In search of inspiration, Caroline Deacon invites established writers and illustrators to tell us about their creative space. This month she talks to David Melling.

David Melling

David grew up in London, becoming a freelance illustrator in the 1980s. From there, he worked for several animation studios as a background artist before turning to children’s books in the early 1990s. In 2001, he wrote and illustrated his own picture book The Kiss That Missed, which was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway award. In 2004 his picture book The Tale of Jack Frost was made into a half hour TV film. He is probably best known for his Hugless Douglas series. To date he has produced over 150 books in over 30 languages.

                                                         Hugless Douglas by David Melling, Hachette Children's Books

Tell us about your creative space.

In theory, I can work anywhere, but my regular workspace is a small flat just around the corner from my house. Having a little separate space from home-life does help, especially when my kids were young. I’ve never been able to share a studio space, I tried it once but there were just too many distractions. I don’t need silence, but I need to focus, and working alone suits me.

My studio is my happy place. I’m comfortable, the light’s good, I'm surrounded by more books than I probably need, and am in a space that could be a lot tidier most of the time, but as soon as I sit down at my drawing board my mind switches into work mode and I’m away. It’s just the right atmosphere for me.

                                                                                   David's work space

I say that but, of course, some days don’t start so well…ideas stagnate and I get restless. I’ve learned to recognise those days. Thankfully they don’t happen too often, but when they do I’ll take a sketchbook and sometimes a small book of poems and go for a walk. The change of scene helps and reading poems can sometimes help me focus on small moments that, for some reason, help me re-boot. (I wish I could say this always works, but I can’t. Some days just don’t work out. Then, you just have to admit defeat and start over the next day).


Your creative tools - what are they?

For almost my entire career I’ve worked traditionally, with watercolour, ink and coloured pencils. I never thought I’d give digital illustration a second thought. But, of course, as the years tick by and you see what some amazing illustrators can do, well, it got me thinking, maybe I should have a go. It’s been a steep learning curve for me - old dog, new tricks, but it has opened me up to a new way of thinking. It took me a long time to realise digital doesn’t have to replace the traditional way I work, it’s an additional tool.


David has been exploring digital ways of working whilst still enjoying traditional methods

Do you have a routine?

I love what I do so going to my studio is never a chore for me. And it’s my job. So, my working day is usually around 9 – 7pm. This may vary according to schedules and deadlines. Sometimes more, sometimes less.


Do you need particular prompts to get started?

I love the idea of spending time every morning lighting a selection of strategically placed scented candles around my drawing board like some religious ceremony! But no, no prompts. Other than tea and coffee, once I’m here, I’m ready to go. Depending on the kind of work lined up, I’ll listen to the radio or play music, although if I’m writing, nothing – I like it quiet.


What advice would you like to give to illustrators who are trying to get established?

There are so many ways of learning how to become a book illustrator online these days, which is amazing. What I would say is work hard. Draw and write as much as you can. Like a musical instrument, the more practice, the better you’ll get. We always need a bit of luck (right place, right time etc.), and I believe, by working hard, you place yourself in the best position for recognising that luck when it comes along and hopefully making the most of it when it does.


What was your favourite book as a child?

Impossible to say my overall favourite, but among my absolute favourites would be: the Asterix & Obelix series, Stig of the Dump by Clive KingDuncton Wood by William Horwood, and My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell.


What is your favourite ‘how to’ book about writing and/or illustrating?

Two titles that have made an enormous impression: Poetry in the Making by Ted Hughes and The Craft of Novel Writing by Diane Doubtfire.  Both touch on some fascinating thoughts and techniques for generating ideas, for looking and listening etc.


What image are you dying to use, but haven’t yet found room for? 

Three blue tigers lying across the top of the moon (Posted on my Instagram a while back.) There’s a story there somewhere.


And why children?

Because that’s one of the most exciting areas of illustration… and I’ve never really grown up.


Which is your least favourite question?

“Oh, a picture book author – should I have heard of you / are you famous?” (I mean…)


You can find more about David's work on his website. Follow him on Instagram or Twitter.  


Caroline Deacon lives in Edinburgh and is the author of several childcare books. She now writes MG and YA and is agented by Lindsay Fraser of Fraser Ross Associates, Edinburgh. Find her on Twitter and at

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