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Q&A with Benji Davies

Illustrator and picture book author from UK

My name is Benji Davies - I am foremost an illustrator, but also a picture book author.

My background is in animation and I’m currently looking for ways to bring my stories to the screen whilst writing and illustrating more books. I’m also interested to find other avenues for adapting my work and spreading it to a wider audience, beyond the printed page.

How did you get started in illustration and animation? What is a turning point in your professional career?

I studied animation at university and spent several years working as an animation director in commercials before fully devoting my time to picture books when my first self-penned book, The Storm Whale, was commissioned in 2012. I juggled both working as an illustrator and directing animation together for several years. But I was leaning towards writing and creating my own stories so being published as the sole creator of a story was the push I needed to focus my efforts on that part of my work. Illustrating other authors work still forms a large part of my output.

My next book Grandad’s Island is out in the UK in July, and is already set to publish in nine languages.

What is your ideal work environment? Do you prefer to work in your art studio all day long or prefer to mix a few activities?

I tend to work all day in the studio at home, a spare room in my house. Taking breaks is important and leaving the house more often would be beneficial! Ideally I would work continuously all day but I find there is only so much creative energy in any given day, where the work is of the best quality. Having several projects to dip in and out of keeps things moving as you come back to each project with fresh eyes.

There is always a better way to work and i’m not sure its possible to find the perfect working environment. But I would love to be distracted by a beautiful view rather than the internet. More space to spread out and a lots of natural light would be ideal. A space surrounded by windows looking on to greenery or hills and the sea beyond - that would be pretty perfect to me.

Where does your work inspiration come from? (Do you believe in 'inspiration' at all)?

Inspiration I think comes in many different forms and at times when I’m not expecting it. Essentially I think i must always be working, because I’m always looking for ideas, or the seeds of ideas that might flourish into a full project or story. They are rare and fleeting, so its important to make a note or sketch before you forget. A lot of them will go no further but some persist and re-emerge or combine with other ideas to create something new. Making a list of potential projects I find is a good way of cementing an idea or reminding myself to keep thinking and adapting an idea or project. The best ideas then shuffle forward to the front of the queue and become the idea i’m most excited to pursue. I’ve developed several picture book ideas like that, and even though I’ve taken them to full pencil-drawn dummies, they just don’t work as books. I accept it, begrudgingly, put them in a drawer and maybe one day I will discover them again and rework them with a new perspective.

Sometimes people talk about inspiration when I think they mean motivation or influence - to see or read a beautiful piece of work by another artist for example, that encourages them to pick up their paintbrush or sit at their keyboard. For me inspiration is noticing something, observing a person or a thing, or a situation, or an aspect of real life that appeals to me; it implants an idea and makes me curious to investigate it further. I think its something that happens when you are already working - whether that work is thinking or looking or doing.

Where are your favorite art places in your city or outside?

One of my favourite places, I went to the V&A in London last week. Its full of things that open a window on different ways of seeing, especially through decorative art, craft and design.  But London is so rich with art and creativity - you can find it in so many places.

Who are the creatives you admire most?

I’m lucky to know some brilliant illustrators and picture book creators personally. They all work very differently and I admire their work greatly.

But really any writers and illustrators, or designers and artists of any kind, who have found success in communicating with an audience. People who work prolifically and tirelessly in pursuit or their ideas and their art, living and breathing what they do whilst tapping into universal ideas that resonate with their audiences, are hugely appealing to me. Tove Janson, Neil Gaiman and Chris Ware are just a few such people.