Join The Debate, ATL Report Magazine June/July 2014

No time for playtime

Play is the foundation of creativity and ideas, says children's author and illustrator Tim Hopgood

I’m on the train and as I look around the carriage I notice that I’m the only passenger not attached to a gadget. Everyone else looks very busy. I’m the only person gazing out of the window supposedly doing nothing.

As a child I spent a lot of time staring out of the window; it reminds me of a favourite poem by A.A. Milne ‘Waiting at the Window’ about two raindrops racing down the pane of glass. You may well feel that watching raindrops isn’t a particulary constructive­ use of my time, but staring into space, gazing out the window is all part of the creative process. For me, it’s like clearing the decks, making space in your head for the next big idea, preparing the way for something new.

Something that’s been on my mind recently is the subject of time and what’s happened to it. Is time really in such short supply? Days haven’t actually got shorter, there aren’t fewer days in the week and last time I checked there were still twelve months in a year. So what’s going on? where’s it all gone? especially free time, where’s that disappeared to?

I blame the gadgets. We’re continually switched on and we’re constantly being updated, being cc’d in on everything. Our lives have become over-scheduled and because of this our children’s lives over-supervised. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m starting to think we’re living in a world that doesn’t have time for childhood. Childhood is becoming an expensive luxury: we can’t afford it and we’ve no time for it. Not having time as a family to muck about at home, to play, to paint, make a mess, to share a bedtime story, all these things are under threat. Or maybe it’s just that we’re all becoming afraid of free, unstructured time, we’re filling it because we don’t actually want to stop and just be in the moment. 

For me, play is the foundation of all creative processes. Through play we learn to experiment, we test things out, we make mistakes, we discover new things. Through play we learn how to connect and co-operate with others, to share ideas and build as part of a team. When I’m in school I like my sessions to involve creating something together, usually large scale, and the work the children produce acts a reminder of a day an author/illustrator came to play. By sharing in the creative process of producing something together, the children are doing what I do; it’s an effective way of saying, you can do this too.

Recently I’ve been dismayed to see D&T, Art and Music sidelined by an agenda that  implies anything that appears to be too much like playing shouldn’t be taken too seriously; an attitude that suggests studying a creative subject won’t lead you anywhere. Yet the U.K. leads the way in so many creative fields. In my own profession, U.K. picture book authors and illustrators produce work that is being exported all over the world. It’s an exciting process turning ideas into books, but the amazing thing about ideas is that they can be turned into anything, not just books.

We’re told that the country needs more scientists, engineers, mathematicians, that’s the message that politicians promote. No, what we need is more ideas. What we need are scientists, engineers, mathematicians, architects, designers, artists, writers and composers who know how to play together to experiment, build and produce new ideas and new ways of looking at the world. Developing ideas that can grow into concepts that can change and enhance our lives, make us think time and again. So where do these new ideas start to grow? Given the right conditions, in our schools.


Life & Times, York Press 2015





Please briefly introduce yourself :) Thank you!
My name is Tim Hopgood, I work as a picture book author and illustrator. My first job after leaving college was for the street-style magazine i-D, working for Creative Director Terry Jones. i-D was put together by hand - in the days before computers - so this is where I learnt to think in layers, because we had to imagine what the layouts would look like as the magazine couldn't afford to have anything proofed. Sometimes there were big mistakes - or experiments that didn't quite go to plan! After i-D I joined the Art Dept at British Vogue. There was no experimenting at Vogue. I left after just a year and eventually set up a design studio  with my sister Pen. The majority of our clients were high-street fashion retailers but we also handled work for the Central Office of Information. In 2002 I moved to York with my family where we now live and started a new career as a picture book maker.

What’s your favorite color?
Blue. Any kind of blue.

What’s your favorite food?
Blackberry crumble and ice-cream.

What’s your favorite place or country?
In the UK, it has to be Northumberland which has lovely wild empty beaches. I also like the city of Lisbon, Portugal and Barcelona, Spain.

What’s your favorite kind of music?
Anything you can dance to - favourites include; The Bottle - Gil Scott-Heron, The Love I Lost - Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes

Do you have a pet? What is it?
We have an elderly cat called Honey.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
If I had a time machine I think I would go FORWARD - just to see that everything worked out OK in the end.

Have you always known you wanted to be an illustrator? Did you study illustration? How did you decide to become an illustrator?
From about 7 years old I was making birthday cards and creating decorative envelopes. I used to spend all my pocket money on new felt pens. I have a B.A. (Hons) Degree in Illustration - I studied in the UK at Kingston Polytechnic.

What tools and materials do you use to produce your work?
I draw and paint. I use 4B pencils, ink and brushes. I scan original b/w drawings into the computer and then use a mixture of Photoshop and QuarkXpress to put these drawings together. I'm not a computer whizz-kid, everything I know (which isn't a great deal) I taught myself so I've probably picked up lots of bad habits. I wouldn't want to spend all my time in front of a computer so this way of working suits me. And I don't want my work to look too computer-perfect!

Can you explain a little about your process when creating an illustration?
I love colour - but all my work starts off in b/w. I use the computer to colour all the different elements. This means if I change my mind, or if my Art Director wants to see the layout in a different colourway the change is quite simple. My roughs are very rough - just a scribble!

How did your style of work develop?
My style of working has been influenced by my design background. I like my images to have a strong sense of design so I try hard to surprise people with each page turn.

Where do you find your inspiration and where do your creative ideas come from?
Inspiration is everywhere. Don't wait for inspiration to come looking for you - go out and find it. Once you start looking you realize ideas are everywhere. Being an author is a bit like being a spy - you need to stand back, observe, listen and learn. That's why I walk into the city everyday - because you never know what you might see or hear.

Do you ever struggle to come up with new ideas or worry that they will run out?
No! I like to work on more than one idea at a time - so I've always got plenty to think about rather than concentrating on just one thing. I find one thing leads to another - coming up with new ideas is my favourite bit of being an author/illustrator.

What’s your philosophy for making art?
Don't be afraid to make a mess. Experiment, be bold and clean up afterwards!

How long does it usually take you to create an illustration?
It usually takes me about 3 to 4 months to create the illustrations for a new picture book. I usually allow one week per double-page spread. Some layouts take less, some take a lot longer. Some of my favourite spreads are the simple ones.

What has been your favorite project to date?
My favourite project is always my latest. I guess that's because creating the illustrations for a picture book can be quite intense so you need lots of enthusiasm to see you through to the end. I remember Here Comes Frankie was really hard work because my computer wasn't up to the job - it kept crashing. I've since invested in a more powerful machine.

What artists influence and inspire you? Who is your favorite illustrator(s)?
Artists - David Hockney, Joan Miro, Alexander Calder, Patrick Heron, Roger Hilton, Andy Warhol. Illustrators - Alice and Martin Provensen, Brian Wildsmith, Neal Layton, Bruce Ingman, Laura Carlin, Christian Robinson, Lucy Cousins, Maira Kalman, Leo Lionni, Roger Duvoisin, John Burningham, Eric Carle.

Do you think your graphic design background influenced your style of illustration?
Yes! And because of my design background I usually get to design the page layouts and typography too.

What are your goals for the future?
To produce lots more books that are fun, colourful and inspiring. I'd also like to start painting large canvases again.

What advice would you give to college students who would like to pursue illustration as their career?
DON'T DO IT! And if that put you off then illustration isn't for you

Kuvittaja Magazine

Kuvittaja Magazine

HOPPing & Popping. An interview with english illustrator tim hopgood by Nadja Sarell, kuvittaja magazine, finland.

Tell me about your picture book working process in brief. I write. I draw. I put the two things together in a layout. I design the pages. I re-write and I re-draw and then i submit the idea to my agent.

What comes after the idea; text or pictures or both side by side? Always words first. I have an idea in my head. I make notes, it’s maybe an idea for an opening line or a general idea/concept for a book. I keep lots of notes and store them in my IDEAS box. Sometimes an idea takes hold straight-away and the process is very quick, or sometimes part of an idea may grow very slowly over several months or even years into a finished story.

How much do you experiment with the characters, technique or typography/design of the book? Usually when I submit an idea the first thing everyone wants to see is what will the characters look like - how appealing are they. So I usually work on the development of the main characters first of all. Once everyone is happy I start to develop and create the rules for the world in which the story takes place. I start to build up a colour palette and decide on the style of line artwork I want to use throughout the book. Then I’ll think about the typography, I’ll try working with the text in various fonts to see how it sits on the page and how everything looks all together. The size of the book is usually determined by the publisher and budget constraints.

What part do you enjoy most in the entire picture book process? And what is the hardest part? I love coming up with new ideas. I think a blank page is very exciting because the possibilities are endless. It’s the start of a new adventure and you’re not entirely sure how things will turn out or where your idea will take you. And if the idea takes off, if it’s published, it then becomes a shared adventure for lots of other people too!  The other part I really enjoy is working in colour for the first time on layouts that have only ever been a rough scribble - suddenly everything springs into life!

The hardest part is finishing. It can be a long drawn-out process, so it’s hard to keep the same level of enthusiasm you had when you started a project three or four months earlier. When I’m working on final, final corrections and amendments I find it hard-going - usually at this point I NEVER want to see any of the artwork ever again! But then when the proofs come back from the printers all that hard work seems worthwhile.

Your career route in brief (education, graphic design, i-D magazine, publishers)? My favourite subject at school was always Art. After school I did a one year Art & Design Foundation Course followed by a three year Graphic Design Degree Course, specializing in Illustration at Kingston Polytechnic. After that I joined the Art Department at i-D Magazine and then later moved to Vogue. During my time at Vogue, I was responsible for commissioning illustrators to illustrate the editorial articles; this gave me an opportunity to work with established names as well as recent graduates. 

What have you learned from your previous work experience? How has it influenced your illustration work?I learnt a great deal about print during my time at i-D magazine. At that time computers were only just being introduced into design departments, so we were still using typesetters and sticking copy down on layouts by hand. Colour proofing was too expensive (i-D was produced on a shoe-string budget) so we used to spend hours picking colours for backgrounds and headings and had to imagine what they would look like in print.  This kept the whole design process very fresh - and sometimes our ‘mistakes’ would turn out to be successes!

I learnt how to think in colour while working in black and white, something that I still do. I also learnt to think in layers, as we used to have to send separated artwork to the printers. This definitely helped me when I was working on Here Comes Frankie. Having a background in design, working on projects with tight deadlines has taught me how to structure my time - working to deadlines is something I’ve done all my working life. 

How did you make your breakthrough in the picture book market in the UK? At first I approached several illustration agencies; when I told them that what I really wanted to do was write and illustrate my own stories they all advised me to find a literary agent to represent my work. I went through A&C Black’s ‘Artists’ and Writers’ Yearbook’ and made a shortlist of agents to approach. I sent off a couple of story outlines and examples of my illustration work. And then came the rejection letters! Some agents said they liked my illustration style but not my story ideas and others said they like my stories but not my illustration work. This gave me hope, because at least they weren’t all saying the same thing. Celia Catchpole rang me and said she was interested in representing me, if I was prepared to make changes. We met, went through all my ideas and picked two to develop - one was Milly’s Tree which remains unpublished and the other was Our Big Blue Sofa, my first book published by Macmillan.

You made quite a jump from graphic design and commercial work to picture books. What made you a picture book author and illustrator? What was the turning point for you? It may sound like quite a jump, but really it isn’t. I’ve spent my whole career working with images and text. The first part of my career was spent working with photographs and words - a photograph on its own is one thing, give it a heading or a caption and its meaning can change completely. This relationship between image and text is fascinating and it’s what drew me towards picture books. 

Having trained as an illustrator, I knew that one day I wanted to return to the profession; my career up until this point hadn’t been planned, just one thing lead to another. But over time I grew increasingly frustrated working on projects that had a relatively short shelf-life. A typical window promotion or fashion brochure might last a month at the most, and then it’s thrown away - job done!  I decided I wanted to spend my time working on projects that would be around far longer than that, and ideally produce books that would be kept and enjoyed. I suppose ultimately I felt I had more to offer than just helping retailers sell nice clothes.

How did you choose to write your own stories? Did it come naturally or did you find it hard in the beginning? As part of my work as an Art Director I started writing more and more copy for clients - if a poster needed a heading I’d enjoy coming up with a word or a concept for a promotion. And then I started writing press-releases for clients and I started to realize that I enjoyed working with words, although my spelling has never been very good! I enjoy coming up with ideas and so it felt quite natural to put my ideas into words and then into a layout with images.

You said you love music and often start your day with a little dance in your studio. Tell me about that! Ha! Yes it’s true. I love loud music and I love dancing. Dancing is a good way of exercising at home and when I’m working on the illustrations for a book I find it relaxes me and gets me in a good frame of mind for the day ahead. Anyway, too much sitting around isn’t good for you.

You listen to music when working. Do you choose it depending on your mood, your book’s atmosphere or randomly? I put together playlists for each project. These playlists usually reflect the mood of the book, but if I’m struggling with a particular spread I will play upbeat music to improve my motivation. When I’m really concentrating, I can listen to the same few tracks over and over and over and over and over and over again!

What is the story behind Frankie? Here Comes Frankie! is dedicated to my son Bill, he’s a drummer. So our house was certainly never quiet! Learning to live with a drummer inspired me to write about the joy music can bring to a quiet life. I didn’t set out to write a story about Synaesthesia - it just happened. I wanted to show sound in a picture book, so I starting thinking about sounds as colours and researching Kandinsky’s sound compositions, that’s when I discovered he was a Synaesthete. This opened up a whole new world to me, so then I decided to go one step further and give the sounds smells too! 

How do you come up with your picture book characters? Real life observation, sketches, research etc. I tend to draw from memory. But I must admit it would be a lot easier if my kids were still little, but I’ve no intention of having more kids just to help my career!

Your characters look effortlessly drawn and loose in style. Do you need to redraw them a lot to get them ‘right’? Oh yes! I want my work to retain the spirit of spontaneity but the reality is far from that - I might do one drawing twenty, thirty, fifty times to try and get it just right. But sometimes the first drawing you do when you’re not really thinking about it, is often the best. I’m more interested in trying to capture a mood, or expression rather than creating something perfect. I’m still learning. I think that’s why I’m a huge fan of John Burningham, because his characters aren’t perfect. But they’re very human and alive with expression. I love the way his use of line can change within a book - after all we don’t all look the same everyday. We can look quite different on different days depending on our mood.

How did your technique (line drawing, computer, textures) evolve? Have you experimented/worked with other media (if so, which ones)? I think my approach goes back to my days as a graphic designer using image, colour, type and layout to grab attention. Instead of using photographs, I started to use my drawings instead - I think that’s how my bold graphic style evolved, but my drawing style hasn’t changed that much from when I was at art college.

You collect your textures from everywhere (e.g. envelopes) and scan them on your computer. What kind of materials, surfaces and other interesting bits and bobs do you use? Over the past few years I’ve collected and built up a library of painted textures which I dip into and use on every project. I usually spend time creating new textures for each new book as well as using old favourites. The background textures for 'Unpoppable' were created by scanning the reverse side of sheets of paper washed with ink - I liked the effect as the ink seeped through on the reverse. One of my favourites is painted kitchen roll which I’ve used in several of my books - the clouds on Ellington Avenue in Here Comes Frankie! and the carpet in Our Big Blue Sofa. The clouds in WOW! Said The Owl were made from the pattern on the inside of an envelope from my bank.

Kuvittaja Magazine

Kuvittaja Magazine

Can you describe your working process step-by-step?  I start my illustrations by drawing in line. I used to use pens (fibre tip/felt pens/biros) but now I use sketching pencils for a rougher, softer line. I might draw something smaller than it’s going to be in the book so that when I enlarge it on the computer the line looks even rougher. Or I draw slightly larger than the finished size so the line is smoother - it depends on the project/spread. Once I have a rough layout in place I will work on two or three versions of the spread at the same time. This stops me being too precious with my work and keeps the overall feel more spontaneous and lively.

For me a project really comes alive when I start adding colour - I love experimenting with lots of different colour combinations. I add colour by cutting round my outlines and filling each shape with texture and colour and then dropping it behind the line artwork. This gives my work a hand-cut, bold, silk-screened feel which I particularly like, rather than it looking too perfect or ‘computery’.

Using a computer enables me to change colours easily and to play around with the composition of the page which keeps the process all very fluid, so nothing is fixed until the artwork goes to print. When I’m happy with a spread I save it as a TIFF. Then I might use that file as a starting point and try another version of the same spread. I might finish up with seven or eight versions of the same spread and then I pick two or three to send to my Art Director.

Do you have any free time and how do you enjoy spending it? When I’m not working I enjoy cooking, I find the process of preparing a meal very relaxing. And whenever we can, we like to escape to the coast (even just for the day) a walk along a wind-swept beach is the best way to clear your head.

Where do you get your inspiration and motivation for your illustration work? Name a few artists /illustrators /musicians etc. whose work inspires you. Artists: Joan Miro, Henri Matisse, Patrick Heron, Roger Hilton, Julian Trevelyan, David Hockney, Bruce McLean, Jean-Michel Basquiat Musicians: Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Gil Scott-Heron, Herbie Hancock, Roy Ayers, Bonobo, Steely Dan Illustrators: Alice and Martin Provensen, Abner Graboff, Saul Steinberg, Roger Duvoisin, Leo Lionni, Eric Carle, John Burningham, Neal Layton, Bruce Ingman Design: Bruno Munari, Vera Neumann, Paul Rand, Charles and Ray Eames, Tibor Kalman, Fabien Baron.


Endpapers from the Dutch edition of Here Comes Frankie

AUTHOR Q&A: TIM HOPGOOD by Jenny Dalton, Editor Little Big Magazine

The internet is a marvellous place sometimes. You write a little story about colour, mention a favourite author’s name, and suddenly said author has emailed you out of the blue, and you ask him to do a Q&A and he says yes, and there you are. Or rather here you are: Children’s author/illustrator Tim Hopgood‘s thoughts on colour, childhood and books especially for us.

Tim moved to North Yorkshire ten years ago – from Kingston, Surrey in search of “more space, less people and open roads and it’s all here!” His children – aged 21 and 19 are now in London and Manchester respectively, which means “the house is a lot quieter than it ever used to be!” Tim’s new children’s title UnPOPpable is out shortly.

Little Big: What comes first for you, line or colour?
Tim Hopgood: Line first, colour second. Although my finished work is very colourful, I spend most of my time working in black and white! I start by working in line [a first sketch for UnPOPpable seen right]. I like to vary the quality of the line as much as possible so I use a good mix of brushes, pencils, wax crayons, felt pens and biros. When I’m happy with my line drawing, (I usually draw things over and over again, but try to keep it looking spontaneous) I scan it into my computer and then start working in colour. At the start of every project I will spend time collecting colours, and slowly building up a colour palette for each book – that’s part of the process that I really enjoy.

LB: Do you think a love of colour is an innate quality?
TH: I think it’s quite natural to like colour, same as it is to like music. But I think you can learn to be more confident with colour, to break the rules and work out what works for you. Who says blue and green should never be seen? But then again, I guess it depends on which blue and which green!

LB: What do you think are great colours for a kids’ room?
TH: Well I grew up in a white house – while everyone else was enjoying the vibrant patterns and colours of the 1960s and 70s, my Dad insisted on Dulux Brilliant White everywhere! I remember I had a pin-board in my room that I used to fill with colourful images and eye-catching graphics to provide some much needed colour. Changing the artwork in a room is a good way to introduce new colours and much easier than redecorating! [We have included a couple of Tim's colour palettes below in our gallery].

LB: What’s the starting process for your books?
TH: My new book UnPOPpable came about by accident. I live in York, and most afternoons I walk into town. On one afternoon, summer 2009, I was walking past York Minster, when I heard someone shout, “It’s unpoppable!’. I thought that’s a funny word, and turned round to see a grown man holding a bright orange balloon. Seeing a man get so excited about a balloon made me laugh and started me thinking. If a balloon could be unpoppable, then that would make it unstoppable! And if a balloon could go on and on, how far could it go? By this time I was in Sainsbury’s, food shopping, but by the time I got home I had the text pretty much worked out in my head.

LB: How much argument did it take to your publishers to agree to glitter and shiny bits in your stories? [Tim's A Dog Called Rod story features a glittery dog, whereas Here Comes Frankie is all glorious shiny bits].
TH: None. I was delighted when Macmillan suggested they could flock my illustrations for my first book Our Big Blue Sofa. I’d seen flocking used on greetings cards, but not in a picture book. It was this suggestion that convinced me I had found the right publisher! For my second book, A Dog Called Rod, my publishers were expecting a story about a real dog, so they were bit surprised when I sent in the text about an imaginary dog. Then I had to work out a way to get this idea across, and eventually we agreed that making Rod sparkle was the way to do it.

LB: What kind of feedback do you get from parents/kids?
TH: The feedback I get from kids and parents is terrific. I’m still rather taken aback when people tell me how much they enjoyed one of my books or how much they like the illustrations – but it’s wonderful to know! And going into schools is a great way to test your material and to see how kids are responding to your ideas and artwork.

LB: Are there any books from your childhood that deeply affected you?
TH: I went to the library with my Dad every two weeks. And for years I would leave with the same book I went in with – it was a picture book of animals. I remember there was a section on dinosaurs and every-so often a fold-out colour page – which I loved. I was a big A.A. Milne fan, I still like all the characters in Winnie-the-Pooh, and I’ve always admired E.H. Shepard’s line drawings and the colour pages were always a real treat. There’s a poem by Milne called Waiting At The Window about two raindrops racing down a window pane. I loved this poem and it reminds me of all the times I spent as a child staring out of the window on a grey wet day, wondering what to do!

Originally posted on
January 20, 2011

Everyone Loves New York by Leslie Jonath, illustration by Tim Hopgood, teNeues Publishing Group


After 20 years working as a graphic designer Tim Hopgood decided to take the plunge and become a freelance illustrator. He has gone on to write and illustrate picture books, even winning the Best Emerging Illustrator at the Booktrust Early Years Awards. He was kind enough to answer our quick 10.

1. What is your greatest achievement? 

2. How would you describe your work/style to someone who hadn't seen it? 
My work is colourful, graphic and bold. I try to keep it looking as fresh and spontaneous as possible.

3. What piece/product/design do you wish you had thought of? 
I love the energy and style of the 1950s LP covers designed by David Stone Martin for Verve Records.

4. Who would you most like to collaborate with? 
Tricia Guild. I'd like to see my work used on fabric or wallpaper.

5. What is the worst job you have had? 
Early morning cleaner was definitely the hardest!

6. If you were on Death Row, what would your last meal be
Macaroni Cheese (please can the top be very crispy!) with lots of ketchup (Heinz).

7. What is the greatest movie of all time? 
Goodfellas - great characters, fantastic story telling, art direction and styling.

8. What do you dislike most about popular culture? 
500 channels of trash TV. Less is more!

9. What is the greatest invention of all time? 
The radio.

10. If you didn't do what you do, what would you do? 
I always quite liked the idea of being a chef, but I'm not sure I could stand the heat!

Originally posted on
January 18, 2012

AN INTERVIEW WITH TIM HOPGOOD by Zoe Toft, Playing By The Book

Today I’m delighted to bring to you an extensive interview with illustrator Tim Hopgood. In 2008 Tim was named as winner of the Best Emerging Illustrator Award at the Booktrust Early Years Awards. He’s been nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal four times, and if you’re looking for an illustrator to bring colour, vitality, verve and humour into your home Tim’s your man.

His debut book, Our Big Blue Sofa, is a firm family favourite and one I use often in schools. His exploration of synaesthesia in Here Comes Frankie! is what I turn to when I’m looking for a ray of sunshine (and indeed was one of the books I reviewed in my first ever week of blogging here on Playing by the book!), whilst his Ping and Pong Are Best Friends (mostly) is definitely on my Top 5 pictures books of 2013 list. Suffice to say, I’m a fan! So it was with great pleasure I recently interviewed him, about his reading life, his route to becoming an illustrator, about his style, and passions outside illustration. Here’s how our conversation went:

Playing by the book: I’ve read that you didn’t enjoy reading as a child. Why do you think this was?

Tim Hopgood: Yes that’s right. I don’t have any memory of anyone sharing stories with me as a child, I’m sure they probably did, but I have no recollection of a book at bedtime or a favourite childhood book. My first memories of reading seem to be all about learning to read rather than being read to. For me reading was a chore, a huge struggle and certainly not an enjoyable experience. I’m still not a confident reader; I struggle with spelling and have a natural talent for mispronunciation! My family moved from Hertfordshire to the West Midlands in the mid-60s; I was six years old and struggling to read. The school I joined was using the I.T.A. (Initial Teaching Alphabet) and this completely confused me. Instead of making life easier for me as it was designed to do, I felt I now had two languages to learn and it completely baffled me.

One very clear memory I have of reading as a child was queueing up in class with my book to read to the teacher; when I got to the head of the queue instead of reading I stood there and wet myself. I was sent home in disgrace. After that, reading and me were never really friends again!

PBTB: Oh Tim! How confusing and stressful that must have been. No wonder reading didn’t seem wonderful and magical  So with this starting point, what changed along the way given that now you’re a published author and illustrator? What books / people / experiences were key in you metamorphosis?

TH: My Dad used to take me and my sisters to the library every other Friday after school. I used to like visiting the library because you could pick anything you wanted. I would spend ages studying all the book covers and then leave usually with a enclycopedia under my arm; I was fascinated by the colour plate illustrations in these old heavy books.

Later on when I was at secondary school things started to change. I remember my first English teacher was called Mr. Armsden. I found I enjoyed making up stories for homework and discussing the meaning of books in class. But I was still terrified of reading out loud. If ever we had to read aloud in class I would spend the whole time scanning the pages looking ahead for words that might trip me up and dreading being asked to read that part of the text. So although reading and me were now on talking terms we certainly weren’t best friends.

Around about this time I discovered a book that made a huge impression on me: Roget’s Thesaurus, published by Penguin. This reference book completely fascinated me and because of it I developed a love of words.

I opted to do English Literature at A level: quite an achievement when you consider that in my final year at junior school my parents were told that based on my reading ability I would not be taking any O levels. And judging by the first five years of schooling they were probably right; so far the only certificate I had been awarded was for 100% attendance. But there was one thing that I was good at, well two things actually! The first was drawing. So the next person who made a real impact on my life was my Art teacher Mr. Bates. He declared me ‘an ideas man’, and that’s probably still my main strength. And the second was making people laugh.

Put these two things together and hey presto! you’ve got the makings of a picture book. Pity it took me another twenty-five years to work that one out. Having said that, all through my career as a graphic designer and art director I have worked with images and text. It’s the relationship between the two that really fascinates me: how the meaning of an image can be completely changed just by adding a word or how a word can take on a different meaning by adding an image.

After school I studied Illustration at Kingston Polytechnic. Most of our tutors were practising illustrators so we were given invaluable insights into the world of professional illustration. Ian Pollock encouraged me to loosen up my line drawings, he encouraged me to be more spontaneous and he also taught me to keep visual humour simple; he used to say if you can’t explain your idea over the phone you need to rethink it!

My attention returned to picture books when I became a parent. Reading at bedtime to our two children was always part of our family routine, so I guess that’s when I rediscovered my love of illustration. Of course there were a few books that the kids loved that I didn’t and vice versa, but the best books are always the ones that appeal to children and adults. I try to produce books that do just that.

In March 2003 I finally got the phone call I’d been waiting for: it was from a literary agent who was keen to represent me. Then followed three long years between being signed up by my agent and having my first book published. During that time I worked part-time as an early morning cleaner which enabled me to continue developing ideas for picture books, two of which were eventually published by Macmillan: Our Big Blue Sofa and Wow! Said The Owl.

After Our Big Blue Sofa was published I was working as a part-time dishwasher in a local restaurant. And even after winning the Booktrust Award for Best Emerging Illustrator, that Christmas I worked at the Post Office depot sorting letters. It was only after Wow! Said The Owl was published that as was able to start working full-time as an author/illustrator.

PBTB: It’s been quite a journey – and not one always full of glamour! But now, as an established illustrator, books are something you love so much you create them – what books (for children or grown ups) have you read that have particularly moved or excited you in the last year or so?

TH: At the moment I seem to be hooked on vintage picture books from the 1940s and 50s. There’s a quiet charm about them that I find is lacking in many contemporary books. I’m generally drawn to books and films that celebrate the everyday things in life. Some of the books I’ve particularly enjoyed recently are:

Sun Up by Alvin Tresselt and illustrated by Roger Duvoisin – A fine example of portraying the wonder of
an everyday event in a beautiful and dramatic way.

The Little House (Her Story) by Virginia Lee Burton – Oozes charm from start to finish.

John Burningham – A fascinating insight into the life and work of one my favourite illustrators. The freshness of Burningham’s line work and his use of colour is awe inspiring.

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen – A contemporary book that has a stunning limited colour palette.

Art Of The New Naturalists by Peter Marren and Robert Gillmor – A complete overview of the creation and production of the New Naturalist book jackets published by Collins. This book demonstrates how powerful illustration can be if used properly. Pages and pages of glorious artwork.

PBTB: In the past, you’ve talked a little about the difference between ephemeral vs permanent art, and how it became important for you to channel your energy into creating something longer lasting. Does this influence your attitude to ebooks and Apps at all? After all, many of these could be deleted at the flick of a distant switch. Or does the medium of ebooks and Apps appeal to you given your background graphic design? (I imagine that designing illustrations which work especially well on electronic screens could be quite different to designing illustrations to work on paper)

TH: At the moment I have no real interest in developing Apps. As yet I don’t even own a smartphone! Having said that, I’ve no objection to my work being developed into Apps, but my main interest is still printed books: books that work as a shared experience whether it’s at bedtime, in a pre-school group at the library or in the classroom. I worry that we’re creating a society that spends less and less time with each other. Devices that allow a very young child to enjoy a book on their own are only OK if this doesn’t then replace being read to by an adult. Although I’m sure the same was said about stories on tapes and before that stories on records!

My main reason for creating books is to give adults and children a shared experience, hopefully something that is enjoyable and thought provoking. If a picture book sparks off a conversation on a particular subject between adult and child, if it makes you think differently about something, or it inspires creative play/or another related activity then to me the book has done its job.

PBTB: Ah well, as you can imagine, I’m with you on that! Whilst reading alone is a definite pleasure, that shared experience is something to be treasured. Now, two aspects of your illustrations which I adore are your use of colour – lots of it, bright, bold and sometimes riotous – and your use of texture – whether actual, through use of different printing techniques, or implied, through shading and patterns. Can you tell us a little about how you feel about colour and texture and perhaps why these are such important features in your work. Is your home full of colour and texture or is it clean white throughout?

TH: I grew up in a 1960s white box. My dad was a Product Designer (he designed TVs and radios before becoming a lecturer) and our house was white throughout. All the walls were white and most of the furniture was white. There was no colourful artwork on the walls, my dad said that the colour would be provided by the people in the room and their conversation! When I was in my teens I rebelled and insisted on a dark purple, lime green and mustard geometric wallpaper (impossible to live with!) for my bedroom. I also had a large notice board in my room which I changed every week; it was a visual feast of 70s popstars, art postcards (mainly Pop Art and Surrealism) record covers, protest stickers and badges.

Colour is really important to me, (I was clearly deprived of it as a child!) and I find new colour combinations fascinating. There’s a tendency in children’s book publishing to encourage illustrators to go for ‘bright is best’, but I feel this is too simplistic an approach and I’m pleased that recently a few new books have shown us how powerful a limited colour palette can be. Despite all the technical advances (particularly in printing and computer graphics) it’s still often the most simple techniques that deliver the strongest message.

As for texture, that was sort of forced on me. When I first started showing my illustration work to art directors in publishing the general feedback was that the work was too flat and computery and lacked obvious child appeal. So I started adding a little bit of texture and pattern to my work and that seemed to do the trick! However, the artwork style in my new book Ping and Pong Are Best Friends (mostly) has very little texture or pattern in it and is much closer to the kind of work I was doing before I was first published. I found taking everything out of an illustration that isn’t completely necessary an interesting and challenging exercise, because what’s left has to work much harder to convey the meaning and the emotion of the text. It’s back to basics stuff but I feel my drawing has improved because of it.

Big!, which publishes in May, couldn’t be more different; it’s very textural and uses lots of different graphic treatments and patterns. I’m really pleased with how it turned out, it’s visually very playful, but more importantly I love the fact that these two new books are so different. Previously I was signed to just one publisher and I started to feel as if I were being pigeon-holed into working in a set way. Working with different art directors and designers has helped me gain confidence in my work and explore different ways of working.

Our house is painted in muted colours but we tend to go for bold artwork on the walls which we move from room to room. We also like patterned textiles and colourful ceramics.

PBTB: That sounds wonderful, Tim! And talking of textiles, as someone who sews I’d love to see you combine these aspects of your work to design fabric. Do you have a favourite fabric (based on texture)?

TH: Surface pattern really does interest me. We have a wonderful book Scarves by Nicky Albrechtsen and Fola Solanke which features the work of many great artists and illustrators. And a great book on the work of Vera Neumann, Vera The Art and Life of an Icon by Susan Seid which is also very inspiring. I recently discovered fabricrehab which is a great source for printed fabrics and contemporary designs. So yes maybe one day I’ll have the opportunity to design fabric.

PBTB: Maybe you could have a go anyway – Spoonflower is a great place for having your own fabric designs come to life as real fabric. Talking of moving in different, new directions, would you ever consider illustrating someone else’s story or do you prefer to work solely on your own projects?

TH: I have been sent stories in the past but nothing that particularly appealed until early last year when a story by Joyce Dunbar was sent to me. I loved it straightaway, in fact halfway through my first read of the text I knew I wanted to illustrate it! There was one particular line that grabbed me “Upwards and onwards, a tiny smile in the great big ocean”. I must admit I was a little apprehensive about illustrating someone else’s text, obviously I didn’t want Joyce to be disappointed with the outcome. Once the main character was established Joyce left me to it and I have to say it wasn’t long before it felt like it was MY book! I think the fact that Joyce gave me the space to do my own thing really helped me feel like it was my story too. I’m pleased to say it was a hugely enjoyable experience and I hope when you see the final artwork that enjoyment will shine through! Twinkle, Twinkle Squiglet Pig publishes in July.

PBTB: I shall look forward to this, Tim! As well as illustrating children’s books, you’ve illustrated a recipe book. Is it true that you’d quite like to be a chef in another life? Have you a favourite recipe you can share with us?

TH: As child I was always keen on cooking. Unfortunately back in the 60s and 70s cooking was not considered an appropriate subject for boys to study at school; oh how times have changed! I find cooking very enjoyable. And since I started working from home I do all the cooking, although my wife is fantastic at cakes and puddings. I’ve learnt not to over-complicate flavours – just the same applies to colours! The day I discovered lentils was the day I knew I would never eat meat again, although I do still eat fish. A lot of vegetarian recipes are quite similar, but this book The New Vegetarian by Celia Brooks Brown has some real winners in it, my favourite is the Charred Aubergine and Coconut Curry…delicious!

Originally posted on
April 18th, 2013

Madelyn Travis talks to Tim Hopgood, Best Emerging Illustrator in the Booktrust Early Years Awards.

For Tim Hopgood, winning the Best Emerging Illustrator category of the Booktrust Early Years Awards was a vindication of the risky decision he took to change career in midlife.

A graphic designer for twenty years, he became frustrated with the ephemeral nature of the work he was producing for the fashion retail industry and decided to channel his efforts into making art that was a bit more permanent. 'It had always been an ambition of mine to do books,' he explains. 'It became one of those things that you just talk about all the time, and you finally think, "What am I going to do about it? Time's marching on." 

'So I took some time off work and locked myself in a room for a couple of weeks and put some ideas together, and that's how it started.'

Hopgood's interest in exploring the different ways that children and adults see the world has become a central theme of his first three books. 'I love what John Burningham does, where you have different things going on, so in Our Big Blue Sofa the parents are seeing it as an old sofa and the kids are seeing it as something completely different, and in A Dog Called Rod it's about having an imaginary friend.' 

He deliberately roots the children's imaginative adventures in social realism: characters live with extended families or lone parents, in urban terraces or tower blocks. 'I remember as a child that Mary, Mungo and Midge was set in a block of flats, and that stuck with me. I was also thinking about what makes a family. I'm always looking at portraying different set-ups.'

Hopgood developed his fluid style of line drawing while at college. That hasn't changed much over the years, but the use of computers has, and the programs he employed in his graphic design work now enable him to produce distinctive multi-layered and textured illustrations. 'The way I put the illustrations together is a mix of everything: I draw and paint, and then I scan everything in to the computer. It allows me to layer things up and play around with the colours. Over the three books I've built up a library of paint textures,' he explains. 

'I start off working in black and white. I like to build up a file of different textures for each project and then I start to put it together like a collage on the computer. I love seeing through the different layers. But I don't want it to look too computery. I like the fact that it finishes up looking like it was done by hand.’

Each of Hopgood's books incorporates a different textured effect: in Our Big Blue Sofa it's patterned blue velour; in A Dog Called Rod the eponymous canine is covered in white glitter and surrounded by sparkly stars. Hopgood's latest award-winning book, Here Comes Frankie!, features shapes and fruits coated in a gloss spot varnish. Achieving the effect required Hopgood to produce a separate layer of artwork. 'After I'd done all the colour work I had to go back and pick out everything that I wanted to be varnished. That got a bit mind-blowing. It was a big job.' In addition to the varnish effect, many of what Hopgood refers to as the 'sound bursts' have a pattern on them, which he created by using various fabrics, including kitchen towel. 'I scanned them in and swished them around so that it was all blurred. Kitchen roll has a good texture.'

Here Comes Frankie! is about a boy whose quiet household is turned upside down when he decides to learn to play the trumpet. Frankie and his parents don't just hear the music: they see and smell it too. The back endpaper gives an explanation of the sensory condition synaesthesia, in which at least two senses are combined, but the book can also be read metaphorically.

'One of the things I wanted to explore in Frankie was just getting across how music can change the whole mood of a room or how you're feeling. The book grew from wondering how you show the excitement of music as a picture and that change of mood that it can bring. I originally had Frankie sitting on the stairs playing the trumpet and suddenly an orange shape appeared. I don't really know why or how. Then I read about Kandinsky and how he heard his paint box hissing when he mixed colours, which I thought was fantastic and hilarious - almost like the colours could be quite threatening. It kind of all grew around that, really.'

Hopgood's use of colour in Here Comes Frankie! lends it a retro feel in keeping with its 1950s jazz influence. 'I love that period, when things were quite experimental in music and in art. That is summed up on jazz record labels like Verve and Blue Note. I wanted a feel of that period to come through in Frankie. The page where Frankie comes home from school with the trumpet in his hand has a background pattern from the 1950s. I stretched it and changed the scale of it. I did the leaves on the trees on that page when I was looking at the 1950s jazz labels.'

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his fondness for jazz, Hopgood always listens to music when illustrating a book. 'When I'm working I can put on a CD and just have it on replay. It helps me loosen up. For Frankie I had on Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, but I had Michael Jackson's Off the Wall as well because I'd got into Quincy Jones. Music's really important to me.'

The clever names on the colour chart that decorates the back endpaper provide a clue to the musical influences underlying the book. 'I love doing the endpapers,' he says. 'You can have so much fun with them. Not everyone's going to get it, but maybe it will springboard to something else; maybe they'll go and find out about something. I love the colours on the back endpaper. It's one of my favourite spreads, in a funny way.'

Here Comes Frankie! has autobiographical origins. 'When I was at junior school I opted to play the violin: nightmare. I think I did a 12-week starter course and it was horrendous. That's a difficult one if you can't play.' He never did learn to play an instrument, and it's a source of regret. 'My son plays the drums and, yup, there's a pain barrier that the whole family has to go through, but in the end it's worth it.'

I encourage my kids to play musical instruments because I look back and I wish someone would have said to me that I should choose another instrument, to find the one that was right for me. My son started on the keyboard and went to drums and my daughter plays piano and flute. I just play the keyboard - the computer keyboard!

Originally posted on
September 23, 2008

In The Little Angel Theatre workshop in December 2015 with one of the Wow! Said The Owl puppets created by Keith Frederick.

In The Little Angel Theatre workshop in December 2015 with one of the Wow! Said The Owl puppets created by Keith Frederick.

WOW! Said The Owl at Little Angel Theatre, London

It’s grey and wet, a typical November afternoon in London, and I’m on my way to the Little Angel Studios where rehearsals of ‘Wow! Said The Owl’ are in full swing. The show has been specially created to suit a young audience (2-4 years) with a magical blend of beautiful story-telling, puppetry and music, and is directed by Joy Haynes (Director of the Norwich Puppet Theatre). During a short break, I took the opportunity to talk to Joy, Lizzie Wort (puppeteer), Fiammetta Horvat (set and costume design) and Miranda Pitcher (producer) about the show and the creative processes in bringing a picture book to life on stage. 

Tim: Were there any parts of the book that jumped out at you, that you were especially keen to adapt?
Joy: Yes, I really wanted to adapt the grey - just because I like grey, but also I thought it offered us an opportunity for drama. The book is quite episodic, and that’s very lovely, and we’ve reflected that in the way we’ve interpreted the story, but I wanted there to be a turning point, before the rainbow came, something maybe a little unsettling, like the big grey cloud that takes the mood down a bit. The grey cloud character is grumpy and grumbly, and actually ends up eating all the nice bright colours so there’s a little bit of contention with the little owl who wants to know where the colours have gone. The cloud later regrets what he’s done and his crying is like the rain, and with the sun still shining a rainbow appears. It’s a lovely dramatic moment and one that I was keen we bought into the dramatisation of the book.

“I wanted there to be a turning point before the rainbow came, something maybe a little unsettling”

Tim: Unlike the book, which starts off at night, in the dark, the performance starts in a white space. Can you explain how that idea came about, and why?
Joy: My experience with working with very young children is that they don’t like to come in to somewhere which is strange, and the light’s down, so I wanted it to be a bright space that they came in to, that they could be happy in. We control the light and tell them what is happening, so it’s almost like drawing them into the story and helping them to participate in that. It’s important that they follow us rather than arriving somewhere where it’s dark and eerie and they’re not sure what’s happening. 

“We wanted to have a different instrument associated with each colour, so each of the colours has its own sound”

Tim: Music is a key part of the performance, can you explain a little bit about how music has been used?
Joy: Yes, when we did our research and development we wanted to look into each colour and explore what the emotional response to the colours was. So it wasn’t just taking as read from the book, but asking ‘what does this colour mean to us?’ and by doing this you extend the range of possibilities. We wanted to have a different instrument associated with each colour, so each of the colours has its own sound. Live music is created on stage by Lizzie and then Dom’s composed music integrates with that, and extends and expands to give each colour its own mood.

Tim: Do you have a favourite colour transition in the performance? Joy: I love the transition into green, I think it’s very magical and a complete surprise. It’s quite a tall order to live up to, each colour in the book has its own 'wow!' moment, but there are plenty of wow-worthy moments in the show too! And the wows have different qualities to them - happy, awe-inspired, a little bit overwhelmed, one dreamy wow, so they’re not all the same.

Lizzie is the sole performer in the show, I asked her about her role as puppeteer, the other characters in the show, and which is her favourite puppet? Lizzie: We wanted my character to be involved in the story and not just a puppeteer.  So we decided she would be a sort of spirit, conjuror - quite owl-like, that makes the journey happen. She brings the daytime and the colours, but she’s also the manipulator, and so it’s expanding the idea of what a puppeteer is. She’s able to speak to the children and connect with them as well. We’ve tried to be as faithful to your book as possible, so we’ve got our little curious owl, and she’s the central character, but all the different colours are characters too! Some are more vivacious than others, but all the colours have a character of their own, of sorts, or an emotion or a quality. My favourite?  I do like my little owl, she’s such a sweetie, but I also really love the sun, he’s good fun, and the grey, grumpy cloud, he’s great to use. 

“All the different colours are characters too! Some are more vivacious than others”

Tim: The use of colour plays a key part in the both the book and the show; in the show each colour is given a specific mood. What is your favourite and why? Lizzie: Oh, that’s a really hard question because I have grown to love them all, for different reasons. The book is a celebration of colours, and therefore the show is too, and we’ve really revelled in the colours! They have different moods, but I find them all incredibly moving and beautiful. Like Joy, I like the transition into green, for me it’s not so much about the emotion of the colour, but because it’s my favourite moment in the book, because it’s the moment that the little owl realises the tree that she’s been sitting in all this time is not actually dark, but vivid bright green. I think that’s a really beautiful moment in the book and I think that we’ve really enjoyed that moment in the show as well. We’ve celebrated green in a magical way, so that’s my favourite moment.

There are three different owl puppets used in the show, this is the smallest one.

“When we see blue, she becomes tiny to create the impression of a vast blue sky” 

Tim: I understand there are two different sized owl puppets in the show. Can you explain why?
Lizzie: In your book you play with scale, and so there are moments when you zoom in on the little owl and we see her eyes close-up in the tree, and moments when she becomes very small when she’s experiencing and seeing the world around her, and we wanted to get that across in the show as well. So we have our main owl, who is the one that the audience follow on the journey, and she is the predominant puppet, and we see her on different scales to expand her world for her. When we see blue, she becomes tiny to create the impression of a vast blue sky, and for her that’s a really awe-inspiring wow! moment because she’s only ever seen it in the dark. And we also have another puppet which is a gigantic pair of eyes which we use to represent owls in general.

Tim: From what I’ve seen so far, your costumes are quite spectacular, can you describe them?
Lizzie: Yes, they’re all beautifully designed by Fiametta. My main costume has a sort of owl-like quality to it, but also a spiritual quality too. It’s a very long white coat, which I wear at the beginning and then the colours sort of burst through. And as the colours reveal themselves, she evolves and changes with them, but I don’t want to give too much away!

The show is imaginatively designed by Fiammetta Horvat.  I asked her about her design approach and the techniques she’s used to create many wow-worthy moments in a limited performance space. Fiammetta: I wouldn’t really use ‘technique’; it’s much more of a game for me and how to make the game possible. During the research and development of the show, it was really all about playing and it felt very natural how each idea came about. Another important inspiration was your drawings. When we saw the original black and white drawings you produced for the book, I really liked the inky brush strokes, the boldness of them and I think that’s where I got the idea for fabric in the air: the idea of fabric and light and everything being light and airy. 

Tim: In the performance you use some ingenious costumes. Can you describe your designs and how they came about? Fiammetta: I don’t make a distinction between costume and set, I never have done in any show that I’ve designed. I like the idea that costume is an extension of the world. So for example, the white coat that Lizzie wears at the beginning matches the world that she is coming from, and it’s very much like a blank canvas. The little owl’s nest is a bit fluffy, so we made the costume fluffy too and everything matches up in that way. Quite quickly the idea of magic came into the show, so most of the props and costumes appear to be something, but then transform into something else, very much how colours change at different times of the day. 

Tim: I asked Joy and Lizzie if they have a favourite colour transition, do you have a favourite part?
Fiammetta: I think the transition into green is probably my favourite, partly because it signifies change through growth, but also because it was one of the trickier transformations for me to design. It was quite a challenge and I wasn’t sure if we’d get there. I think the final scene at night, which is almost resolved, will also be really satisfying. 

Tim: After the research and development stage, what happens next? Fiammetta: After days of being playful and letting the imagination go as wild as possible, the next stage is to process each idea. This is when everything we’ve discussed has to be make-able, light and collapsible. I then brief whoever will make it, and we had a lot of makers on this show! Each costume has a different maker, and with each single item you are trying to imagine all the problems and resolve them. Then when you get to rehearsals, you have new problems and you try and resolve them, with everybody. That’s how the process works and it’s amazing so far, even if the workings of the design are much more complex than we first thought, the ideas we had during the research and development remain and that’s quite satisfying. 

With rehearsals back in full swing, I spoke to Miranda the show's producer, and I asked her what is it about puppetry that she feels works so effectively for a younger audience?
Miranda: For me, I think it’s about identifying with something that’s outside the human form, and also - we do lots of creative workshops with children, and somehow puppets empower children, it gives them a voice, and it terms of watching, the possibilities are wonderful with puppetry. Something quite simple can become completely magical.

Wow! Said The Owl at the Little Angel Theatre opens on the 2nd December and runs until the 31st January 2016.

Save Our Libraries Day - residents of Easingwold, North Yorkshire join Tim Hopgood to create a visual petition.

Yorkshire Post December 2006