David Barrow was recipient of the Sebastian Walker Award and his debut picturebook, Have You Seen Elephant? was shortlisted for the Waterstones Prize, winning fans around the world. His latest book, Have You Seen Dinosaur? is the follow-up to that, and a treat for children who enjoy surprises and humour (and love dinosaurs). David answered our questions on the books.
How did the idea for Have You Seen Elephant? and Have You Seen Dinosaur? come about?
It all started with the idea of the ‘elephant in the room’. First, I thought of absurd situations where an elephant would try to be inconspicuous. Perhaps he was a burglar, or a spy? Then in the corner of my sketchbook, I drew a tiny scene of an elephant asking a boy if he’d like to play hide-and-seek. It was fun coming up with different places to hide the elephant. He’s a kind of metaphor for a child’s ability (or lack thereof) to play hide-and-seek. It’s ambiguous whether the boy can see the elephant or is just sparing his feelings.
Dinosaur is genuinely more difficult to spot! This time it’s about taking the time to notice what’s actually around you – the wonderous sights we might be missing.
You’ve illustrated other people’s books and written your own. What do you like best about the two different roles (illustrator and author/illustrator)?
Each has its own benefits and challenges. It’s lovely to have creative control when I’m illustrating my own books. But there’s also something liberating about trying to envisage an author’s world. Hopefully, the illustrator can add something to their vision that they hadn’t considered.
Were you a big dinosaur fan as a child?
Of course! Although in my day (I’m pretty old), there were only about five dinosaurs: T. rex, Triceratops, Stegosaurus, Pterodactyl and Diplodocus. Brilliantly, there are millions now. My son’s favourite is Spinosaurus. I’m partial to a Pachycephalosaurus.
Which illustrators have inspired you as an artist?
My list of ‘favourite’ illustrators changes daily. Thanks to things like Pinterest, I’m constantly going down illustrator rabbit holes, discovering new artists. Unfortunately, every book I fall in love with tends to be out of print and consequently stratospherically expensive. But I MUST have them! Recent finds are Robert Shore’s beautiful black and white illustrations for Moby Dick, and Czech artist Josef Paleček’s version of The Ugly Duckling. I’m a huge fan of Brian Wildsmith, Alice and Martin Provensen, Evaline Ness. And no-one told a shaggy dog story like David McKee. I’m also drawn to modern artists with a unique visual language, such as Isabelle Arsenault, Marta Altés and Birgitta Sif.
Can you tell us about your technique? Do you have a favourite image or spread in the book for example, could you describe it?
I can honestly never remember how I did the last book I worked on, so the first couple of spreads are an opportunity to experiment with different mediums, to try and work out if I can still draw and to get a feel for the book. Some stories feel better with ink and watercolour, others feel more charcoal, oil pastel, acrylic on rollers. This is my favourite part of making a book. Once I’ve collected all this mark-making, I composite everything digitally. It gives you an element of control and is a way of wrangling all the chaos I’ve created.
My favourite spread is the first big city scene in Have You Seen Dinosaur? I love drawing buildings, especially epically large ones. I also love observing light. Cities have their own distinct atmospheres which can be quite magical – it’s all about spending time to notice what’s all around us!