Last week I got an email from the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) announcing that they were going to have a an open studio day with Alex Latimer. I can’t honestly say that I knew who Alex was before that email. After meeting him, seeing his studio and his work, I am so glad that I now do.
I will admit that in the rush to get to Alex’s studio in the morning, I actually forgot his name (this is a common thing that happens – especially if I haven’t met a person, so it didn’t even bother me that I was going to a person’s house whose name I had forgotten). I was five minutes late when I arrived and had to yell around his house until eventually I found his wife who guided me up the stairs to his studio. I still hadn’t remembered what his name was, as I quickly nodded and did mini waves to everyone apologetically, as I made my way to the back of the room. I had missed the introduction to the open day and just decided that I was going to have to check my emails on my phone at some point to get this guy’s name. As I was standing there my eyes began to wonder to the shelving on the wall.
There were all these books that were written and illustrated by some person called ‘Alex Latimer.’ I thought to myself ‘I need to Google that when I get home – maybe it’s up-coming illustrator or something that this guy is drawing inspiration from.’
Just as the thought left my head, my right brain finished his coffee and kicked me. I put two and two together.
Alex first and foremost is a writer (according to him). He is a self-taught illustrator who decided to learn how to draw after waiting a year for his brother (who is an illustrator foremost) to do illustrations for his book – The boy who cried Ninja – only for his brother to inform him that he didn’t have time for his story at the end of the year. Alex, out of frustration, started teaching himself and doing editorial and odd job illustrations for a year, before attempting to then draw his own illustrations for his book.
In a moment of cheekiness, he emailed Oliver Jeffers, a well-known illustrator with a style that had inspired Alex originally, and sent him his work. He told Oliver that if he liked his work then perhaps he could forwarded it onto his agent and he did.
Alex still has that agent today.
When asked about his style and medium, Alex told us that his favourite medium is his two pencil crayons (one orange for warm tones and one blue for shadows). He creates the outlines for his drawings and does some shading before scanning into his computer. From there he uses a variety of layers of watercolour (colour-burned in PhotoShop to the colour he needs) and the pencil work to create his illustrations. He also admitted he likes to create illustration with the maximum output and minimum work.
Alex had a lot of suggestions for illustrators wanting to break into the field. His main tip was to get into it by creating a book. He showed us his examples of pencil-sketched dummies of books he wanted to do that he had submitted to publishers, via his agent. He suggested that getting a product as close to finished as possible before submitted, as agents need to get an idea and be able to visualise if they can sell it or not. He found that his agent has a variety of connections with a variety of publishers – as long as his agent thinks he can sell it to one them, he is willing to take the project on.
We also got a sneak peak into a project that Alex is currently working on (will give no spoilers here!) which is looking awesome. The project/book will be published overseas unfortunately, but hopefully we will get to have a few copies here in South Africa.