Tony Ross is one of this country’s best-loved comic illustrators, and one of the most successful. His first book was published in 1976 and since then he has written and illustrated a huge number of books for children. His illustrative style is immediately recognisable, and always brimful of energy, originality and wit. Three times winner of the Silver Paintbrush Award, and the UK’s nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2004, he can be seen as a successor to Lear and Rowlandson, whose work he admired. Here he discusses two of his illustrations.
It has not been easy to pick two drawings, from the thousands, especially as illustrations are best seen in the context of their books, rather than individually.
The first I have chosen is a simple black and white drawing. So many of my favourite books were illustrated in black and white: Winnie the Pooh, Just William, Swallows and Amazons, Milly Molly Mandy, and so on, and I always feel part of a strong tradition using pen and ink. I illustrated four books for Charles Causley, in my opinion, one of the most talented poets of the twentieth century, and could have picked any of them for this piece. I’ve chosen Sal Scratch from Figgie Hobbin because, quite simply, I like it. I find the reason I enjoy illustrating poetry is that very little is asked of me, I only have to draw lines around other people’s ideas, and in Charles Causley’s case, the ideas are of the highest quality. For instance, the curious little Sal, is exactly as the writer described. Out of all the ways I draw, using pen and ink is closest to my heart, therefore easier. I have worked for hours on some large coloured pictures, that haven’t given me a fraction of the pleasure as that little three minute scrap.
My second choice is from Fly, Chick, Fly! by another talented writer, Jeanne Willis. I think some of Jeanne’s most perceptive ideas come from nature. Her imagination darts about in the countryside, like a bee. Some of her work is hilariously funny, other bits quiet, and thought provoking. Sometimes, a text suggests its own look, and in this case, I was so moved by the story, I had to treat it in a realistic way. The softness of the writing whispered ‘pastel’ to me. I am sometimes uneasy with pastel, and never having worked this way before, I found new experiences on each page. I am happy with the result, and hope some others will be too. With such a gentle story, I looked for one piece of scary action, and this illustration hints at the owl’s sister, being killed by a train.
It would be untrue to say that I enjoy every bit of drawing I do. Some bits are boring, some are frustratingly difficult, some go hopelessly wrong, and some turn out to be way beyond my skills. I delighted in the books from which I have stolen these two pictures.
Figgie Hobbin Poems by Charles Causley 978-0330400008,Macmillan Children’s Books, £6.99 pbk
Fly, Chick, Fly 978-1849394383, Andersen Press, £6.99 pbk