Get To Know: Rob Biddulph and his Latest Endeavor 🎨.
Brought to you by TLNT.
Rob Biddulph is a bestselling and multi-award-winning author and illustrator. His first picture book Blown Away was published in 2014 to critical acclaim and was only the second illustrated book in history to win the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. Since that stunning debut, he has published eight more titles all receiving critical acclaim and a variety of prestigious awards. In September he will release his 10th picture book, Dog Gone.
You may also know him for his most recent endeavor the twice-weekly drawing video series that launched in March, #DrawWithRob. It’s purpose -- to help parents creatively engage their children who were forced to stay home from school due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
We caught up with Rob (@robbiddulph) to talk about his amazing career and learn more about his goal to break the Guinness World Record and raise Covid-19 relief funds by hosting the largest online art lesson on May 21st.
You mentioned that reading bedtime stories to your daughter planted the seed for writing and illustrating a picture book. What was it about How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss that made you take the leap?
I’d maintained an interest in writing since school. I even co-wrote a column in one of the magazines that I’d art directed, but I had always felt slightly insecure about it. There was a feeling that it ‘wasn’t my place’ to contribute words. I guess that’s what happens when you work on the art desk at one of the world’s most popular newspapers, The Guardian, that employs some of the world’s best writers. I’d always particularly enjoyed writing in rhyme - just little bits here and there, notes in friend’s birthday cards, little bits of poetry etc - and when I decided to have a go at a children’s book text I figured that if I wrote in verse it would somehow swerve the issue of my insecurity. I guess I felt like it was a mechanism to hide behind.
I immediately discovered that I was pretty good at it, but then when I started reading Dr. Seuss books to my kids I realized that there was a whole other level. He is a total genius. He moves the plot on effortlessly whilst maintaining a faultless rhyming pattern that scans perfectly. His texts really made me up my game, and to this day I am very, very strict with myself. No imperfect rhyme, no cheating the syllable count. It has to be perfect. Would Dr. Seuss let this one go through? The benchmark he has set has proved incredibly useful to me.
Once you had finished your first book, what was your strategy to get it noticed and published?
Well, I didn’t know a thing about how the book publishing industry worked, but someone mentioned that I should try to get a literary agent as that was the best way to get a deal. She also said it was very hard to find one and to be prepared for a long wait. But the first person I messaged took me on so, obviously, I thought it would be a matter of weeks before my book was on the shelves. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. I developed a book idea for a year or so with this agent, but then she suddenly announced that, with regret, her boss had decided not to include picture book clients on their roster. Gah! I was back to square one! I emailed another agent who, again, took me on immediately, and this time we managed to get in the room with lots of the big publishers in London. They all really liked my book ideas and I developed several with a few different publishers over the next two or three years. But... we couldn’t get anybody to take the plunge and actually publish a book. It was a hugely frustrating time. So near, yet so far.
I then decided to push the reset button, take six months out and find a new agent. That’s when I met Jodie Hodges from United Agents and everything changed. She had me develop a portfolio of children’s book staples - dinosaurs, animals, mythical creatures etc - that we would take out with us alongside my book ideas when we went to see publishers. Sure enough, a few publishers spotted a picture that I’d drawn of some penguins and asked if I could come up with a story idea for them. So I wrote a story called Blown Away very quickly, and the day after we submitted it we started to get offers. From everyone! It was incredible. I signed a three-book deal with HarperCollins, my dream publisher, and that book went on to win the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize (only the second illustrated book to do so). And the rest, as they say, is history.
What is your creative process - does it start with the story or imagery?
I usually start with a very simple story idea, maybe only a sentence or two, and a lead character. I then spend a few days fleshing the plot out before having a go at drawing one of the key scenes. I find this then informs the visual style of the entire book – the colour palette, the character design, etc. Then I will lock myself away and start writing. This is the bit that I find most difficult, and it can easily take six months to a year to get the text right. I then make a thumbnail version of the book which is where I think about things like visual pacing and typography. I’m quite unusual in that I design my book myself, probably because of my magazine background. The easiest part for me is the final artworking stage. I find I can switch my brain off, listen to some music or podcasts and just really enjoy drawing.
What was the best advice or tip you ever received from a fellow artist and why?
I remember my head of course at university telling me that although artistic talent was innate, you have to supplement it with hard work to get people to notice that you have talent. I’ve never forgotten this.
What would you say to fellow creators out there looking to further their career in the creative space?
What’s absolutely key is developing your own style. Everybody takes inspiration from others, but you have to shape it into something that is uniquely yours.
The other thing is pretty obvious, but I would say don’t give up and keep putting yourself out there. Luck is without doubt a factor. You can be the most talented person in the universe, but you still need the right person to see your work at the right time. Keep putting yourself in the mix and be ready to take advantage of your opportunity when it finally arises.
What tips can you share that help you stay creative and productive during this unusual time in our history?
It can be an ideal time to work on all of those bits of work that supplement your brand but don’t necessarily make you money. Your website, your social media presence etc. These elements of professional life can actually be hugely fulfilling from a creative point of view.
Apart from that, I’d recommend developing that project you’ve had in the back of your mind for years. Write that book. Paint that picture. You’ve got to be in it to win it. I find that every piece of work I make helps move me forward creatively. Even if a project doesn’t come off, I always learn something from it, and I always have it in my locker. Nothing goes to waste.
Join Rob to make history at home on May 21st at 4 PM BST (8 AM PST) as he attempts to break the Guinness World Records title for the largest FREE online art lesson. Participants of all ages are invited to learn how to draw one of Rob’s beloved characters.
This isn’t about just bringing people together, this fun event aims to raise money for high impact charities working in the fight against COVID-19.
To follow Rob, visit @rbiddulph or robbiddulph.com
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