Rob Biddulph is a bestselling and multi award-winning author and illustrator. His first picture book Blown Away was published in 2014 to critical acclaim and was only the second illustrated book in history to win the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. Since that stunning debut, he has published eight more titles all receiving critical acclaim and a variety of prestigious awards. In September he will release his 10th picture book, Dog Gone.
You may also know him for his most recent endeavor the twice-weekly drawing video series that launched in March, #DrawWithRob. It’s purpose - to help parents creatively engage their children who were forced to stay home from school due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
We caught up with Rob to talk about his amazing career and learn more about his goal to break the Guinness World Record and raise Covid-19 relief funds by hosting the largest online art lesson on May 21st!
TH: You mentioned that reading bedtime stories to your daughter planted the seed for writing and illustrating a picture book. What was it about How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss that made you take the leap?
RB: I’d maintained an interest in writing since school. I even co-wrote a column in one of the magazines that I’d art directed, but I had always felt slightly insecure about it. There was a feeling that it ‘wasn’t my place’ to contribute words. I guess that’s what happens when you work on the art desk at one of the world’s most popular newspapers, The Guardian, that employs some of the world’s best writers. I’d always particularly enjoyed writing in rhyme - just little bits here and there, notes in friend’s birthday cards, little bits of poetry etc - and when I decided to have a go at a children’s book text I figured that if I wrote in verse it would somehow swerve the issue of my insecurity. I guess I felt like it was a mechanism to hide behind.
I immediately discovered that I was pretty good at it, but then when I started reading Dr. Seuss books to my kids I realized that there was a whole other level. He is a total genius. He moves the plot on effortlessly whilst maintaining a faultless rhyming pattern that scans perfectly. His texts really made me up my game, and to this day I am very, very strict with myself. No imperfect rhyme, no cheating the syllable count. It has to be perfect. Would Dr. Seuss let this one go through? The benchmark he has set has proved incredibly useful to me.
TH: What is your creative process - does it start with the story or imagery?
RB: I usually start with a very simple story idea, maybe only a sentence or two, and a lead character. I then spend a few days fleshing the plot out before having a go at drawing one of the key scenes. I find this then informs the visual style of the entire book – the colour palette, the character design, etc. Then I will lock myself away and start writing. This is the bit that I find most difficult, and it can easily take six months to a year to get the text right. I then make a thumbnail version of the book which is where I think about things like visual pacing and typography. I’m quite unusual in that I design my book myself, probably because of my magazine background. The easiest part for me is the final artworking stage. I find I can switch my brain off, listen to some music or podcasts and just really enjoy drawing.
TH: What tips can you share that help you stay creative and productive during this unusual time in our history?
RB: It can be an ideal time to work on all of those bits of work that supplement your brand but don’t necessarily make you money. Your website, your social media presence etc. These elements of professional life can actually be hugely fulfilling from a creative point of view.
Apart from that, I’d recommend developing that project you’ve had in the back of your mind for years. Write that book. Paint that picture. You’ve got to be in it to win it. I find that every piece of work I make helps move me forward creatively. Even if a project doesn’t come off, I always learn something from it, and I always have it in my locker. Nothing goes to waste.
Join Rob to make history at home on May 21st at 4pm BST (8am PST) as he attempts to break the Guinness World Records title for the largest FREE online art lesson. Participants of all ages are invited to learn how to draw one of Rob’s beloved characters.
Catch the full interview with Rob Biddulph over on Ello.