Owen Davey

Owen Davey’s stunning picture book ‘Bird Search’ has been shortlisted for the World Illustration Awards 2015. We thought this was the fittest opportunity to ask Owen what makes him tick!

Bird Search picture book by Owen Davey, shortlisted entry for the World Illustration Awards 2015

What inspires you?

Everything really, but I suppose the big one is nature. I think the animal kingdom is endlessly fascinating with such an insane array of extravagances, beauty and intrigue. While researching projects etc. I regularly discover animals I never thought could exist with traits that seem totally alien or absurd. And then the natural world itself: space, trees, the sea; these all regularly feed into my practice.

Mad About Monkeys picture book published by Flying Eye Books, 2015

What are the three obstacles that you find throughout your freelance working day and how do you make sure you get through these?

1. Time management is a huge task. I find myself multitasking on projects constantly and it’s a bit of an art to make sure you stay on top of everything. University was massively useful in learning some of this skill because for our first year, we had different workshops every day of the week, so maybe Monday would be on colour and composition, Tuesday would be conceptual thinking, and Wednesday would be making a picture book etc etc. You had to learn how to cope, or fall further and further behind.

2. Balancing the actual illustrating time with all the business side is another one. I’m not always great at online promotion and I’ll have to upload a bunch of stuff on my website or twitter at the same time to make up for my radio silence. Or I’ll have a morning where I set aside time to send through invoices or chase up unpaid ones or whatever. Then there’s tax. Man, I hate tax. Not that I have to pay it (I have no qualms with my tax helping in some small part for the country to run or for those more in need of it to be helped out a little). My issue with tax is how damn complicated it can be, and how hard I have to work to actually then pay my money. Usually when you’re doing work, somebody will pay you for it. It’s a bit of a kick in the teeth to work hard and lose money at the end of it. Especially when I’d much prefer to be drawing a bunch of beetles or designing a new character or something. But at least I love my normal job, and everyone who owns their own business has to do it.

3. The Internet. Although it is one of my best tools in some respects, it can also be a nightmare. If the Internet gets slow, it can completely mess up my flow. Or if I get distracted by a passing cat video or something, I can lose half an hour of my life before having to shake myself back into workflow. I’m usually pretty good at resisting this temptation usually, but we all have moments of weakness.

Trascendental Meditation for Be. Illustrated Guides

How did your relationship with Folio Agency begin?

I basically just contacted a bunch of agents when I left uni, and saw if any of them would be interested in representing me. I saw about 5 I think, after researching ones online. I decided at the end of it that Folio seemed like the best fit for me. They had a good variety of illustrators on their books (none of which seemed too close to my style), they had a great ratio of agents to illustrators, they were well established, and best of all Folio were friendly. It’s been a great mutually beneficial working relationship that I hope will continue for many years.

You recently got shortlisted for the World Illustration Awards with your picture book ‘Bird Search’. Tell us more about this project and the process behind it.

Well some of my previous titles have been released by Kids-M in South Korea and we started speaking about possibly doing a title specifically for them that could be used to help teach English as a Foreign Language. Rather than try and teach loads of different things, or get too technical with it, I just wanted to play with doing a very very simple book that focused on one very specific area, and then make the most of that. I had the idea of just exploring birds and their varieties in the way they look and the ways they behave. It was also a great excuse to use rhyme, as it helps people with remembering certain words and it wouldn’t be translated into other languages anyway. Visually, I wanted to keep this simplicity too, so early on I decided that I just wanted one type of bird per page and that I would then explore the design of each bird as much as I could. I was very inspired by the work of Charley Harper with this book, as mentioned under the dedications page. His work has a wonderful approach to simplification that I try to explore in my own work a lot. Where you see something vaguely circular, maybe you can get away with making it a perfect circle. When an animal has an almost straight line in it’s form, why not actually make it a straight line? That’s the approach I took to the design of the birds in this book. And it was really fun to make it.

Bird Search picture book by Owen Davey, shortlisted entry for the World Illustration Awards 2015

What is next for you? 

I have a bunch of projects on right now. I’m still working on the TwoDots app, I have a few editorials and a couple of advertising-style jobs with some big clients too. Slightly longer-term I’m working on the artwork for a few picture books for other people, as well as writing and illustrating a follow up to my Mad About Monkeys non-fiction book I created with Flying Eye Books. I’m in the research stage of that one at the moment and falling in love with nature all over again.


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9th November 2015

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