This month's Featured Illustrator is London based Garry Parsons.
A familiar name in the world of picture books, Garry has also long experience in the broader illustration market. See more of his work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery.

When I was a boy, my dad used to draw a simple three-dimensional box in pencil in my scrapbook and hand it to me to embellish. I would draw in fish, plants and other things to bring it to life. This is my earliest memory of drawing and by the age of 5 or 6 I knew I wanted to be an artist, even though I remember thinking at the time that an artist was someone who drew on the pavement in the market square on a Saturday afternoon. So I spent a lot of my childhood drawing and making things.

What-a-Mess and The Giant Jam Sandwich
I have vivid memories of having two favourite picture books as a child: What-A-Mess by Frank Muir, illustrated brilliantly by Joseph Wright; and The Giant Jam Sandwich, with story and pictures by John Vernon Lord and verses by Janet Burroway. But it took a long time for me to consider illustration as a viable career choice for an artist. When I was really young, I wanted to be more like Picasso.

I continued art at the local technical college on a pre-foundation course led by artist, John Danvers, who, luckily for me, rejected teaching drawing through pencil studies of vegetables cut in half (which seemed to be the norm for my other sixth form friends who stayed on at school). Instead, he encouraged working on an altogether much grander scale and really pushed our creative abilities.

We painted wall-sized murals, drew still lives of rotting carcasses and had twice-weekly life drawing classes. It was a wonderfully inspiring experience and set me on a path to become a painter.

The Vivian Girls with the China Paula Rego. Castle Rising from the Sea Ken Kiff.

I studied fine art at Canterbury, which was known at the time for its focus on drawing, and I produced paintings inspired by Paula Rego and Ken Kiff about people and animal characters who (in my mind anyway) created and travelled in vehicles made from rubbish. At the degree show, seeing all the work on display in one area, I realised that what I was painting was actually a sequential narrative and more like a large-scale picture book.
Sandwagon – Garry Parsons.

With this in mind, and after a few years of picking fruit for a living, and as a painter only selling one or two pieces of work, I applied for the Sequential Design & Illustration MA at Brighton University under George Hardie, where, as chance would have it, John Vernon Lord became my mentor and personal tutor. Despite the concentration on sequential imagery, illustration was still not my main focus. My degree piece for the MA was an animated film about the life of Pythagoras, so I thought my direction would be animation.

Finding work as an animator proved a struggle, so I approached magazine editors for editorial work. I would sift through the magazines and Sunday supplements in WH Smith, noting art directors’ details to send them my work. I would cover existing illustrations in magazine articles I found interesting and reinterpret them in my own style.

After what seemed at the time like an endless series of rejections, my first editorial commission was for Nursing Standard magazine. This small start led to more work for magazines, the Financial Times, Sunday supplements, even the odd piece for Tatler and Vanity Fair. I was thrilled - my career as an illustrator had begun!

With a folio of magazine work, I joined the agency Meiklejohn Illustration and within a few months I was working on an advertising campaign for Fairy washing powder using my painted acrylic style. Illustration was very popular across all media at this time, a real boom time for illustrators, which was reflected in the thickness of the many illustration directories.

My interest in picture books had grown, with a particular fondness for the work of Peter Sis, Chris Van Allsburg, Emma Chichester Clarke and Lane Smith. These illustrators gave me the inspiration to approach children’s publishers for work in picture books. Aware that I needed a different style from the editorial work, I rehashed characters from well-known fairy tales in my own style and sent postcards of these to everyone in publishing whose details I could find.

My version of the goat from The Three Billy Goats Gruff

This scatter-gun approach led to my first book commission from Random House, Digging for Dinosaurs by Judy Waite, followed quickly by Billy’s Bucket by Kes Grey, which went on to win the Red House book Award that year.

Digging for Dinosaurs, Billy’s Bucket & Krong!
I wrote and illustrated my own picture book, Krong! and began working with other publishers on titles such as There’s an Ouch in My Pouch by Jeanne Willis for Puffin, and also line illustrations for George’s Secret Key by Lucy & Stephen Hawking for Random House and the popular Dinosaur That Pooped Christmas by Tom Fletcher & Dougie Poynter.

I joined SCBWI to help motivate myself to write my own picture book material. My advice to aspiring illustrators: be true to yourself in the expression of your style and don’t give up!

Molly’s Magic Wardrobe, The Mermaid Mission.


See more of Garry's work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery.
Garry is represented by Meiklejohn Illustration, his portfolio site is here. Follow Garry on Twitter and Instagram. 

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