Listening to Alexis Deacon

Listening to Alexis Deacon


born in New York this award-winning illustrator and writer loves storytelling

“I always knew I was going to be in illustrator because sharing and trying to communicate was so important to me. understanding of the stories help us to do that”

Alexis’s number one tip for writers: “start as close to the end as possible”

Alexis read some of his stories to us and took us on a very cleaver memory trail which turn out to be completely made up. Why? To teach us in his own words… “imagination and forgotten memories, like my best friend being a chocolate rabbit are boundless sources of stories and images.” Alexis encourages us to live our imagination out and play with our own imaginary friends in our heads

We transport imagination through line drawing and image making.  “make it as real to you as you can and thoughts can be shared. draw and draw all your life children do this without being told as we get older we stop drawing and stop imagining but true illustrators don’t, so keep going nothing you do is a waste.”

Alexis went to art college at Brighton he found it hard to make drawings for other people thus he tells us his first book – monster zoo- was a big learning curve.

Watching a couple of Slow Norris’s one day gave him great pleasure and started his imagination going. “the two were just wondering towards each other down the same rope. They met in the middle had a staring contest, they both made a face and went the other way. This one moment inspired my first published book – Slow Norris” Alexis advise us to take moment like these and let your imagination go wild if you find it entertaining the chances are it will engage your reader too.

What is illustration? He asked us then answered “It is universal communication. The face is universal and universally understood. looking at the face we filter out other things and we see just the expression we only need simple values to tell this story. we are hardwired to understand expression from an early age. You need to keep that in your mind when you produce your character’s form on to the page.  just like the face gestures transporter and give us information too. Learn to love gestures as the context is strong. this gives you a good story and an expansive narrative from these simple ingredients of image.”

Alexis closing advise to us who are studying illustration this year – “By illustrating you give your story to someone else so you need to leave enough space for the reader to imagine too”


Artist Date: 4 hours with David Quantick

How to Write Everything is the name of David Quantick’s book. He has years of journalism, screenwriting, speeches and sketches under his belt. From sitcoms to novels. With thirty years’ experience as an award-winning scriptwriter. He is also a self-confessed Hack.

I am reading and taking notes on what DQ has to say to us about writing and how he got to the success he now has.

Chapter 1

The opening is summed up in “the secret to writing is oddly to write.” If you don’t write anything then there won’t be any words. Steven King said something very similar in his book on writing: “I constantly meet people who say they want to write and mentally to myself I say. No you don’t, because if you did, you would”

So I better stop fiddling with the stuff on my desk and get on with it. DQ’s advice is to start write anything. It will be terrible but the words will come and you will get better. Just like lifting heavy weights make you strong; constant word use and reading will make you write your best. So nothing you write is ever pointless. You never know who or what is trapped in your page. If you have an obstacle to your writing use the problem into your writing. It will help you get over it.

DQ tells us; don’t hate deadlines. I recall Douglas Adams in an online video say he likes the sound deadlines make when they fly past. But he is only joking. DQ warns that deadlines are to encourage you; it means that someone cares about you writing. Respect deadlines they are incentive and productivity.

Being a hack is okay if you produce work for someone else. Writers don’t get to be the lead singer very often. Writers are who work to make the actor or singer sound better than the monkey that they often are.

The ability to mimic another person’s voice is essential. You can’t just write from ones’ experience. If that was so than the Aliens movies would have been written by aliens. (Scary thought.) We are all standing on the shoulders of giants, so get over yourself and into your writing.

Chance can make you creative and everyone has different ways to writing.

Chapter 2 is about ideas. Where do you get your ideas? It’s all about making connections DQ tells us.

An idea can come from anything at all. It is not that it may be good or bad, but if you can write it, do it. Like planning a journey; you know the start and where you want to get to you just need to do the middle bit. If you need to borrow a map for your idea to follow, that’s okay. However, generating your own ideas even if you get lost on the way is just more rewarding.

Unless you have never been outside you still have your experience or your imagination. However, you have to be brave enough to cut and chop ideas that are just not working. You just don’t know if it will work until you write it a bit and a bit more. Then take a break. When you come back and read it you can be honest with yourself.

All stories are ‘xxx’ with a twist. So you don’t need to be overly original they just need you or just need it from you.

Borrow what you know works until your ideas strengthen. Take convention and mess with it until you are happy with it. Passing off is not allowed, being inspired is.

david Q

David Quantick

Alessandra Marie: Artist 

Originally from Seattle, Washington, Alessandra attended the Pratt Institute where she graduated in 2012 but remaining in New York where she currently lives and works.  It’s been a pleasure to see her style evolve and to see her art embraced into the eyes of countless viewers and I’ve always wanted to sit down and talk to her about all of it. She has gained a lot of recognition though interview, blogs and social media which I guess is a sign of the times.

All her works are with coffee stain, ink and pencil then Alessandra adds gold leaf details. This creates these wonderful dreamy pieces with an almost art nouveau feel I think.


My favourite interview answer when asked about her work :

Alessandra: Well – I don’t work with color! It’ll start to come in eventually (in certain areas), but my mind doesn’t work like a painters’ does. I see and compose work in terms of pattern, as opposed to light.. At first I perceived it as a serious disadvantage, but now I’ve found that it enables me to overcome some obstacles in interesting ways. It goes back to that Picasso quote, “If you have five elements available, use only four. If you have four elements, use three.” You can’t keep the intention of the piece pure if you’re too focused on balancing a bunch of irrelevant parts.

And yeah, Klimt was where the initial idea for gold came from! Growing up, my grandparents had some lovely Japanese lacquer boxes with gold that were great too.. I’ve always thought they were beautiful, and the execution on them inspired the work as well.


Having a go myself was going to be a challenge. I didn’t have gold leaf so I just used metallic pens to match the iridescence. I have to say learning to control and predict what the coffee stains would do took several test attempts.

My attempts:



Final piece…


Axel Scheffler @ the Hive Worcester


An open day at university leads to an awesome moment in my life. A tutor from Worcester University had chatted with me and we had laughed at my eagerness but lack of portfolio. He later called me to see if I wanted to join the class in meeting Axel Scheffler at the Hive later on in the week.  At first I did that classic, but very common “you don’t mean the Gruffalo guy, right?” Yes, (more laughing at me.) And yes that is just one of his famous illustrations but my no means is it all he has done.

Axel Scheffler started by fondly telling us about his move to England in 1982 to study Visual Communication at the Bath Academy of Art. How meeting others with creative and open minds can really get you going. Axel had a tone of honest reality as he relayed the accounts of taking his portfolio around to different publishers and magazines. He recommended always taking your current sketch book with you. “Often people like the more free and flowing look of a sketch book” Alex spoke about sending images off in the post and hearing nothing back for ages if at all. Then he got his first commission. Faber commissioned him to illustrate The Piemakers by Helen Cresswell . In 1989, Walker Books from London asked Axel to illustrate a text by Jon Blake; You’re a Hero, Daley B.

The successful collaboration of Alex Scheffler and Julia Donaldson happened in 1991. “Julia had been writing songs for the BBC when a friend told her they would make great children’s books” Alex told us “when Macmillan Children’s books took her up, they introduced us to each other.”


Q: When did you know the Gruffalo was going to look like he does?

A: Lots of sketching based on Julia’s description in her text was the basic starting point. I had done him with clothes; in fact I had done all the animals with clothes. But Julia looked them over and just did not like it.

Q: How does the text come to you?

A: Sometimes it is just emailed and you decide the layout and what to draw creating a kind of dummy book which you send back. Publishes then look at that and make changes. They always make changes. Other times they send me the dummy book with the layout and text and I will know there they what the illustration and how much of the page to illustrate. But that’s never the end, because publishers sell to other countries this is called co-addition sales. They too can ask for anything to be changed.

Q: What sort of things have you been asked to change?

A: Lots of things, anything. An example is with the book A Squash and A Squeeze in the Macmillan book the goat had udders but when it was sold to the American publisher they wanted the udders removed as they didn’t find it appropriate. Just lots of things like that and practical things like moving the layout because the amount of text or even direction of text is different.

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Q: Have you ever written a children’s book?

A: Only one as I’m not a writer. Pixi publishing who make little books were doing their 1000 print and they asked me if I would give then a picture book. The story was about a squirrel that got blown out of a tree. But it was not amazing like I said I’m not a writer.

Q: What one piece of advice would you give to those illustrators who are now leaving university?

A: Never say no to work; you just never know where that will lead. Illustration is an applied art. So listen to what they (publishers and editors) say to you it is in both your interests to make the work sellable. Compromise is good, yet you should always keep your own style. (He smiles) That’s all my advice.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Just completing another picture book with Julia Donaldson; The Scarecrow’s Wedding.