Who knows where the time goes: Chapter 1, early work.

I left college about 30 years ago. I was young and full of dreams and hungry to work in illustration. I had no idea what I was doing. I moved to London because that is where all the big publishing houses in England were. I had a portfolio with mediocre work in and a great deal of determination.

The very first commission for a magazine was for Microsoft Magazine. This was in the days when fax machines were young, home pcs just weren’t, answer phones had been invented.

First paid work I did as an illustrator

I went on to do lots of work for newspapers, Radio Times, New Statesman and some jackets for books, all the time touting my folder around hustling for work. And when I did a piece I would often be in tears sending it away knowing that it wasn’t good enough, always expecting it to be rejected. I moved to Bath. London was too full for me. I need space around me, green fields. These days I need the sea.

Cover for New Statesman.

Audrey Peckham was a teacher who took a bottle of milk from a doorstep and was put on remand.

Illustration for a piece in Radi Times

Illustration for a piece in teh Radio Times

Child abuse in children's homes

At the time I would take my folder in to children’s publishers, trying to get work. I also haunted Cosmopolitan and other glossy mags and did get work for Country Living and Taste Magazine amongst others.

For an article about fish cookery

I preferred working for New Statesman.

For short story by William Burroughs

My memory of the above illustration is vague. I think he wrote to New Statesman to say how much he liked the picture. They told me that they had sent it to him, and I had a letter from him thanking me. At the time I had absolutely no idea who he was.

Beer in the Snooker Club

I also worked on book covers and between the magazines I was working for and the publishers of books it seemed that where ever I went Cliff Harper had just been there. I loved his work, still do. Always just missed him. Serpents Tail commissioned quite a few covers. I still like this one, for Beer in the Snooker Club.

Tobias Wolff

I was such an ignorant creature in those days. At least now I have some idea of my own depth of ignorance.

The Devil's Trill

Pride by William Warton

Found whilst rummaging through old work.

I loved the film Birdy written by William Wharton. When I was listening to Kaleidoscope on radio 4 and heard a review for the hardback of Pride I threw every lion picture I had ever done at Penguin in the hope that this jacket would come to my desk! I must read both books again some time.

Illustration brief from way back

Going through old work I found this, an illustration brief for Radio Times.

Latest cover art, At the Mouth of the River of Bees

Still working on covers, but have a better idea of what I am doing these days. I love this book. Especially the story 26 Monkeys and the Abyss. Now I work for publisher in America on cover art. Now we have broadband, computers, skype. Shame the trains don’t work as well as they did then, when I would pick up a brief from Bath station on a Friday, cycle home, work all weekend, cycle to the station Monday morning and send a black and white illustration by Red Star back to London where it would be picked up by a courier and delivered to the office.

American covers for Robin Hobb

The US covers for the Hobb books came yesterday. Slightly different from the UK in design, but interesting.

So, I carried my strange dark images into children’s publishers and they shook their heads and sort of sighed at my lack of cutessines, and showed me the door. Eventually I went away to Australia for a year and came back painting. I did images for greetings cards, with a bit more joy in them! And then I had a phone call to ask if  I might be interested in working on a picture book. I said yes. I said that I was having a baby the following week but would start it after that. I barely noticed the slightly worried intake of breath as the editor tried to decide whether I was naive or insane.

I started my first picture book with baby Tom balanced on my shoulder, doodling away in a sketch book, trying to learn how a picture book worked, its mechanics and design. And after a few months produced my first, in retrospect terribly flawed creature.

Jo's Storm by Caroline Pitcher

A few books later I am still learning every time, beginning to get the hang of it, half way through one book, three coming out next year and a new one jumping at the edges of my mind. Most of my books are just books, not children’s book particularly, though because they have pictures in them some grown ups think they are. The new one will be along the lines of Can You See a Little Bear, for young ones and mums and dads and teachers and babysitters and aunts and uncles and grandparents to share and enjoy. I hope.

Little Baby Betsi B

So, this blog post really is to say happy birthday to my 20 years spent in children’s books. I don’t know how many I have done, but they are published in about 14  or so languages. People tell me that their children sleep with my book under their pillow. This is the best review I can ever get. It means they have taken them into their hearts and dreams. I love the thought of parents in lands far away sharing my words and pictures in quiet close moments with their children.

On Thursday between 6.00 and 8.30 I will be in Hachards in London signing books and talking. There are mince pies and there is mulled wine. And there will also be Axel Scheffler who illustrated one of my favorite picture books, You’re a Hero Daley B written by Jon Blake. Lots of others too on all the floors of this amazing shop.

About Jackie

I am an artist and writer. I live in a small house by the sea in Wales where I write, paint, walk and watch and dream of bears and whales. I love to read, have a wish for wings and prefer the company of animals to that of humans, though at times I can be quite friendly. I am learning how to work with wood engraving tools and hoping to show that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
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13 Responses to Who knows where the time goes: Chapter 1, early work.

  1. John Ward says:

    I enjoyed this immensely: what a lot you have achieved! Yet you are not content; I think maybe you feel as Eliot did: ‘every attempt is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure’ – but I suppose it’s better to be dissatisfied with what you’ve done than complacent. The true artist is never satisfied, but the rest of us find your work delightful and wondrous. More power to your elbow, as my mother would say.

  2. Francesca says:

    You’ve done some really wonderful work and what I find magical in all this is that I’ve probably seen your illustrations at various points in my life and now here I am talking to their creator. Your book cover for Pride is just incredible. On a personal note, it’s great to be looking at an artist who remembers a time before computers! When I was at college, if we wanted to use a photo in a project, we had to take it and develop it ourselves, if we wanted our text to say something we had to set the type and print it. Good or bad that we don’t do this now, I don’t know. Thanks for a great blog post.

  3. laurie says:

    you have had an amazing ride through life with this adventure but I think you are at the best bit now, you are where you were meant to be, it certainly was a lot of work getting here, what a body of work you have, amazingly talented , would make an amazing book your life would!Best wishes, from Canada, love your work, your vision and interpretation is just magical,

  4. Mo Crow says:

    thank you for sharing your early work Jackie!

  5. Val says:

    Happy Birthday to those 20 years and to 20 More :0)

  6. marilyn ritter says:

    Congratulations on reaching 20 years of creative endeavors that bring joy to so many. Thank you!

  7. Eliene says:

    A beautiful story of inspiration…love the never give up attitude…..& as a result we all enjoy the beauty of what you do best.

  8. Stuart Hill says:

    Jackie, your early work has a great muscularity and ‘Presence’! I’m certainly not making a negative comparison with your later work which is refined and polished to a shine; but what a depth and strength there is at the root of your later flowers.


  9. I’ve been worrying away at an idea for a – children’s – book (though I agree with you that good books are for sharing across the generations). I’m a writer, not terribly visual, but know what matters to me in terms of mood and atmosphere. I thought I would visit your blog again for inspiration – and was delighted to find a history of your own journey in books. Congratulations – and thank you for sharing.

  10. Palikaji says:

    Thankyou for the depth of your internal reflection and your committment to believing in yourself as an illustrator and your willingness to embrace and stand in your passion and destiny as an artist and storyteller. Your depictions of animals and humans and their fundamentally entwined relationships moves me deeply. I celebrate you and your journey! How wonderful to witness where you have been, the challenges you have integrated, the vision that burned so deeply and your strong will to express, learn, understand and deliver! Thankyou for standing in your passion because the feelings you are able to articulate and communicate through your nuanced palettes and shapes and composition absolutely touch me and everyone I share your books with (which is everyone who comes into my home these days). The Ice Bear and Snow Leopard are currently part of my autumn/winter altar and I simply can’t stop looking at the images and letting them pull me into the knowledge of myself as Nature, and allow myself to feel how Nature misses us and we are completely adrift in our relationship to Her at this time. Your images are deeply healing as well as visioning how we can reconnect and reweave and renew our broken relationship with the Natural world. I wish so much that I AM CAT and East of SUN West of the MOon were available here in the US, it would be so very easy to write reviews for them! AGain thankyou for sharing your journey, I can’t wait for the Golden Hare – I’m mesmerized by all your paintings in three of them!!! Thankyou.

    • Jackie says:

      I am Cat comes out in March I think in USA, and so does East of the Sun I think. I know copies will be available from the university book store in Seattle, in the case of East of Sun these will be very early release copies so might be worth ordering from there?
      Thanks for this.

  11. Palikaji says:

    Oh yes, I love the early work too – it shows strong character and stylization while still carrying the message of Natures intrinsic aliveness in us.

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