In conversation with Alex Willmore
last updated 16 March 2023
Hot off the back of two successful creative workshops held at Allfarthing School and Kingsthorpe Village Primary School in celebration of World Book Day 2023, and in preparation for the launch of One Hungry Dragon (published by Hachette), we caught up with Bright Artist Alex Willmore to learn all about his creative process and hear some stories about some of his best-selling and award-winning books.
Talk us through your creative process. How do you approach a brief?
I always start off by visualising the characters in the story. Whether I’m illustrating another author’s story or creating one of my own, it’s the characters that really excite me. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing authors who paint such wonderful vivid stories through their manuscripts so that the characters almost create themselves. As just two examples of so many, Kjartan Poskitt’s titular Runaway Pea and Alistair Chisholm’s Bernardo from One Hungry Dragon were so easy for me to conceptualise as illustrations, as the text so perfectly described these characters. The cast of picture books have always been my favourite aspect right from a young age and inspired my love of character illustration.
Runaway Pea // Simon & Schuster Children’s UK and One Hungry Dragon // Hodder Children’s Books
Your work is aesthetically unique to you, how do you approach translating your ideas to the page?
Thank you so much. Once I have a character I’m happy with, I like to very roughly ‘thumbnail’ out the pages. I do this very quickly and loosely as this gives a sense of energy to the spreads. When working up the final pages I always like to go back to my original roughs to ensure I keep that loose, energetic feeling. I try not to be too neat with my illustrations as I have the most fun when I’m not putting pressure on myself to create an artwork or style I’ve perhaps imagined in my head. When creating my book The Great Paint, it was an especially fun experience. The book is about a frog who just loves to create art and isn’t necessarily thinking about anything but that. I took the same approach myself when illustrating the book and just had fun with it. It’s still one of my favourites and (I hope) the joy I had creating it comes through in the art.
The Great Paint // Tate Publishing
Who/What have been your key influences as an illustrator?
I grew up on a steady diet of 80’s and 90’s cartoons, video games and comic books. I try to inject the same sense of energy into my picture books that I remember enjoying so much in the animations I watched. I’m also a huge fan of the Moomins - Tove Janson creates the most beautiful worlds both through her stories and art.
How did you begin illustration? What was the spark of inspiration?
I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing. It was actually The Super Mario Bros cartoon that really captured my imagination as a child. I would draw Mario for hours on end. Later on in my teens I would create my own comic books. I have really fond memories of going to the library and photocopying my own comics just so I could feel like I was creating my very own publication. I used to collaborate with friends and family to create comic book series with different story tellers and artists. Another massively fond memory I have is laying out huge sheets of paper (I think they were the reverse side of large wall mounted yearly planners) and then my cousin and I would draw these huge scenes with loads of little characters all over the place.
What’s your favourite part of the illustration process?
To be honest, I love all of it. From the initial free and loose sketches to seeing the final art come together at the end. If I had to choose, it would probably be the initial rough thumbnails… although I do love the feeling of seeing it all come together as a finished book.
To an up-and-coming artist, what’s one piece of advice you would give?
Do exactly what you love doing. Some of my favourite artists/ Instagram accounts are just creating the art that they love, and personally I think that this really shows. That being said, I think it’s important to look at other works. Whether it’s animations, picture books, comics, I think taking in other works really puts you in a creative mindset. Taking in a wide variety of inspiration and finding your own style is a great way of creating artwork that you’ll be really happy with.
What has been your best day at Bright?
I have had so many! Since joining Bright, every day has been a joy. From meeting with my fantastic agents and publishers to discuss projects or just have a general natter, to the Christmas parties, to working on a collaborative project with my wife who is also represented by Bright. I’m having a blast!
What would be your dream brief?
I really, truly enjoy every project I work on. I’m so lucky to continually have such a wide and varied selection of briefs. I’m working on a graphic novel with my wife which I would LOVE to see come to fruition. It’s a true passion project for us both. Another dream would be to see any of my characters or stories animated… I’ve you’re reading this TV networks…
Alex Willmore and Freddie Dawson at his Book display in the Tate Modern shop
To work with Alex, get in contact with Freddie Dawson.