ILLUSTRATION FEATURE Some Pearls from Oliver Jeffers

Artist and picture book supremo Oliver Jeffers delivered a memorable talk at the House of Illustration recently. Bridget Marzo was there and offers some highlights.

“My dad raised me to believe that the surest sign of intelligence in another human being is curiosity and imagination.”

“All of us invent ourselves. Some of us just have more imagination than others.”― Cher

These were just a couple of the pearls Oliver Jeffers threw out to the audience at his talk last week at a packed House of Illustration discussion with Creative Review’s editor Eliza Williams at King’s Place.

I was impressed by just how wide Jeffers’ art ranges. Here is his own favourite large painting of the moment.

There are more on his website.

Oliver Jeffers is on a world tour with his young family this year and was in London last week to sign his latest book, The Fate of Fausto, published by Harper Collins, and attend a gallery launch of a larger limited edition with 36 original color lithographs plus a hand-finished cover in gouache.

The words for The Fate of Fausto came, he said, unusually, in one go. Looking at a storm at sea about five years ago, he thought of how much more powerful nature is than us humans living on the land, which is barely 30% of our planet’s surface.

The pictures were harder. Last year while in Paris he’d been invited to create an artist’s book at Idem, an historic print studio where Picasso had also worked. Painting directly onto mylar (stretched polyester film) in reverse, and deciding on the limited colour combinations to be transferred onto lithographic stone, were just some of the challenges.

Contemplating 'some question to poke' will start him off on a new project. Then he looks into what form to explore it with – a book, painting, sculpture, a book or even an installation.

On the High Line walk in Manhattan he made and painted a sphere with all the world’s frontiers captioned 'people live here' instead of the names of each country. Further along the High Line he created a smaller moon... all to scale.

Jeffers has struggled with being accepted as an artist as well as author-illustrator. It is getting easier he says, and galleries now embrace his books as well his ‘fine art’.

Was it all about having confidence? Not so much he said. Everyone doubts themselves at times. It is more that he has a 'lack of fear of expectations.'

More good advice from him: Don’t look back! It’s like being on a bike – you’ll fall off. If a project doesn’t take off, set it aside and move on. Maybe you’ll come back to it. Don’t bend too much – good work will get noticed in the end.

Jeffers prefers to talk about 'picture books' rather than 'children’s books', feeling that this form, with its visual poetry, is a 'device that can strike a powerful blow' for whatever generation.

Whom does he look to for creative feedback? Another Irish compatriot whose work he admires, Kevin Waldron, and other pals, Jon Klassen and Carson Ellis.

At the New York SCBWI international conference a few years back, Arthur Levine, of Arthur Levine Books at Scholastic US, asked Jeffers what was his biggest mistake. His answer? That publishers had not published him quickly enough.

But Jeffers was charming and patient as he drew and attended to the long book signing queue.  I asked him to dedicate the book to my critique group, and he told me he thought that was important – to belong, to have a community, especially now.


Bridget Strevens Marzo is a former International Illustrator Coordinator for SCBWI and illustration volunteer in the British Isles. Her long string of successful picture books includes Tiz and Ott's Big Draw. (archive

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