I have recently had the opportunity to interview one of my favourite illustrators, Karl James Mountford. Karl has featured regularly on the blog with his illustrations for ‘The Last Stop on the Reindeer Express’ and ‘Maurice the Unbeastly’ to name but a few.
I was particularly interested in his work around Maurice the Unbeastly, a book with a very important message of staying true to oneself even if one feels not to fit in. I have read this book to my year 3 class and it has become one of our favourites, mainly because of the brilliantly funny illustrations which beautifully support the storyline.
How do you go about illustrating a book like Maurice the Unbeastly? Where does the inspiration come from?
The publisher in this case asked for character designs first. So I did a bit of research into ‘beasts’- a lot of them (beasts) are mixtures of two or three different kinds of animals in myths, so I started there. Making weird hybrid beasts and after chatting with the lovely art director Ryan, we agreed that Maurice should be big and masculine looking, to try and break the idea that kind creatures were small or timid. I’m a massive fan of illustrator Maurice Sendak, I think there is definitely an echo of my love for his books in the visual of Maurice.
Where The Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
What are your influences when illustrating books?
Colour palettes, especially limited ones. I’ve always been fascinated by how much you can do with just a few colours and mixing them with textures and shape. Also the tone of the text, too.
What was your favourite children’s book when you were seven years old? A question my class was particularly keen to ask.
I reckon ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ was and still is.
Which is your favourite book you’ve illustrated?
Maurice, naturally, but I’ve just finished a middle grade cover called ‘The Peculiars’ which I’m a bit proud of, as everything you see on it is my idea. The publishers really trusted me with it and the job was just seamless and fun.
Is there anyone you would like to illustrate for?
I’d love to illustrate something for Philip Pullman, but I’m not sure my work would reflect his AMAZING stories well enough.
For aspiring illustrators, what top tips would you give them to get into the profession? I have some amazing artists in my class who were curious.
Start with making things you love, paint, draw whatever interests you, because it’s there that everyone else will see what you might be about.
What was the first book you illustrated? What did you wish you’d known back then that you know now?
The first proper paid book with a publisher I illustrated was by Jennifer Bell, ‘The Uncommoners’. I wish I’d trusted myself a little more when developing the artwork.
If you weren’t an illustrator, what would your profession be instead? Again, my 7 year olds were keen to find out.
I’ve often thought of this. I’d be a vet, hands down. I love animals, especially dogs!
What is the last book you bought and why did you choose that book?
I bought a book by Pam Smy, called Thornhill – it’s really creepy but so brilliantly done.
Is there a book you think all children should read?
‘The Journey’ by Francessa Sanna or ‘The Memory Tree’ by Britta Teckentrupp or Shaun Tan’s ‘The Arrival’ (sorry, I couldn’t choose just one). All of these books deal with subject matters that adults might think twice before reading it to a child, but I’m a firm believer that kids are the most welcoming and understanding sort of humans towards new ideas, situations and people. They handle the truth a lot better than most adults. I don’t think we need to talk down to them about the world they are a part of. Plus, these books are illustrated in such a beautiful way.
What’s the last gallery you visited and what did you enjoy the most about it?
I visited the gallery Oriel Myrddin in Carmarthen, a local artist made screen prints and wooden bird sculptures that hung from the ceiling in a mass of colour. I’ve forgotten the artist’s name, but it was beautiful.
Thanks very much to Karl for taking the time to answer our questions. It’s very interesting to get an insight into other people’s work and my Year 3s now have a few more book recommendations to read. When I first showed ‘Maurice the Unbeastly’ to my mother, she immediately commented on the Sendak like style. I grew up with ‘Where the Wild Things Are ‘ and mum had to read the book to me until the pages started falling apart. When I told her that Karl is a ‘massive fan’ of Maurice Sendak she could hardly contain her excitement for having spotted the similarities.
Maurice the Unbeastly, definitely worth a read. Written by Amy Dixon, illustrated by the brilliant Karl James Mountford and published by Sterling Children’s Books.
Interested in reading more? Here are the links to the reviews: