Peter Allen

Summer – home page Splash for Travel PR website

What was your key motivation in becoming an illustrator?

I didn’t know what an illustrator was as a kid. I used to like drawing airplanes and stuff with my brother, and my aunt worked up in London for publishers and used to give us loads of picture books. I guess the motivation came from my art teachers who encouraged me to carry on doing art (which I did because I thought they were really good people and because I enjoyed it); but I didn’t have any precise idea of what I was going to do with it all afterwards, except to continue for as long as I could.

A Feast – From Ancient Egyptian Jigsaw Book. © Usborne Publishing, 2006

When a commissioner contacts you with a piece of work, what are the first three stages you take?

1: If they’re one of my regular clients then I check with the calendar that it’s ok time wise. If it’s a new client then I usually start by emailing the AOI for advice on pricing. When you live a bit out in the sticks it’s difficult to keep up to date with current practice so it’s very reassuring for me to be able to quote fees that are based on the going rate.

2: I then like to think about the project in some vague sort of way, to see what ideas come first into my head. These could be things seen or read recently.

3: The next stage would be researching the subject. I use the Internet because I love the places that it can lead you to, and I support the idea that it’s there somehow for all of us to share. I compile folders of images that might come in handy, of shapes or colour combinations or technicalities for when a certain amount of accuracy is required.

Roland Garros / BNP Paribas – 40 years

You were recently part of an artist residency in Switzerland. Could you tell us more about it?

My son Elis and I spent a month working from an old house by the lake Maggiore, in the bottom part of Switzerland where it joins with Italy. It was quite a mix. We went to the lido, ate pizza and did lots of drawing. On other days we drove up into the mountains to see what we could find. We blogged about our adventures both on the Sasso website and on our Tumblr.

The idea was that we’d work together on a picture book about Switzerland. As it will probably be for early teens Elis made sure that it would be all about the things that kids of his age like best. The plan now is for us to write up the story this autumn and then prepare some spreads to show to publishers.

Boats on Lake Maggiore, Switzerland

Your work features many colourful and detailed sceneries. Do you tend to do a lot of life drawing to inform your illustrations? What is your process?

I do quite a lot of rapid drawing in sketchbooks and much of what I put into my pictures comes from these visual notes. My pictures are generally of a simple design, which holds together lots of smaller scenes; stories within stories. The colour usually does its own thing, together or independently of the line drawing. I’ve stencil-coloured a fair number of linocuts in various book editions and it’s the same thing. You can aim for a perfect register or loosen up and see what happens. Its use can be decorative or descriptive, or both.

I try to create a picture space where it’s possible for all sorts of things to happen, both real and imaginary.

On The River – from Look Outside London. © Usborne Publishing, 2015

If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring illustrator, what would it be?

It’s taken me years to get used to the idea that I probably am doing the job that suits me best. I think it must always have felt like the right thing to do and I’ve kept at it, partly because I couldn’t convince myself that I’d be more suited to do something else. I once almost accepted a place in a catering school and changed my mind at the last minute. All this is to say that my answer would be to trust your own intuition when you have a decision to make.

Do something because it feels right. Refuse to do something if it doesn’t. It’s hard to do at first but you soon get a taste for it!

My second piece of advice would be to join the AOI but I’ve run out of time.

19th October 2015

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