In Conversation With Lee Cosgrove
last updated 20 July 2023
Interview by Rachel Moffat
Lee Cosgrove is a children’s illustrator from a small town on the banks of the River Mersey. A lifelong doodler, his love of drawing is inspired by a childhood of Saturday morning cartoons, den-building adventures and an endless supply of crayons. Working as a full time illustrator for the last 10 years Lee has enjoyed working on a wide range of projects from illustrating picture books, to board games, to billboards. He loves to bring humour and lots of character to his illustrations. When he hasn’t got a pencil in hand he can be found fossil hunting, feeding hedgehogs or doing flying kicks.
Here’s what Lee’s agent Lucie Luddington has said about working so closely with him: “Lee is a talent beyond words! Bright adore representing him. His illustrations always put a smile on people’s faces!”
How did you begin illustration?
I was always, always drawing as a kid and dreaming of being an artist when I grew up, but I think it felt a bit out of reach and I didn’t realise that I could actually BE an artist, that it was an actual career I could follow. So, I took other paths, studied other subjects and worked in other industries. It wasn’t until I was approaching 30 and incredibly fed up with my job that I realised that I absolutely had to try and make a go of trying to get into illustration. By that point I’d filled so many notebooks with doodles during work meetings that I was essentially a full time illustrator already, just one without clients, or briefs or pay for doing it. So, I created a blog, built a portfolio, posted my art and eventually some jobs trickled in, which I worked on at night or at weekends. Luckily it built up until eventually I could make the jump to illustrate full time, which was a great feeling.
Talk us through your creative process. How do you approach a brief?
I like to read through the brief a few times and leave it to percolate in my brain for a couple of days so it can be broken down and processed a little in the background. Then I usually jump into some exploratory sketches, thinking about the characters or environments – just seeing what ideas come out of my pencil. Then I’ll move on to some very rough thumbnails, trying to get an idea of compositions. I like to do these really small and really roughly, basically a messy scribble smaller than a postage stamp that wouldn’t mean anything to anyone else who took a look at it, but lets me block out where things can go. Then I’ll hop on to my iPad, blow up my chosen thumbnails and incrementally tighten them up into a sketch, including details and ideas from those earlier exploratory sketches. Then it’s on to colouring (or black and whitening, depending on the project), laying in flat colours first and then going in here and there with detail and texture in no particular order. I sometimes change things around at this stage too, ironing out problems I hadn’t quite foreseen or just including a new idea I’ve had. Then some tweaking, some further tweaking and finally – the final tweaking. Hopefully at this point I’m happy with it and the client will be too, but there’s usually some further changes to get it just right.
What is an average day in the studio like for you at the moment?
After seeing the kids off to school I’ll check emails and then usually spend quite a bit of time trying to find my Apple Pencil, which is often down the side of the sofa or camouflaged on a windowsill somewhere. Once located, it’s on to the morning’s work. I usually like to work on any sketches in the morning and any colouring in the afternoon. I’m not sure why but that’s what I prefer. Then it’s lunchtime – working from home it’s far too easy to get to the end of the day and realise I’ve only done about 15 steps all day, so lately I’ve been trying to get out for a quick run or a walk. Then a few hours more work in the afternoon, pick the kids up from school and then some more work. Depending on how busy I am I might work some of the evening too.
What’s your favourite part of the illustration process?
I really love the sketching phase when I can think up fun details and little bits of humour to include and hide here and there, playing with a funny expression on a background character or sneaking in a cheeky movie reference. Another favourite part is when I’m well into the colouring stage and the illustration is starting to come together and take shape – that’s pretty satisfying. But all the different stages have their moments.
Who/What have been your key influences as an illustrator?
Growing up on a diet of cartoons, computer games, fantasy books and scary movies has had a big influence on me and what I like to draw. Now that I’ve got kids of my own who also love drawing, I get some influences from seeing the books, toys, games, etc that inspire them. As for artists and illustrators – there are too many to name. There is so much amazing art out there at the moment that I’ve got a new influence every time I check my Instagram feed.
To an up-and-coming artist, what’s one piece of advice you would give?
Draw lots, draw everything. But make sure you draw things you enjoy and would want to be working on.
What would be your dream brief?
I’m quite easy to please to be honest – just give me anything with monsters, dinosaurs, aliens and maybe some gross humour and I’ll be happy. But really, I would love to illustrate a book I’ve written myself, middle grade or maybe a graphic novel. That’s something of a dream brief that I’m looking to make a reality in the future.
To work with Lee get in contact with his agent Lucie here.