This month's featured artist is Sussex based Gabriel Alborozo. From Punch to picture books, Gabriel's proficient career has covered multiple graphic mediums, and is now exploring new horizons. See more of his work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery.

Some of my earliest memories are of drawing. Not necessarily of me drawing, but of seeing drawings and finding them compelling. The first memories are of Winnie the Pooh and E.H Shepard. They were so full of character, soul and such a delicate touch that I think that he’s never been bettered.

E.H. Shepard drawing for A.A. Milne's poem 'Us Two', in Now We Are Six  (Methuen, 1927)

As I became older I began devouring weekly comics like Whizzer and Chips and Whoopie. Not particularly for the writing as I never particularly found the stories funny. But there were certain artists working for those comics that I just loved the line of. They conveyed so much more humour in the drawing than was in the writing that from that point on I was pretty much set on a path. Of course I soaked up every Warner bros cartoon I could find, as well as Asterix books etc.

From the age of five or so I was pretty much drawing all the time and knew even at that point that I wanted to be a cartoonist. One vivid memory was at primary school where I had started to draw a life- sized pteranodon for a project we were doing. I’d glued about 15 feet of narrow paper together and was meticulously pencilling the thing in with as much detail as possible. It sticks in my memory as I was allowed to skip maths to do it (yay!). And it stretched down the entire corridor. Other kids would sit and watch me do it and say, ‘it looks real!’


Well. That pretty much set it all in concrete and I’ve never looked back.

Years of practice later I sold my first gag cartoon to Private Eye when I was 15. There was a bit of a drought after that but soon I became fairly regular. Leaving school with my single GCSE in art I did what a lot of people do when they essentially fail all their exams and went to the local art college on a BTEC. I lasted about six months I think. It was fun no doubt but I left because I quickly realised the teachers had absolutely no knowledge of the actual outside world. They had gone from school, to college to university and then straight back in as lecturers.  One once said, ‘You may only have three or four weeks for roughs’. At this point I'd been working for the Eye and various other mags for a few years and knew that the truth was closer to hours rather than weeks. So, I left pretty quickly and just freelanced from then on.  Racing forward through 30 years, I spent around 15 years as a gag cartoonist; the highest point being a regular Punch contributor...


...then relocating to Australia for a while, I worked as a layout and occasionally background artist for an animation studio. On my return to the UK I began freelancing as an archaeological illustrator which was amazing. I got sent to places such as the Sahara for a month as well as gorgeous places like Kephalonia and Cyprus plus the chance of seeing some incredible things in the basement of the British Museum.


Sadly though, it was astonishingly badly paid and had to end. At this point I moved in to children’s  books. After some time I found an agent and for the next ten years I wrote and illustrated 12 books and illustrated a handful of others. There is no argument that getting an agent changed my life in many ways. Within the first few months I had written my debut book The Colour Thief. The idea had been brewing for a while and now the doors were starting to open a little it was the perfect opportunity to get it down on paper. The Colour Thief was quickly sold to Bloomsbury, and after ten or so books I feel that my first was my strongest. I can’t quite put my finger on why but I felt it had a lot of heart in it.  

This was followed by a succession of opportunities to illustrate and write. A deal with Child’s Play allowed me to pursue some ideas that were a bit more ‘experimental’ such as The Acrobat, and deals with Henry Holt in the US gave me room to flex my drawing muscles a bit more with Good Night Firefly and The Mouse and The Moon. I'm hoping that these will be rediscovered when I’m about 80 and make me rich.

From The Colour Thief

Over the years it was undoubtedly a ride but ultimately, not the right fit for me. I was rapidly coming to realise that my heart wasn’t truly in it. At least not from a technical point of view. So I have made one last move. Two years ago I decided I would do what I truly felt made me happy, natural history painting.

It took me a little while to get into my stride but was quickly lucky enough to get a few sales and commissions which was followed by a commission from Pavilion to write and illustrate a book of my work and the subject of evolution. This book is still technically a children book, but perhaps aiming towards the 11+ market, although I think people of every age will enjoy it, so my move from children’s books was really just a nudge from picture books to non-fiction. This project has been full-time for the last year! Next on the cards is to find a gallery.

That's not to say I have shut the door on picture books. I have completed one during lockdown called Dear Sirs published by Cameron Kids, and if the right text comes along and I have the time then I will do it, an example of which was This Old Dog From Levine Querido; that was a joy to illustrate, but now I have new purpose I’m not actively seeking them out.

This Old Dog cover

I want to make it clear that I have nothing against digital work or the people who use it. Some wonderful things are made with it. But for me, entirely subjectively and personally, it just doesn’t feel like drawing. However advanced the technology becomes, how closely it can approximate traditional materials, there will always be the safety net of the ‘Undo’ button. I need the risk and tension that the slightest move could be the end of days, sometimes weeks of work and very expensive materials. It gives me a high level of focus and a sense of flow that simply doesn’t exist for me in digital. I stress…that's just my opinion for myself. If you love it then all power to you.  


So now I spend my days in the back room, Raiders of the Lost Ark burbling in the background while I happily get lost in the detail of a wolf's eye.


1: Never give up. If you know in your heart that it’s what you’re meant to do then just keep going. It can be hard, and there may be times you just can’t. Perhaps for years, but always come back to it and keep trying.

2: Learn to accept that unless you marry an anaesthetist or an accountant the chances are you’ll be permanently skint. After the first decade I became okay with that. Anyway…it helps keep your priorities straight.

3: Always, always push your boundaries. Never for a second stop trying to achieve something ‘better’ (to your eye only ) than the last time. Everything you make is practice. This helps keep the stuff in your past in perspective. Don’t hate old work. It was a stepping stone.

4: Absolutely do not give the slightest thought to ‘Likes’ or special media response. Yes it's nice if you get it, but it doesn’t actually mean anything in regards to your work. The amount of people I see who wring their hands and get genuinely upset if a picture doesn’t get ‘X’ amount of likes, it just awful. Keep posting though. Its always better out than in! Same goes for reviews as well actually. So someone on Amazon gave you one star. So what? The box was probably bent or they’re insane. Either way, don’t sweat it.

5: Enjoy yourself. If you’re tenacious and lucky enough to even scrape a living drawing then occasionally remember what you might be doing instead and still be broke. And you wouldn’t be in your living room drinking tea doing it either. 


See more of Gabriel's work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery

His personal website is here. Originals of his work are sold through the Chris Beetles Gallery.

1 comment:

  1. I love this, Gabe. It's really interesting to read about your relationship with children's books, and the part about being perma-skint made me laugh. Thanks for an interesting read.


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