Matthew Hodson, known to us and most illustration fans as Matthew the Horse, has illustrated the sweetest new children’s book: Don’t Hug The Pug. In Matthew’s signature wide-eyed and textured style this “short, silly story” by Robin Jacobs is one with such high levels of cute that it warmed our hearts, leaving us desperate to know why this pug cannot be hugged.
Contacted by publishers Cicada Books, Matthew was asked to illustrate Robin’s text into a conversational piece between a baby and parent. Matthew too is a parent which led the project to incidentally become quite a personal one: “My son was crawling around the house as I drew these pictures so I’d be lying if I said the boy in the book isn’t a version of him,” says the illustrator. “The toys on the floor are mostly toys my son has, his nappies look like that and his hair is curly in the same places.” Already providing consistent visual inspiration, Matthew took the opportunity to see the world from his son’s eyes, “reviewing all the ways I found myself getting down on the floor to get on his level and thinking I’d draw such positions! Great research!”
The pug too – who if full of mischievous character – is based on someone Matthew knows. Following “lots of development sketches, lots of Google image exploration,” the illustrator then remembered Bart, “a charming, hairy gentleman I used to be flatmates with,” he tells us. He continues that those who may be from the Leeds area and know Bart will recognise “it’s all in the snout.” With reference points decided for the characters, in terms of illustration style Don’t Hug the Pug sees Matthew “trying to let my lines get more gestural, loose and perhaps even a bit uglier in an attempt to carry more charm,” he describes. “So drawing pugs was a great opportunity to explore this further.”
And, while this book doesn’t use Matthew’s own writing – the illustrator’s last book saw him writing short poems combined with his illustrations – it’s a book he’ll always remember. “I very much enjoy the sense of connection between the dad and the baby,” he concludes. “I guess it’ll always remind me of those early days with my son. Gah, what a softy. Pipe down dad.”
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