This month's featured illustrator is Claudia Myatt. Claudia is fascinated by the art of sailing as well as illustration; her non-fiction work on nautical themes has opened a new career across the seven seas. See more of her work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery.

I became an illustrator by accident. I went from university dropout to barmaid to secretary to calligrapher to artist to itinerant sailor to housewife to cartoonist and author illustrator by a slightly random route. (It’s a long story – if you come and visit me with a bottle of wine in hand and time to spare, I’ll tell you how it happened.)

I’m self taught, learning as I go, finding out what I need to know from anywhere I find it. I’ve always loved the sea and boats, so coastal subjects became my speciality. I was introduced to sailing as an adult, so from then on instead of proper holidays I went off down the channel or across the North Sea, first on other people’s boats and later, my own.

My first publishing contract came about by accident. When my son was about ten he used to get bored on our family sailing holidays so I self published a children’s log book/scrapbook designed to keep him busy on passage and learn the basics of navigation. I sent a copy of the book to the Royal Yachting Association as they were looking for prizes for a children’s competition, and thought nothing more of it. I then got a phone call asking if I would illustrate a children’s sailing book for them. At the first meeting they asked if I could write the book as well as illustrate it, so with fingers crossed behind my back I said yes.

The first book Go Sailing went well and they commissioned six more. Some were more challenging than others; I went to Greece for a week to learn windsurfing in preparation for Go Windsurfing (tough job!) and worked with a marine conservation expert for a year on a book about the oceans (Go Green).

Today my work includes regular cartoons, line drawings and watercolour illustrations for yachting magazines, one off commissions, book illustrations, creating and selling my own designs, giving talks to local groups, and plenty of teaching art and drawing workshops to adults (I had to learn how to draw from scratch which is useful when teaching others).

Having been a late starter (I was mid forties when I took on the RYA books) I feel I’m gradually getting the hang of this drawing and painting lark, but still need more practice and don’t get enough time to draw for fun. I keep sketchbook diaries when I travel, which is as often as possible; I recently discovered that I can work my passage on cruise ships as an art tutor and travel the world for free. The teaching conditions are challenging but I’ve been lucky enough to sketch my way across the Pacific and Atlantic and to every country in Latin America.

Home now is an elderly tug boat up a creek in Suffolk – fabulous in summer, slightly trickier in winter.

My living space is tiny but lovely and life on the river is never dull. I have no TV but spend free time practising music or bothering the local folk clubs with my songs. It’s good to give my eyes a rest in the evening (after two cataract ops they get very sore). My latest project is learning to play the Celtic harp which keeps me out of mischief and I’m interested in the creative connections between all the arts – particularly music, illustration and writing. Many artist friends are also musicians and vice versa.

I rent a studio nearby which is a converted stable; it’s a sort of showroom plus workspace plus store of everything that won’t fit on the boat.

I work mostly in watercolours, usually with pen and wash. I’m gradually getting better at digitally tweaking images before sending to clients, but generally I’m low tech. I recently went on a ‘Photoshop for artists’ course which was excellent – dropping a white seagull onto a blue sky in watercolour is much easier when you layer the images on screen!

The most frustrating thing about my work, and I guess this is common to most illustrators, is that I do mostly commissioned work, which pays the bills but leaves not enough time or energy for my own ideas. These tend to stack up until I start to get grumpy at which stage I take a few sneaky hours ‘off’ and get something down on paper – sometimes these get finished, sometimes they get put back in the drawer when the next deadline comes in.

Top tips

You never stop making mistakes, don’t beat yourself up when an image goes wrong. Put it in the bin and start again.

Work with people you like and you’ll go the extra mile, get a better result. Social media is great for getting ‘out there’ but there’s no substitute for personal contacts and I’ve been lucky enough to meet clients who turned into friends as well as friends who turned into clients.


Artists/illustrators: Rowland Hilder, Edward Ardizzone, Babette Cole, Hergé
Authors: Arthur Ransome, C S Lewis, Michael Morpurgo

See more of Claudia's work in her Featured Illustrator Gallery.
Her personal website is here
Find her on Facebook here.

No comments:

We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.