• Jim Stoten

    Jim Stoten



    FEBRUARY 2017

    MR TWEED'S BUSY DAY, written and illustrated by JIM STOTEN, is a playful and gloriously colourful 'finding' book of lush landscapes, strange, oversized animals and hidden creatures. It is also a counting book, as the reader has to find one to ten hidden things on each spread, so children will practice numbers and counting without even realising that they are learning.

    We spoke to author and illustrator Jim Stoten about his new book:

    Q: Have you always wanted to be a children's illustrator?

    A: I was someone who always drew on my Maths, French and English books and people would say that I shouldl do something involving art when I left school - but I had no idea what illustration was. My tutors suggested I do illustration rather than Fine Art so I did a course in illustration.

    I wouldn't say I was strictly speaking an illustrator, though, as I tend to do my own thing; I like to be expressive and I want whatever I am doing to be enjoyable. Sometimes that can be difficult to convince commercial clients that what you are planning will work, but in children's publishing they like to have your personality showing through your work.

    Q: Mr Tweed, the main character in these pages, is a dog who wears a suit and a very tall hat. What inspired him?

    A: Mr Tweed actually started off as a small dog and the book was at first called 'Helpful Delbert'. I wanted to create a children's book that had busy scenes and would involve helping other characters look for things.

    I had a lot of meetings with the publisher, Nobrow, and we came up with the Mr Tweed title and the character developed after that. It took about a year to get there.

    Q: Each of these scenes is very intricate; can you describe what is your aim with each of these spreads?

    A: The paintings in these books are what I love doing the most. Each scene tells lots of different stories and there are people and creatures interacting. I love building up each scene, slotting in new characters and little stories. It's like making a puzzle.

    Each scene has a specific setting, like a park or library - these are places you can go into. The garden scene has sculpted hedges and topiary because I love that kind of thing. I have created each scene partly from looking at the world around me - patterns in brickwork, or flowers and trees - and partly from imagination.

    Q: Do you have a favourite page?

    A: I like the scene set in the swimming pool, I like its composition because it's almost like a pattern. It's nice drawing people in water because you don't need to draw all of them, just the isolated parts you can see and that makes it feel like a pattern.

    Q: There are some wonderfully absurd images in the spreads; a frog water-skiing, a giant tortoise carrying a book. What inspires these kinds of images?

    A: I train my memory to look at things but as I can't remember them perfectly, I make up my own version of them. There is one spread, set in a wood, that has a giant shoe in it and people often ask me, why? I think it's because when I'm walking in the woods and it's quiet and you're on your own, you can drift into your own world. I remember looking at tree roots and thinking they can look like a tree's feet, so for me it seemed natural to put a shoe in the woods.

    Q: Why do your images include a mix of animals and people?

    A: I think it's easy to attach a character to an animal. There's a cat sitting next to me while we're talking and if I drew it, I would find it easy to build its character through the ways it was dressed, for example. I think drawing a person can be quite formulaic, there's not much to play with, but if you bring an animal into play you can make it make much more interesting characters.

    A tortoise in a library isn't a link a lot of people would make but I think that giant, basking creatures would like a place that is quiet, and I think they are quite intelligent creatures. But I have no idea how strange it is for other people to see that kind of imagery.

    Q: Your style, with the mix of colours and flat shading, is quite nostalgic, how did it develop?

    A: I think that comes from being quite old fashioned in my own tastes. I prefer going to pubs than parties, I like watching old rather than new films and I prefer vinyl records to iTunes. I also like to wear clothes from before because of the attention to detail and there's a quality about them, and colour, that I like.

    I also like to collect old things and I'm a sucker for old toys. I found some really old bars of soap that were made in the shape of Chip 'n Dale, they are beautiful figurines but for some reason they're made of soap. Anything that is old and weird looks great to me!

    Q: How do you create each of these images? Do you work digitally to get the flat areas of colour?

    A: I draw out the pages on large pieces of A2 paper, so it's the actual size of a double page spread. I draw the images with pen and ink and then I colour them digitally. I used to colour in the pages using felt tip pens, I would fill in the shape with individual lines to make this odd texture, but it's hard to make changes if you need to once it's coloured in by hand. So I work digitally for practical reasons, to be able to change things on the pages.

    But I still work by hand in my sketch book and I'm constantly sketching things, possibly that's to connect what I'm seeing and what I'm communicating in my drawing, but it's also about practice, to keep alive what's in my head, and how I draw it.

    Q: What will we see next from Mr Tweed?

    A: There will be another book in June, called Mr Tweed and the Band in Need, which will be set in a zoo. Mr Tweed is helping the band leader, a walrus, find other members of the band who are hidden in the zoo.