lee Carr for the SCBWI Message Board. You can find out more about the British SCBWI here.
Early sketch for Knight Time

Surprise! We have conducted a guest interview with Jane Massey, a talented artist and illustrator of 40+ children's books. Thanks to Jane for her time, and congratulations to both she and Jane Clarke, whose book
Knight Time was awarded Sainsburys Book Club Choice for June 2010 (I know the congratulations is a little late, but summer is flying by and I found out only recently!). Here's what Jane Massey has shared with us . . .

1. Do you ever do any work on holiday?
Working from home I find it quite hard to switch off so a holiday is the perfect opportunity to completely forget about work.

Lionel Print

2. What projects are you currently working on? What is coming up for you?
I am working on a design commission which is keeping me busy for several months. I would love to say more but I am sworn to secrecy. I am also talking to publishers about new book projects. I started selling my own print range last year online and in galleries and shops. This keeps me busy too.

3. What is your work environment like? Is it neat or cluttered?
My office is upstairs in our home and has views of the garden and allotments beyond. I am very good at making neat piles but I have a lot of Stuff so it could probably be described as neat and cluttered! I often work in silence as I find with two young children it is a novelty to have quiet. If I do listen to music it will be something trashy.

4. Do you have an agent? If so, who and how did you first start working with them? If not, why do you prefer not to have an agent?
I have never had an agent. I enjoy meeting clients and promoting my own work. Sometimes I do think it would be nice to have someone negotiate fees and check through contracts for me.

5. What is your background and how did you first start illustrating?
My first memory of drawing was copying Mr. Men and Disney characters. I loved entering art competitions as a child. A highlight was winning the BBC Look East Christmas Card Competition. I also had artwork featured in Oh Boy! magazine and on a Blue Peter competition but I never managed to get a picture in the Take Hart! Gallery. At seventeen I did a BTEC Diploma in Graphic Design at Suffolk College. I then went to Kingston University. I had planned to spend my time at Kingston specialising in illustration but I chose after the first year to concentrate on Graphic Design. On graduating I worked for two London agencies as a packaging designer and then on a whim applied for a position as designer and illustrator for a toy company in Hong Kong. Even though I decided to stay in Hong Kong for just a few months it was an amazing experience. It was on my return that I decided to take the plunge and become freelance. I was very lucky that after a short period of time I was given a major commission from Marks and Spencer plc which meant I could concentrate on illustration full time.

My first project with M&S was to illustrate the packaging for the entire Children's Easter Range. A very brave move on M&S's part I thought! I was also asked to create the designs for the chocolate moulds and egg cups. It was around this time that I first illustrated Percy Pig. Percy (above) is still going strong today!
Percy Pig Copyright Marks and Spencer Plc.

6. Do you write texts as well as illustrate?
I have never written text for a book. When I have a gap between commissions I sometimes work on character ideas and do sketches or artworks to develop my style. The rabbit characters for
It's Mine! Published by Little Tiger Press (below) were something I'd been experimenting on myself before I was commissioned to illustrate the book.

7. Do you have any advice for illustrators trying to get started in publishing (ie trying to land their first book contract) or trying to stay inspired?
I didn't get my first book commission until I had been working as an illustrator for a couple of years. I was told at the time that my style wasn't suitable. I took the advice from the publishers on board and gradually developed my style. Like many illustrators I started out by working on educational books.

8. What does your family think about your occupation and did they always feel that way?
My family and friends are all pretty non-plussed about what I do. Strangers on the other hand tend to be very impressed when you tell them that you illustrate children's books for a living!

Postcard by Dick Bruna. Pencil topper by Samantha Stas.

10. What is your favourite medium for illustration?
I am always changing the medium I work in. I alternate between gouache, watercolour, ink, pencil crayon and wax crayon or a combination of these. I have also recently taken to using my children's felt tip pens, poster paints and spirograph.

11. What is your favourite colour? Orange and Red. I can't decide between the two. Favourite flower? Peony. Favourite food? Custard. Favourite place? Amsterdam. Favourite music? Beyonce and the Sugababes.

Grolsch Stool-souvenir from Amsterdam. Cushion by Sukie.

12. Have there been any suprises along the way? Is it all more than you imagined it could be? Harder work? More interesting? Etc.
I think the biggest surprise for me is how the business of publicising yourself has changed. For many years my only form of publicity was to put an ad each year in the Contact Illustrators Book. I found this was all I needed to do. I have found that the internet has made things more complicated as there is no longer one obvious place to promote your work. I have my own website and am on and but I still find the most successful way to get work is to pick up the phone and then send samples or if possible go and see potential clients. I deliberated for several months before finally starting my own blog earlier this year. It seems that it is another necessary tool now in self promotion. Keeping a blog is really helping me creatively as it's making me push myself to come up with new ideas continually. I especially enjoy working on the inspiration side of my blog. This gives me an opportunity to draw on my design background. The downside for me in having a blog is that it can be quite time consuming.
Doodles for blog

13. Have any of your books been translated into other languages? Did you have to adjust the pictures for those versions? What was that process like?
Several of my books have been translated. I found it very bizarre when one of my early books was translated in to Korean. It changes the whole look of the book. It doesn't tend to affect the artwork stage a great deal other than if there is text within the image - this is artworked on a separate overlay.

Copyright Walt Disney Productions

14. Which books did you like as a child?
I can remember liking
Topsy and Tim. I also loved the Milly Molly Mandy books. I think my favourite though was my Giant Story Book by Walt Disney (above). I still have it but it no longer has its cover and it's coming apart at the spine. The sign of a well-loved book! It's great to be able to read it again to my children.

Copyright Shirley Hughes

15. Which artists have inspired you?
The first illustrator that I remember being particularly fond of is Shirley Hughes (above). I love the energy in her artwork. Her characters have real personality. Helen Oxenbury (below) was another favourite when I was a student. I also love Olle Eksell, Marc Boutavant, and M. Sasek.

Copyright Helen Oxenbury

16. Is there anything else fun that you would like to share?
I had eight artworks blown up on to billboards which surrounded the Eros statue in Piccadilly Circus one Christmas. This was probably the largest scale project I have worked on so far. Unfortunately, the whole job had to be turned around in one week and as a result I wasn't over the moon with my artwork. I produced black linework on A3 layout and then went up to the ad agency in London and spent a day marking up the colours. It was bizarre seeing my artwork at such a large scale in such a bustling location.


  1. great interview Jane! nice to read a bit more about you and your work:)

  2. Great interview!!! I love your work, so it is incredible to know a bit more about yourself and the way you create... the whole process it's so exciting!


  3. Nice to discover your works, Jane!
    Great interview!
    and... go on!

  4. Enjoyed reading this interview. Inspiring!