Featured Illustrator: Mike Brownlow

Mike Brownlow
This month's Featured Artist is Somerset based Mike Brownlow. From 'Lesser Known Deities' - check out Calvin, the Norse God of Underwear  -  to classic fairy tales, go to the  Featured Illustrator Gallery to see the full range of Mike's fun-filled graphic work!


This is a piece of artwork from an on-going project called ‘Colin the Caveman.’ Digital.

Personal Path

Two of the biggest influences on me as a child were Alfred Bestall’s version of Rupert the Bear…

… and Walt Disney. I was captivated by the classic Disney animations, and cinema-going in general has been one of the most formative experiences of my life. (Here’s where I confess to a shocking heresy. If push comes to shove, I actually prefer films to books. There, I’ve said it. Have a quick sniff of the smelling salts and we’ll carry on.) Later, I discovered DC Comics, Weird Tales and Marvel Comics, which were thrillingly different to British comics.

My academic career went something like this: all boys Grammar school; Foundation course at Liverpool Art College, (where there were girls and stuff! Oh, and some excellent teaching of the traditional skills of drawing and painting. And girls and stuff!); Graphic Design Degree at Central St Martins, then released into society, blinking and rubbing my little eyes.

I also worked on many an ad that tried to flog heavily sugared breakfast cereals to innocent young children. Sorry about that.

I fell in with a disreputable bunch of animators and illustrators, and shared two studios in London and many happy moments with them. (If you want to see a mind-expanding blog, go to ellisnadler.blogspot.com. Ellis is an old friend from the studio days, and crazed artistic genius.) This led to me working with many animators, mainly as a background painter and designer, including projects for Terry Gilliam, Bob Godfrey, Gerald Scarfe, Pink Floyd, and Mike Oldfield. I also worked on many an ad that tried to flog heavily sugared breakfast cereals to innocent young children. Sorry about that.

Background painting for Kellog's cereal ad. Airbrush.
I worked for magazines, ad agencies and design companies, illustrating film posters, (The Airplane Movies and their spin-offs,) book jackets, magazines, (Time Out, Radio Times,) and campaigns for the likes of Marks and Spencer, British Gas, Boots and Asda. But I really hankered after writing and illustrating my own work.

By this time I was living with my family in Somerset, and met the remarkable Henrietta Stickland of Ragged Bears Books, who lived quite close to me. She liked a couple of ideas I showed her for picture books and I ended up doing six books with her. The second one was called ‘Little Robots’. It was spotted at Bologna by the production company Lego Media, and subsequently made into a stop-motion animated TV series, shown in Britain on BBC2 and CBeebies. 

There were 65 episodes made, and it sold all round the world. I did all of the character design, some of the pre-production design, and I also wrote several of the episodes, which I enjoyed a lot. 

Lenny Henry,  the voice of sporty robot.

Since then I’ve produced books for a wide range of publishers, including Bloomsbury, OUP, Simon and Schuster, Macmillan, Scholastic, Piccadilly Press, and this year, ‘Ten Little Pirates’ with Orchard Books. This is the first book I’ve written but not illustrated. A sequel will be out next year and two more books have been commissioned.

Ten Little Pirates Cover


I tend to do lots of rough drawings in layout pads at the beginning of any particular job, until I’m happy with the characters and know they fit comfortably within the story.

Pirate Roughs

I use Studio Layout Pads at 50 gsm – lovely smooth paper that’s just thin enough to trace through. So if I do a semi-successful drawing and want to develop it, I rip it out and pop it under the next clean sheet, using the original as a guide.

I find it very important to have a period at the beginning of every project when I try to empty my mind and draw whatever my hand wants to. The aim is to surprise myself and produce interesting new shapes.

I used to do all my rough drawings using Col-Erase animators’ pencils. These come in many colours, and each pencil has an eraser. The animators I knew would use these. Typically they’d start roughing out using light colours like orange, then use a darker pencil to add a more definitive line. They were paid per drawing – a great incentive to become good, and to become quick. (This was pre-CGI!) 

Nowadays, I mainly use a Pentel Sharplet-2 with an ordinary 0.5 HB lead. I find it very important to have a period at the beginning of every project when I try to empty my mind and draw whatever my hand wants to. The aim is to surprise myself and produce interesting new shapes. This will then set the style for the rest of the project.

I’ve painted using all kinds of media, including coloured crayon…

Pink Robot

Mickey Moonbeam

and watercolour.

From the book 'I've Got Nits'.

These days, when I have a finished rough I’m happy with, I either draw a black line version, scan it into the computer and colour it up in Photoshop…

Hugo Rocket
 … or scan in the rough, turn down the opacity and use it as a template to lay down colours on top.

Highlights Cover of 2012
I like to use favourite Photoshop brushes and textures to roughen up the image.

  • Be influenced by the best, but don’t copy slavishly.
  • Try to find a distinctive style that you’re comfortable with and gives you pleasure. If you don’t enjoy the process of making your drawings and paintings, there’s something wrong.
  • Experiment and challenge yourself to keep on developing. Tastes never stand still.
  • Diversify. Markets and technology change constantly and you should be open to any ideas that broaden your ability to make money from your art.
  • Teach. I regret I’ve not taught more. Many illustrators (Quentin Blake, Raymond Briggs etc.) have used teaching to keep themselves going financially, in what is an infuriatingly fickle business.
  • Zig when the others zag. Better to be on the crest of a wave rather than in its wake. 
  • Marry well, or contrive to inherit vast wealth. Some people can be lucky enough to make lots of money as an illustrator. But be warned: most of us don’t. 

Contact Mike
Email: mjgbrownlow@gmail.com
Agent: Caroline Walsh and Alice Williams at David Higham Assoc. Ltd. carolinewalsh@davidhigham.co.uk

Go to the Featured Illustrator Gallery to see the full range of Mike's fun-filled work !


  1. I've got the Little Robots theme tune stuck in my head right now! I love your work Mike. Your illustrations are full of colour and life - perfect for kids.

  2. Your illustrations are great fun, Mike. I LOVE Calvin the Norse God of underwear and the best tip ever 'zig when the others zag'.

  3. Truely inspirational, I'm at the 'have worked in design agencies, now teach, just need now to have a big break or marry well' but hubby might object. Am off to rediscover layout pads. Great work, thanks.

  4. Hi Mike. I like the idea of the layout pads too. I did use tracing paper for a while but now I mostly work directly on the computer. Very interesting post, thanks.

  5. Love your caveman on the header! Thanks for the tips, too.

  6. Love the header Mike. It's really interesting to see how your illustrations have changed over the years.

  7. Excellent read and great tips and insights Mike, thanks. I'd not realised that you'd been to Liverpool. I did my degree at the Art College there.


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