I knew these images would take me on a trip down memory lane, but I wasn’t quite prepared to open the little blue file of images and be hurtled back to being eight years old, with my nose in a thrice-read Jacqueline Wilson book. Anyone else who grew up obsessed with these incredibly famous children’s books will know about Nick Sharratt, the man behind the instantly-recognisable illustrations for Jacqueline’s stories. He took her tales about children facing up to the perils of adult life and invented characters with his pens that have stayed with us since, if not inspired many of us to pick up a pen and start drawing ourselves.
London’s highly-respected Museum of Childhood is about to open an incredibly exciting show about the children’s book legend Jacqueline Wilson, showing an insight into her life from a lonely girlhood to one of the UK’s most successful authors. Featuring a room decked out to be an exact replica of her childhood bedroom to “short stories and diaries written by Jacqueline as a young girl, showing the origins of her talent for writing, including annotated drafts of favourites such as Tracy Beaker,” the exhibition will also display a large amount of Nick Sharratt’s drawings that have accompanied these stories for over a decade. Since they started collaborating, Nick and Jacqueline have become firm friends, and have something of a symbiotic relationship when it comes to both their careers.
To celebrate the launch of this fantastic show, we asked Nick a few questions about being an illustrator, and he very kindly answered them.
How do you and Jacqueline go about designing a character? Is it a combined effort?
I have a completely free hand with the inside illustrations of Jacqueline’s novels though it goes without saying that how a character looks depends completely on how she has described him or her in the text. I read the manuscript very carefully and, by the time I’ve finished, I should have picked up all the information I need as Jacky will have inevitably dropped the required details into the story somewhere. I will always change anything that Jacqueline’s not happy with, although if I’ve done my job properly that shouldn’t really be necessary.
You’re a middle-aged man but you’re very good at capturing the nature of little girls that Jacqueline creates – does that come quite naturally?
My method is to recall what it was like to be the same age as the character narrating the book. I’ve got a good memory for how I felt when I was school age and I try to draw in a way that would have appealed to me then. Fundamentally I don’t think my natural drawing style has changed greatly since I was about 12. Perhaps that explains why my illustrations strike a chord with lots of girls and boys of around that age and younger.
Tell us about the creation of your favourite character from Jacqueline’s books
Tracy Beaker will always be my favourite character to draw. For one thing she’s nice and easy – I just have to do the wonderfully untameable hair to sum up her exuberant character and make her instantly recognisable. I was following Tracy’s own description of herself in the text, but I decided to make her hair extra-curly.
What do you hope children take away from your drawings?
I just want my illustrations to be enjoyed by their intended audience, but I’m really delighted whenever I hear that they’ve inspired children to do their own drawings.
Why do adult’s books stop having illustrations?
I don’t know. I think it would be great to have more illustrations in adult novels but you hardly ever see even tiny chapter headings. Not that long ago lots of magazines used to run a novel extract with a full page colour illustration alongside and I remember the enormous pleasure that was to be had studying that illustration.
How many times do you tend to draw a character until it’s right, and also how do you know that it is right?
I like my drawings to look pretty spontaneous but every illustration goes through at least half a dozen roughs before I get to the artwork stage. I know it’s right – or rather I know it’s not right – instinctively.
Can you give some advice to any illustrators out there who may be looking to become a children’s book illustrator?
I’m sure I once read a quote by John Vernon Lord (one of my illustrator heroes) about the need for professional illustrators to be able to convince themselves that they can draw anything at all. I think that’s the philosophy to have – of course it also means really working on your lateral thinking skills!
What is an illustrated book (aside from Jacqueline’s) that you think is essential for children to read?
I’d recommend anything by Janet and Allan Ahlberg.
How does it feel when you’re drawing?
It feels like it’s something over which I have control (even when I’m struggling hard to work out how to draw something difficult) and that’s a good feeling.
Daydreams and Diaries, the Story of Jacqueline Wilson will be exhibited at the Museum of Childhood from 5 April – 2 November 2014