In The Studio with Fred Blunt
last updated 25 March 2021
Humour has always been top of Fred Blunt’s list when it comes to drawing and writing. Right from his early portraits of teachers, Fred knew he wanted to entertain with his work. Now writing and illustrating his own, very silly, children’s books, he couldn’t be happier. We caught up with Fred to talk about his process, how he approaches projects and take a look at his latest book Lionel the Lonely Monster (Oxford University Press), out now.
From concept to finished cover!
I had a studio built in my garden last year, just before the first lockdown. It’s not massive but it’s plenty big enough for my use.
It has an area for working digitally on my iMac and a long drawing table with my lightbox, where I spread out and let the piles of drawings mount up. I also had some bespoke drawing drawers made for storing my works-in-progress, which I just love!
Fred loves drawing anything that pops into his mind without planning.
Most of my work starts as drawings on paper, using either Staedtler HB pencils, brush and ink, or my trusty Pentel Executive pen, which has a lovely flow and a variety of line thickness. Drawing is all about flow for me. If a drawing flows nicely and it feels like it happened easily, then I’m more likely to be happier with it than if I struggled and spent an age trying to make it work.
When you draw for pleasure - without worrying about deadlines and pleasing everyone else - you relax and produce your best drawings. A kind of magic happens and your personality shines from your drawings. The more you draw like this, in a subconscious way, the more distinctive your visual handwriting, or your style, becomes.
Personality is key
Initial sketches for Lionel the Lonely Monster versus the final spread
Personality is key for an illustrator and works with personality tends to be individual, recognizable and stand out from the crowd - which can only be a good thing. Life is the other thing I try to get into my drawings… I want my drawings to look like they might start moving on the page at any minute!
When I work on books or other commercial projects, I try to retain this spontaneous way of drawing as much as possible, within a planned structure. Usually, if I’m writing a story, I’ll do little thumbnail sketches of scenes, without worrying about good drawing or compositions – really just trying to see if there is potential for humour or something interesting to look at.
Starting a new project
Fred’s initial sketches next to the cover of Gnome (Andersen Press)
If the story makes it to being commissioned as a book, I try to make the roughs as spontaneous as possible, using the initial thumbnails as a guide. I find you get most of the intention in a first sketch and it’s usually a great place to work up from. My roughs will be very loose drawings, not worrying too much about continuity etc, more about getting the compositions, placement and expressions right - ready for art-working.
Depending on the book and the technique I’ve chosen, I’ll draw over the rough on a lightbox, scanning in the line and creating the final art as a composite in Photoshop. For my latest book, Lionel The Lonely Monster, I stripped back the line-work and overlaid it on scanned-in block colour, largely done in crayon, ink and charcoal. I then changed the colours of these elements to fit my palette.
I love the vibrant flat colours of digital, mixed with the organic line and textures of analogue. I also used this technique in my book Gnome and find it gives a lovely, fresh, hand-drawn feel.
Spread from Gnome
My Favourite Approaches
Fred’s designs in the Old Town Library, Swindon
Sometimes if I think a project needs something a little more graphic or bold, I’ll use a flat digital colour instead of scanned. I still scan in my line work though as I feel that a digital brush doesn’t have the same flow as a traditional tool for me.
I used this more graphic approach on the Old Town Library walls that I designed in Swindon. The bright flat shapes and minimal line worked really well here, and I went on to do something similar when I worked on The Diddle That Dummed, written by Kes Gray (Hodder Children’s Books).]
Spread from The Diddle That Dummed
Lately, I’ve really been enjoying drawing in brush and ink and hope to try some bolder approaches over some of my next projects. I love how you can’t fully control how the brush and ink flow and welcome the broken lines and sumptuous strokes that happen, often by chance.
A Final Thought
Fred collaborated with Zara to create these adorable, dog-themed clothes for kids! Check out Fred’s blog here.
For me, there’s something appealing about drawings that don’t look perfectly neat, and I’ve always loved artists that embrace this approach… the perfectly imperfect!
More books illustrated and author-illustrated by Fred
Fred Blunt is represented by Arabella Stein — to work with Fred please contact Arabella. You can find out more about Fred here.