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Q&A with Sarah McIntyre

British comic illustrator & writer of children's books

I’m Sarah McIntyre, I live in London and I make mostly picture books and comics, as a writer and an illustrator. My studio building used to be a police station and we still have jail cells in it with proper clanging doors, where we can jokingly threaten to throw our clients if they don’t pay! I share a studio there with a comics artist named Gary Northfield and a children’s book writer and illustrator named Elissa Elwick. I have two new books out, Jampires with David O'Connell and Cakes in Space with Philip Reeve. Philip and I also worked on a book together called Oliver and the Seawigs.

What design software do you use?

I love ink and line, so whether I’m working digitally or not, I almost always like to draw something first in ink on paper.  I might scan it in and colour it in Photoshop. (I did this for my comic book Vern and Lettuce.) Or I might use inks to create the picture on paper (such as for There’s a Shark in the Bath). It depends which publisher I’m working for: one insists that I turn in painted artwork for them to scan, and the two other publishers are happy to accept digital files. It’s a good mix, and I don’t enjoy working digitally all the time.

What is your ideal work environment?

I’m not sure if I have an ideal work environment; I don’t like routine, so I’m always trying to find different ways to work. When I’m writing, it helps me to go to a caf? where there’s some white noise and lots of coffee, and I love sketching in lots of different places. But I suppose I like having my light box around, so I do the bulk of my work at a desk. (A tidy desk would be ideal, but it’s usually covered in paper piles and reference books.) I love working with friends, and batting around ideas as a sort of game; my Jampires picture book co-author David O’Connell and I started the book as a Comics Jam, taking turns creating each page, and he constantly surprised me. So I guess my ideal work environment often has very talented friends in it!

Who is the person you admire most?

I admire lots of people! Comics artists work incredibly hard, and making a comic requires so many different kinds of design skills. Some of my favourite comics artists are Jamie Smart, my studio mate Gary Northfield, Viviane Schwarz, Isabel Greenberg and James Turner.  And I have huge respect for Philip Reeve, my co-author on our growing book collection, which includes Oliver and the Seawigs and Cakes in Space. He has an amazing gift of taking something I say or draw and spinning it into something magical. He mostly does the writing for our books but he’s a brilliant illustrator, too, so he occasionally helps me with page layouts. We have loads of fun dressing up.

Where does your design inspiration come from? 

Inspiration? I did my first degree in Russian literature and spent two years in Moscow, where I fell in love with work  by many of the artists of the Avant-garde and Russian fok art and Arts & Crafts movement, such as Kandinsky, Vasnetsov, Nesterov, Bilibin and Vrubel, and the flat colours and limited palettes of Russian revolutionary posters.  These colours and themes have stuck with me and I think still play a part in how I make pictures.  I’m also influenced by American comic-book artists, such as Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) and Maurice Sendak (In the Night Kitchen, which is itself a tribute to Windsor McCay’s Little Nemo strips).

I do a lot of stage events and school assemblies and I always get the children to draw; I find their work very inspiring, particularly the youngest ones; some of them don’t have preconceived ideas of how things should look and come up with the most amazing bold shapes and patterns.