Korky Paul’s anarchic style with its scribbly line and wild characterisation is unmistakeable. Here he explains the thinking behind his recent picture book, Captain Teachum’s Buried Treasure.
Whenever I visit schools I get asked loads of questions. Sometimes about me, sometimes about my drawings. For instance, ‘Do you like climbing trees?’, ‘How often do you shower(!)?’ or ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’
‘I don’t know really,’ I answer. ‘From all sorts of unlikely things, strange places and weird people. I feel there are windows all tightly locked in my mind’s eye. It’s about finding the key to unlock that window and open up the world of the story I am about to illustrate.’
‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. But where do you get your ideas from?’
‘Okay,’ I say, ‘Try this. A yacht from Trinidad and Tobago breezing into a small fishing village on a Greek island.’
This was the unlikely key that unlocked the window into the world of Captain Teachum’s Buried Treasure. A wonderfully quirky story, full of ambiguity that the late Peter Carter had written on a napkin in a pub while drinking with our editor from Oxford University Press, Ron Heapy.
When I was about to embark on illustrating Captain Teachum I spent hours poring over pictures of sailing ships, galleons and clippers and making lots of sketches. The pictures I had looked at during my research showed ships in immaculate condition, all very neat and very tidy and v-e-r-y ship shape. I had all these images of pirates and ships swirling about in my head but I couldn’t seem to get a handle on these windows in my mind’s eye, let alone the key.
So one day I am sitting at this quayside in Greece, thoughts of how to illustrate Cap’n Teachum niggling away, and I am staring forlornly at these immaculate yachts anchored all around me. The poor people on board seem to spend their time scrubbing decks and neatly coiling ropes. Is this the life a pirate would lead?
Then in breezed a battered old yacht with tattered sails, beach towels and swimming costumes hanging from a makeshift clothes line. The deck was strewn with piles of ropes, snorkelling gear, and what looked like finds from beachcombing expeditions – twisted tree roots bleached white from the sea and sun, shells, rocks and a pile of assorted plastic goodies. The family on board secured their boat and headed straight for the Ouzoria for Greek mezethes and long iced drinks. No scrubbing decks. No coiling ropes.
This was my Captain Teachum and this was his ship. Now I had that elusive key to open the window, I could see what to draw. As the illustrator I enjoy adding to the story, embellishing it with my pictures that surprise the author, the editor and most importantly the reader. I insert tales within tales, events and characters perhaps not related to the story but inspired by it. Cap’n Teachum didn’t have a cat in the story. I included him in as I wanted to draw a cat with an eye patch and the yacht from Trinidad had one on board. Later, Peter Carter named him Scratchum.
In Cap’n Teachum there are two drawings with his peg leg on the wrong leg. The mistake was pointed out by a boy in Australia. This gave me the idea of deliberately putting in mistakes and waiting…
Here are a few technical details: I use an Apple Mac, Schminke watercolours, Caran d’Ache pencil crayons (with electric sharpener), Saunders Waterford paper 190gm3, black kandahar and coloured inks with a dip pen, toothbrush, porcupine quills, and my trusty left hand.
Finally, the other question I get asked is ‘How do you draw?’ That one I have not yet been able to answer.
Captain Teachum’s Buried Treasure by Peter Carter is published by Oxford (0 19 272230 1, £4.99 pbk).
Korky Paul is the 1987 winner of the The Children’s Book Award and has been shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal three times. His web site is at www.korkypaul.com