This month's Featured Illustrator is Pete OlczykPete is a freelance children's illustrator from Manchester, now based in Inverness. He studied art foundation at Manchester Metropolitan University and then illustration at Stockport College, having illustrated for several self-publishing authors, hybrid publishers and children's magazines.

I was born in Manchester, where we lived and I went to school, but also spent a lot of time in the Lake District at my grandparents'. The two places were so different, completely opposite to each other. I learnt a lot about birds and nature in the lakes and frequently got lost in what I thought was a never-ending forest. I was in and out of hospital a lot in Manchester, where I learnt to read and made lots of things with plasticine. Mostly, I made dinosaurs and whales that were hollow, so they could eat and breathe.

I spent a lot of my free time exploring, climbing trees and riding my bike. I remember drawing cartoons on desks, in exercise books, and if anyone's parents were redecorating we were allowed to draw on the bare plaster. We used to pause cartoons on video and try to trace them from the shaky curved tv screen. I remember we spent hours making each other belly ache laughing with cartoons and comic strips we drew.

My first art teacher, Mr Mills, taught us how to make good observational drawings - I relished his art homework. He understood that young artists need to develop confidence, as well as skill, and he taught this really well. Art is really hard to learn and it takes time and patience. So, being able to say confidently to yourself that you will get this eventually will keep you going where otherwise you might have given up. Thanks, Mr Mills!

I took technical drawing as well, which really helps you with perspective, volume and multiple views. Although it’s not essential for all artists and understanding these things, it might not matter so much depending on your style. Art rules, such as perspective, can of course be broken, and even rebuilt into a new more interesting style.

Another lesson that helped me was idea generation and lateral thinking. Generating ideas really can be learnt and practised in a very normal structured way. This lesson helped demystify the process, and I still use it daily.

At college, I drew most of my inspiration from alternative artists - Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Jean- Michel Basquiat and Chris Hipkiss really stood out for me. I also discovered William Burroughs, and in children's books I liked Lauren Child, Satoshi Kitamura and Neal Layton.

I couldn't figure out how to make much of a living with art when I was younger. I discovered gardening which helped me earn while I learned, while also being around the natural world. Gardens are another type of canvas where you can also learn about seasons, impermanence, the interconnectedness of nature and so many other things about plants, trees, fungus, lichens, insects, soil and wildlife. My partner and I moved to the Highlands for new adventures and started a family (we have two kids and many pets). Here, I discovered an artist called Charlie O'Sullivan who has become a big inspiration. It’s amazing how one person's creativity can be so contagious.

Then I started posting work online and took a course by SVSLearn. I found a lesson by Lee White which had such an effect on me, and my style improved almost overnight. That sounds too much, maybe it took a week, but it was really effective. I went on to win one of their competitions, and after that I started picking up more commissions and things snowballed.

Something that has really helped is having a close-knit group of keen illustrators to talk to. Having like-minded peers with who you can share ideas and offer mutual support is invaluable. Once a week we share some personal drawing, painting, writing or anything creative. It's important to keep making personal art. Your own personal work made for your own reasons is like an emotional safety net, which helps prevent you from burning out. 

One of the first books I illustrated was Born to Sparkle by Megan Bomgaars. This had to be produced very quickly compared to a book I illustrated when I was 18 called Fred Bloggs Goes to the Moon, which I was overly perfectionist with and took forever. It's really tempting to redo work over and over, but sometimes the work we produce under pressure is more interesting. I've since illustrated various books for some very talented self-publishing authors, hybrid publishers and several illustrations for children's magazines, as well as helped design 3D digital characters and elements.

I currently use a sketchbook for ideas, Procreate for the bulk of an image and Photoshop for finishing. I'm looking to develop my own storytelling and bring in more traditional media in my visuals. There are so many artists and authors and storytellers I like, but there is a handful that I keep going back to: The Fan Brothers, Andy Stanton, David Tazzyman, Rebecca Cobb, Lucy Fleming, Nicola Davies, Laura Carlin, David Litchfield (look for his spot on TED talks too), Shaun Tan, Gary Larson, John Kenn Mortensen (scares the life out of me!) and Bobby Chiu.

For me, idea generation that works is reading lots or listening to lots of stories. My advice is to keep filling that creative air balloon. Make lots of tiny drawings or thumbnails or story ideas, just keep going, they don't have to make sense at first. Try drawing or writing when you are really tired or have just woken up - this is often when that analytical critical brain is turned off and you can just make interesting progress. Make something in a different medium like plasticine, clay or cut paper. Work with a different colour or large brush. Try making a William Burroughs' cut-up story now and then. Last but not least, speak to other artists.

I would like to add that the images I selected for this article came from two books. The first six illustrations are from Jaren Ahlmann's forthcoming book, I Hope You Will Know. It is a beautiful letter to a loved one, in the form of a poem. It was a real pleasure to work with Jaren, and a good challenge as some of the verses required quite an abstract interpretation. The last six illustrations are from Stephanie Seidler's forthcoming book, Celebration Babies. Stephanie is a real talent and an important voice, with years of experience and insight into education. Keep an eye on these two!

*All images by Pete Olczyk

See more of Pete's work here. Follow him on Instagram and on Twitter.

See previous Featured Illustrators on our Showcase Gallery


Tita Berredo is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures. If you'd like to be featured contact her at illustrators@britishscbwi.org. Follow her on InstagramTwitter and find her work at www.titaberredo.com

1 comment:

  1. Great to see your work - and a really interesting write up too!


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