Sketches From My Life

Jez at Fair




Two great loves - playing football and drawing. Sprawled on my belly, feet circling, a black line searching to describe a scene from the cup final (little circles representing the vast crowd), cowboys, faces from magazines, characters from my weekly comics.





The Aladdin’s cave of the teacher’s stockroom - boxes of pens, pencils, stacks of pristine, untouched exercise books – delicious empty pages inviting me to fill them up. Ruled pages on the left (for my stories about Custer) and blank pages on the right (for my drawings). These were my first illustrated books.


On a school trip to Wales my teacher Mr Harris asked me to describe a range of hills we were passing. ‘It’s like a sleeping dinosaur slumped across the land' I replied. I remember a frisson of excitement and joy as the simile came to me, which was further enhanced by Mr Harris’s enjoyment of it. His belief in me helped to nurture my love of language.





Three years poring over the great draughtsmen – copying and learning from my heroes - H.M. Bateman, Ralph Steadman, Ardizone, Gilray etc. I am inseparable from my sketchbook- in which I record scenes from my teenage life- in studios, pubs, railway stations and bed sits. Loving the interplay between words and images I always annotated my drawings with a heard phrase, a punchline or even just a title.


Washing up


In my last year at college an illustrated poem full of word play was printed and made up into my first ever printed book.


A Bun Dance





After Art School, I tramp around magazine offices and publishers opening up my portfolio to art editors like some enormous black butterfly. Twenty or so pages represent the fruits of all that drawing. Here was my 'cross sections of a hot water bottle', drawn in psuedo - medical book style- as if it had once been a living breathing creature.




Then there were the pages of line drawings inspired by old black and white movie stills, an opportunity to honour some of my heroes- Laurel and Hardy - masters of the ‘less is more’ school of comedy.


Laurel & Hardy







My first editorial work in the pages of ‘The Listener’, the thrill that I can actually earn money from doing what I love. This led eventually to a commission to illustrate a book of wordplay jokes (right up my street) called DOTTY DEFINITIONS. I’m pleased with what I come up with though it’s clear that I’ve not yet found my own style. In this example you could say I am paying my respects to H.M. Bateman.




Although my work is professional there is nothing to make me stand out from all the other ex- art students who are fighting for these jobs. It hadn't yet occurred to me that children's picture books was the obvious playground where I could exercise these twin talents.





An editor at A.C.Blacks sees something in my sketches of a polar bear character which seems to amuse and beguile him. Perhaps it was the fact that, having decided that the Bears furry paws looked like mittens I had drawn them on a piece of string emerging from sleeves as children sometimes wear them. This silly idea had led on logically to the thought that the Bear's coat could be removed like any normal coat and so I drew him taking it off. 'Could you write a story about him?' enquired the publisher, it turned out that I could. It began with two lines which popped into my head as I was taking a bath. 'To keep warm in the polar air - a polar bear wears polar wear.' Soon I had created the first (and almost certainly the last) book about a polar bear doing a strip tease. It seems utterly bizarre to me now but my publisher liked it and in 1984 my first picture book 'BARE BEAR' was published.


Bare Bear


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