Originally posted on May 20th
We caught up with Rob a couple of months ago to talk about his amazing career, his Covid-19 fundraiser and learn more about how his daughter inspired him to stretch himself as an artist and write his first picture book.
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 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 pandemic. Want to help with art education? Take this quick survey.
TH: Once you had finished your first book, what was your strategy to get it noticed and published?
RB: Well, I didn’t know a thing about how the book publishing industry worked, but someone mentioned that I should try to get a literary agent as that was the best way to get a deal. She also said it was very hard to find one and to be prepared for a long wait. But the first person I messaged took me on so, obviously, I thought it would be a matter of weeks before my book was on the shelves. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. I developed a book idea for a year or so with this agent, but then she suddenly announced that, with regret, her boss had decided not to include picture book clients on their roster. Gah! I was back to square one! I emailed another agent who, again, took me on immediately, and this time we managed to get in the room with lots of the big publishers in London. They all really liked my book ideas and I developed several with a few different publishers over the next two or three years. But... we couldn’t get anybody to take the plunge and actually publish a book. It was a hugely frustrating time. So near, yet so far.
I then decided to push the reset button, take six months out and find a new agent. That’s when I met Jodie Hodges from United Agents and everything changed. She had me develop a portfolio of children’s book staples - dinosaurs, animals, mythical creatures etc - that we would take out with us alongside my book ideas when we went to see publishers. Sure enough, a few publishers spotted a picture that I’d drawn of some penguins and asked if I could come up with a story idea for them. So I wrote a story called Blown Away very quickly, and the day after we submitted it we started to get offers. From everyone! It was incredible. I signed a three-book deal with HarperCollins, my dream publisher, and that book went on to win the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize (only the second illustrated book to do so). And the rest, as they say, is history.
TH: What was the best advice or tip you ever received from a fellow artist and why?
RB: I remember my head of course at university telling me that although artistic talent was innate, you have to supplement it with hard work to get people to notice that you have talent. I’ve never forgotten this.
TH: What would you say to fellow creators out there looking to further their career in the creative space?
RB: What’s absolutely key is developing your own style. Everybody takes inspiration from others, but you have to shape it into something that is uniquely yours.
The other thing is pretty obvious, but I would say don’t give up and keep putting yourself out there. Luck is without doubt a factor. You can be the most talented person in the universe, but you still need the right person to see your work at the right time. Keep putting yourself in the mix and be ready to take advantage of your opportunity when it finally arises.
On May 21st, Rob’s partnership broke the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest online art lesson with 45,611 participants. He also raised over $50,000 for Covid-19 relief charities. The success further cemented Rob’s belief that people of all ages can learn how to draw either one of Rob’s beloved characters or anything else from their imagination.