Set Sail to a Magical Island in these Wonderful Children’s Illustrations

Some fifteen years since London-based illustrator Nick Maland received the V&A Illustration Award and displayed his works in a solo exhibition, the wait for a sequel is now over. Nick’s work, along with his latest work in Sally Gardner’s new book Mr Tiger, Betsy and the Blue Moon, is being presented at Circus gallery in London, where his first solo exhibition took place.

Gardner_MR TIGER, BETSY and the BLUE MOON_cover only
Mr T p154,155
Mr T p172,173
Mr T p42,43

Nick’s been illustrating children’s books for twenty years, during which time his style has changed. He has capitalised on the new tools of digital illustration while continuously drawing inspiration from his children, Eloise and Aldo, as well as other illustrators’ work, such as Maurice Sendak and Edward Gorey, the latter also playing an important role in his character creations for Mr Tiger, Betsy and the Blue Moon.

We got the chance to speak to Nick about his career, the new book and his advice for young creatives.

THE PLUS: Looking back at 20 years of your work, how would you describe the style you maintained and developed in this time? 
Nick Maland:
My style has changed quite a lot during the last 20 years. There are basically three stages. When I started illustrating children’s picture books, I would work with pen and ink and watercolour to create each illustration on paper. Then, as digital artwork became more of the norm, I started to scan small drawings into the computer and would use an architectural printer to “blow them up” onto watercolour paper. I would then add colour and texture to the image. Now, I scan in either pencil or ink drawings and then do all the colour work on Photoshop.

Ermengarde and the rat-Wishing For Tomorrow

TP: What was different about Mr Tiger, Betsy and the Blue Moon, compared to other projects of yours?
Mr Tiger, Betsy and the Blue Moon is different because it is for slightly older children, meaning it’s not a full colour picture book. Unusually for a book of this type, it has a lot of illustrations rather than just a couple per chapter. I did over 110 pictures for this book, so nearly every page of the 183 pages is illustrated.

Glog began to draw on the wall-Glog

TP: The book has been acclaimed ever since being published in October. Drawing from your experience, did you expect this? Why do you think it’s so popular?
I think I did expect it to be well received, as Sally’s story is so full of adventure and imagination. The book has been beautifully designed and produced so it does feel as well as look good.

Mr Tigers ship set sail

TP: What is your favourite part of Mr. Tiger, Betsy and the Blue Moon?
It’s very difficult to answer this because all the illustrations were enjoyable to do. I did particularly like the section where they sail to the Gongalong Island, as I do like illustrating seascapes. There are two pages in this sequence which just have illustration and no text, where you see Mr Tiger’s boat travelling “to the end of all Sundays”.

Big Blue Whale-The whale swims away

TP: What does the style of cross-hatching give you, and how did you identify this style as suitable for your work?
I have always loved the depth of texture and atmosphere which crosshatching brings to a picture. It was the crosshatching style of artists like Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak and Mervyn Peake that got me interested in illustration in the first place.

A whole school of whales - Oliver Who Was Small But Mighty - Mara Bergman

TP: How important are accurate descriptions of scenes in books for you to create a fitting visualisation?
I don’t really need a lot of accurate description in the text, though it is nice to have it occasionally. Sally said that she imagined the “Island off the map of the world” where her characters live to be a bit like Île de Ré, and that was enough for me to get a feel for the style of the buildings etc. Much to my delight she also said that she imagined Mr Tiger to be like a character from an Edward Gorey illustration, so that gave me a really good sense of how to approach illustrating him.

Then Olivers rocket flew fast and flew far- Oliver Who Would Not Sleep - Mara Bergman

TP: Tell us about your creative process, from reading a scene for the first time to completing its illustration.
I like to do lots of very loose pencil drawings of characters and situations from the book. Then I work these drawings up into roughs which show the publisher and the author how I’m imagining each page will look. Then I start on the full size final illustration.

He liked staying awake - Oliver Who Would Not Sleep - Mara Bergman

TP: What inspires your illustrations, outside of the books you work on?
I started illustrating children’s books at the same time as our first child – Eloise – was born. I think her and our son Aldo have always inspired my work. Music, theatre, architecture and film have also played a really important part in inspiring my imagination.


TP: What role has your own childhood played in your career as a children’s book illustrator?
I’m not really sure. I was a quite a quiet child who liked to observe everything. Although I remember clearly reading and enjoying the illustrations of Winnie the Pooh a lot when I was around six years old, I cannot remember any picture books that might have influenced me.


TP: How has the illustration scene changed over the last decade, especially with the digital element coming in?
I think the digital element has helped a lot as it’s speeded things up, and also gives you the ability to easily change artwork, if necessary. I still like to do all the drawing on paper, so I’ve not fully embraced the digital process!

Too high for Middle!-A Place For Middle

TP: The exhibition at Circus is your first solo exhibition since 2003. How have your experiences in these 15 years changed you as an illustrator and as a person?
I think that winning the V&A Illustrator of the year Award in 2003 really gave me a huge confidence boost. From then on I was more prepared to experiment with styles, not just use the same approach to each book. The current exhibition really shows how much the work has varied stylistically over the last 15 years. This has been good, as it makes each book another challenge. You are always learning.

All sat down to eat while the silver moon shone - Mr Tiger Betsy and the Blue Moon - Sally Gardner

TP: What advice can you give young drawing artists?
Obviously, every artist or illustrator always advises to draw every day and keep a notebook, but I would also add that you should read as much as possible and engage with what’s going on in the art and theatre world. If you’re illustrating for newspapers or magazines, having a wide literary and general knowledge is really useful.


TP: Why is this particularly important?
Because you are always looking for visual references that people will understand when you are creating your illustration. I didn’t go to art school, but I did study English and Drama at university, and often feel that this was possibly just as helpful to my illustrative career as an Art degree might have been.

The Brave Whale-Cover artwork
George-The Goffins

The solo exhibition of Nick Maland’s work at Circus London will run until 10 January 2019.