I am pleased to introduce illustrator Steve Brown! He is a freelance children’s illustrator from the Romney Marsh in Kent, England and has been drawing for as long as he can remember. His animation style is heavily influenced by the cartoons of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s which he considers “the best”. Steve is most often in his home studio scribbling away on his Wacom Cintiq, located at the bottom of his garden that overlooks fields and trees. His passion is for character design and story telling through illustration. Steve likes to use humor in his illustrations to make it more fun for children and adults. Secretly, he sneaks in lots of subtle details that take a careful eye to spot. Follow Steve’s incredible art on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and at his website, Steve Brown Illustration.
1. What’s your favorite medium to work in and has this always been the case?
I work solely digital now in Photoshop, drawing on my Wacom 24 inch Cintiq. I used to use watercolor and Copic markers but when I started working as a children’s book illustrator, I taught myself to work digitally. I first worked in Sketchbook Pro and later in Photoshop.
Occasionally, I still sketch in sketchbooks and use a bit of watercolor but even my sketches are more digital now, which I do on my iPad Pro. I just find it easier!
2. Your artwork is so unique and the characters pop off the page even in sketch! Do you find yourself drawn (see what I did there?) to certain characters you’ve drawn? Who is your favorite character(s) and why?
Ah, that’s very nice of you to say! I am more drawn to the animals. I love drawing animals. I don’t know if there are any particular characters but, saying that, the two most recent books that have come out recently have been so much fun to illustrate and they both contain two of my favorite subjects…dinosaurs and elephants!
I loved coming up with the dinosaur characters in The Wondrous Dinosurium by John Condon and I love Eppie the Elephant character in Eppie the Elephant (Who Was Allergic to Peanuts) by Livingstone Crouse.
It was great fun designing the dinosaurs, keeping them accurate but cute, and Eppie was a lovely little sweet character. I liked trying to show her emotions through her trunk’s movement.
3. How would you describe your illustration journey? Does artistic talent run in the family?
Scary but amazing! It has so far all been quite a smooth transition from my old career. I originally went to college and studied Fine Art, Art History, and Photography. But, when I started working, I never really used it. I ended up getting into the care practice and looked after disabled young adults for about 8 years. Then, I joined the ambulance service and became an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). I did this for 9 more years but after a back injury had to leave the job.
I was already planning to pursue a career in children’s illustration but ended up off work sick for around 7 months due to my back. During this time, I was signed by an agent! When I managed to return to work, I was only able to work a couple of shifts and ended up in the hospital again. After that, I decided to resign that evening and never looked back.
Both my granddads painted landscapes, which is my toughest subject! My three children are very creative and love drawing and painting, so hopefully I have passed something on to them.
4. As a successfully published and represented illustrator, what are some of the more discouraging and difficult aspects to being a professional freelance illustrator?
Definitely not knowing if or when you may get work is really hard. That and sporadic payments. Since I do this full time, I don’t have regular paychecks coming in which makes life a bit more stressful.
I do it all for the love of the work though, definitely not for the money. We need money to survive, sure, but I try not to stress too much about it.
Creatively for me, I question everything I do too much. I doubt myself and my abilities constantly. I see so much beautiful work out there and wonder if I’ll ever get to that level of excellence. Or if I’ll ever get the type of work that I constantly strive for. I wonder if I’m really good enough.
It’s a mental battle to reign myself back in and silence the internal chatter of doubt and just appreciate where I am and what I am doing. I need to stop looking so far ahead and live more in the moment, appreciating how far I have come.
I work alone in my studio at home, which is quite different than my previous work constantly surrounded by people for 12 hours a day. Isolation is surprisingly tough to deal with sometimes. I know many illustrators who have expressed similar sentiments and so you have to make a conscious effort to get out there and get away from the desk.
But, all of this is definitely overshadowed by the fact that I can get up every day and do the job that I adore. Not everyone gets to do the thing they love so I am always filled with appreciation.
5. What do you look most forward to when a new project offer comes across your desk?
I really love character design, so if I get a story with exciting or fun sounding characters that’s great. I love coming up with various styles of characters too. It’s always better if the subject of the book is something I have a personal interest in. I find everything becomes easier and flows smoother regarding the illustration workflow.
The last two books I mentioned earlier were much easier and more fun for me since I loved the subject matter. One project I have coming up I am so excited about! It’s a subject that I’m very passionate about. Martial Arts! It’s going to be a real challenge for me and something new, though. I’d spill more beans about it but I can’t yet!
6. What can be the most challenging aspect of new projects?
I think I’ve been quite lucky so far with most projects being smooth with only minor issues. I personally like to have the story sent to me with art guidelines of what they envision it to look like. But, some freedom is necessary so I can work on their ideas in my own way and add my personal touch.
I have found that some projects can arrive pretty much drawn out and you just have to redraw it. This sucks any creativity out and makes it very difficult to enjoy.
The best jobs include a rough guide but are eager for the illustrator’s personal stamp. Criticism is healthy if it goes both ways for everyone to work as a team.
7. If you could share a piece of advice from your experience with kids who love to draw and also want to be professional illustrators, what would it be? What’s the best advice you’ve received for your growth as an illustrator? What’s the worst?
Practice, practice, practice! I get asked a lot, “How can I learn to draw like you? How do I get better?”. My answer is always the same. You have to put the time in to improve. When I look back at stuff I did 6 months ago, I’ve changed and improved so much. The more you practice, the better you will become.
I went to a children’s book conference a few years ago and a children’s author, Tracey Corderoy, said “Don’t put walls up no matter how much it scares you. Just say yes and work out how you’re going to do it afterwards.”
This has stuck with me and I always say yes. The upcoming project I can’t talk about is terrifying for me. It’s totally different than anything I’ve done before. It’s a big project and a great deal of responsibility for me. But, I said yes as I know it will challenge me and help me push myself in new directions. Ultimately, I will learn a lot from it.
So, say yes to a challenge! Go for your dreams and don’t let someone put your dreams down just because they don’t understand them.
I don’t think I’ve had any real bad advice. Most illustrators are on the same wave length and are always willing to help one another. It’s a great community!
8. Do you find any misunderstandings in the world of children’s books publishing? If you could write a secret note that a family would read before or after reading one of your published books, what would you say?
Not really any misunderstandings. I do find that sometimes publishers have ideas for the books that illustrators know won’t work out visually. Then, when the time is spent on those ideas and the publishers see what the illustrator saw in their head, there is a lot of re-work necessary. This can be a painful and time consuming experience.
Oh, I don’t know what I would say to a family having read my book. Maybe something like, “I hope you enjoy the book and have fun. That’s what it’s all about!”
Actually, you know what I would love to see? Children trying to draw my characters. That would be the ultimate compliment. So, perhaps a note that says, “Send me a drawing of your favorite part of the book!” That would be amazing to me.
9. You’ve drawn numerous animals. If you had to pick one and live that animal’s life for a week, which would you choose?
Oh, I think it would either be a whale or an elephant. I’d love to just swim around singing to other whales and watch all the ocean life going on around me. That seems quite blissful! Or an African Elephant. That would be nice, slowly plodding about with my elephant family. I’d have Jungle Books’ Colonel Hathi’s march going on in my head as I walked.
10. I have no doubt you could be an extremely successful author/illustrator. Do you dabble, or plan to dabble, in authoring stories?
It’s definitely my ultimate goal. I have a few ideas for stories, one in particular that I’m re-working at the moment. It’s very close to my heart and I really hope it becomes a book. I am aiming to have it at a standard that I can present it at the Bologna Book Fair next April.
I have shown this to one of my agents and they’ve given feedback and areas to work on so I try to do that between deadlines.
I also started writing a chapter book a year or so ago which I would like to finish. I have written seven chapters but want to make time to finish it.
11. You’ve mentioned adding humor to your illustrations and sneaking in little details here and there in your books. What are some of the harder to notice details have you’ve hidden so far? Consider this an Easter Egg guide for readers to look for!
In The Wondrous Dinosaurium, I have my mother-in-law’s 2 dogs in there and if you look very, very closely you can see one dog doing a poo! It’s childish, I know, but I thought it was funny.
I also have my three children’s hand prints in Farmer Finn’s Silly Sheep. I got them all to do a hand print in paint, scanned it into Photoshop, and used them in the book. So, I have a piece of my children in there forever immortalized!
12. What can we expect to see from you in the next 1-2 years? How about 5 years from now – what goals do you have on the horizon?
Hopefully, a lot more books on the shelves! In the next year or so, there will be a series of 4 books coming out that I begin illustrations for in about a month.
I’m really hoping to get somewhere with my author/illustrator project and hope to work on my writing so it gets picked up and signed. Definitely, in the next 5 years or so I want that to be a done deal!
Steve, thank you so much for sharing your illustrator and soon to be author/illustrator journey with us. I have no doubt your future will be filled with children’s artwork capturing their favorite scenes from your books. Now, let’s all examine his books and find those little, sneaky details!