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Artist Journey: Howard Gray

last updated 20 May 2021

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Between living in various countries, pursuing a fascination with animals through studying zoology, and growing up in a family of artists, Howard Gray’s journey has been nothing short of a wild ride! With an eye for the natural world, Howard takes a tradtional approach to his art, allowing readers to enter a scene they can easily picture as reality. We had the chance to sit down with Howard and hear more of his story. Exotic adventures and dolphin companions are just a few things that set apart this wonderful Bright Artist. Enjoy!

What caused / inspired you to become an artist?

Art runs a bit in the family, I guess. My uncle is an artist, and my Grandma was really into it too. So, growing up, producing art was something that was encouraged. Looking back, my childhood probably had the right mixture of encouragement and critique (often unwanted!) for me to develop some basic artistic skills. I’ve enjoyed producing artwork for as long as I can remember. I’ve always loved messing around with paint, colouring pencils, pastels, and software too!

But my journey to becoming an artist has been a long and convoluted one. Not only was art encouraged in our family, but so was science and scientific thinking (my Dad is a geologist). Growing up, we lived in some really interesting places, like Brunei and Syria, which must have fuelled my interest in the natural world and wildlife around me - my other life’s passion.


Howard (right) and his brother in the jungle while living in Brunei, where his fascination in animals and wildlife began

After much deliberation at the end of school, I decided to study zoology at university instead of art. But I continued producing artwork, throughout my studies - mostly of animals! After my degree I moved to Oman and volunteered on a whale and dolphin research project. It was during this time that I looked back at my artwork and decided to try to pursue a career in children’s illustration. This was a tough time, as I sent my work to many agencies and was left with a lot of rejections.


A bottlenose dolphin Howard got to know during his time doing fieldwork in Musundam, Oman

One day, I was browsing the children’s books in a book shop. As a dolphin researcher (with some experience in dolphin rescue) and wannabe children’s illustrator, you can imagine what happened in my head when I saw ‘The Storm Whale’ on the shelf – by fellow Bright artist Benji Davies! I loved everything about that book, and it was then that I decided I was going to give illustration one more go… once the PhD was finished of course…

dog sketch

A sketch by Howard of a friend's dog illustrated while studying zoology at university


Howard and zoologist friend, Rory, working on a mural project in Oman for a kids swimming pool

If you had to describe your artistic style in a single word, which word would you use and why?

I think I would say it’s a ’natural’ style! I would hesitate to say I strive for ‘realism’. My style of conveying characters and landscapes comes naturally to me. My scientific background causes me to make things as true to nature as I can. My style is what has led me to work on some really cool non-fiction projects! But my heart is in illustrating fiction. Although I work digitally, I do try to keep things natural or traditional by incorporating watercolour washes and other painterly textures from my personal library.

When you are stumped for creativity what usually inspires you out of artist’s block?

Unfortunately, there’s little to no time allocated for artist’s block when you’re working on a project. Deadlines don’t allow for it. But if it’s really bad, and I just can’t get into ‘the flow’, I will try to go for a walk, or mix things up on the music I’m listening to. Usually in the direction of something toe-tapping rather than calming.

But for my personal artwork and ideas, I find inspiration in virtually anything. From books, artwork, movies, podcasts, adventures, inanimate objects, weird dreams, things people say! My kids, and the things that interest them are a great source of inspiration too.

Outside of telling the visual story for children’s books, what purpose do you hope your art serves?

Telling the visual part of a story (notably in collaboration with an author/publisher) is the main purpose. The visual and written aspects can be so intertwined, as authors often include art notes and publishers have their own views on visuals too.

I like to have fun with my artwork, I suppose. I like to surprise people when I can or do something different with a composition. If the artwork is not tied to a specific story or project, I cannot help but story-tell somehow.

If my artwork helps a reader connect with a story to raise awareness about an issue, or spark some interesting discussion or household debate, that would be awesome! If it gets someone to pick up a pencil and draw something, that would be so nice!

What art / past projects are you most proud of?

I’m really proud of a project that’s recently been published Setsuko and the Song of the Sea (Tiny Tree) written by Fiona Barker. It’s a beautiful story about a young Japanese ama diver who befriends a whale in a changing and polluted world. It was an absolute joy to illustrate, and 10% of the profits will go to the Marine Conservation Society - so it’s for a good cause too!


Cover of Setsuko and the Song of the Sea, illustrated by Howard

Last month in lieu of an Artist Journey blog we Celebrated the Earth Through Art! Give it a read to see how Bright Artists are changing the world through their illustrations. Check in each month for all new blogs on Bright Reads and our lovely illustrators. Click here to see more from Howard Gray!

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