Illustrator Spotlight: Andy Gray

© Andy Gray

June 1, 2019

On the first of each month in 2019, we feature an illustrator who won or placed in our Kidlit411 Banner Contest, and we switch our website banner and Facebook page cover image. Today we present Andy Gray.  


Tell us about yourself and how you came to illustrate for children.

I've been an artist all my life, and sold my first piece for £10 when I was just 14 to a girl in my youth group (1984 ... ).  I had a piece just a year later valued at what today would have been £500! Not bad. I dabbled on the side for a few years because I had no formal training, and because I never went to artschool I didn't have the contacts needed to break in to the industry. It wasn't until I worked for a major international Christian publishing company as one of the field staff working with churches to work with children, that I got something of a break and started illustrating books.  It is now so much easier with the internet. Just keep doing the art, publishing on line, and the work seems to come in. In fact, I have to turn down quite a lot of work I'd love to do, hence creating a course (see below!)

Jack Rabbit © Andy Gray


I took a short break whilst I trained to be a minister, then 3 years back I started looking at getting back into illustrating and helping authors tell their stories.  The business took off, I am pleased to say.

Congrats on your Kidlit411 banner! Tell us how you approached this illustration and your thought process behind it.


© Andy Gray

All my art process is the same: I just want to have fun.  It always starts with scribbles and blotches and blobs. It's a bit like staring at clouds and making pictures out of the clouds.  Only the clouds I also start with by creating well-designed compositions which also include the text.  So composition, blobs, ideas... and boom. It's all a bit alchemistic to be honest.

Fearless © Andy Gray


After that it's just a case of doing it as quickly as possible, but then redraw a few times until I have nailed it.  Speed and iteration rather than perfect first time.  The key is to use as few strokes as possible to tell the story needed.  The energy I try to inject into my art seems infectious when kids read it.

I've taken the longest route possible to illustration, and it's meant I have become a very odd hybrid of concept artist, designer and illustrator.

SPIKE AND IZZY by Emma Price © Andy Gray


You've worked a lot with schools in your career. Tell us about that and how it influences your storytelling and illustrations.

For most of my working life I have been a minister of one form or another working with children and young people. And I find it quite odd when people say they find working with children hard. It's easy for me.  Maybe it is because I also have an autistic brain?  No idea!
I have told hundreds of stories, thousands of times.  And I have watched as children react. So it gives me a really big insight as to what works and what doesn't. When I am writing or illustrating, I imagine the kids in front of me, and see what their reaction is.

Fluffy Cat © Andy Gray


The process of storytelling isn't as simple as beginning, middle and end. You have to really think about something my facebook friend at Story Greenlight, Jeff Bartsch, says, which is 'the thing under the thing' (its genius! Check youtube). There are many layers, its not just the story. Under the story is the experience you are trying to build. People think it's just the kid reading the book which is the experience, but it isn't. In our world, the experience is the parent/carer and child relationship. If you write a book which enhances that relationship then that book will get pulled from the shelves again and again. Under that then comes what the story is actually about, and then a moral, if you want it.

THE UNEXPECTED STRANGER by Tony Bower © Andy Gray

I see so many self publishing authors writing the 'to teach you a lesson' type stories and getting everything back to front.  Go watch what Jeff has done on his youtube channel and you'll get the idea.  You can tell the same story, but its how you tell it, and what bits you put into it or don't that convey your messages.
Find your story, create the experience, convey the message.

To get those deeper layers you have to understand language, what makes kids tick, what they are interested in, what they find fun.  You must stay being the child in your heart and experience the world in that way.  If you do that, then you can begin to tell the story.

For the illustrations, I am there to enhance the story, to tell what isn't written, to create experiences of hunting the pictures for side stories.  As a child I would stare at picture books for hours, looking for the new details I had never spotted before.

What is your preferred medium and who are some of your artistic influences?

Anything is what I work in, though I love pencil and inks with textures. I specialise if I get half the chance in black and white. I work mostly digitally only for practical reasons. When I was working for the publishing company I started using Photoshop and a Wacom tablet.  Turns out looking back I was a really early adopter! I didn't realise it. It was just a way for me to save space and not keep scanning pictures all the time.

THE ANIMALS OF SPENCER FOLD by Phillip Young © Andy Gray


The reasons haven't really changed. I can turn work around more quickly digitally.  I can also make changes. But I pride myself on what we used to call tradigital techniques, so I use my software just as I would traditional media.  One book I completed in the last four months is done completely in ball point pen!

My favourite digital programs are Rebelle 3, and Artrage, mainly because they are comparatively inexpensive and of all the tools, they work, look and feel most like the traditional materials I love.

What projects are you working on now?

I've got a few things on the go at all times! So I am illustrating for a couple of self-publishing authors at the moment (NDA's not withstanding!)  - one book just completed (Peter Lynas: The Very Rude Toytoise ).

THE VERY RUDE TOYTOISE by Peter Lynas © Andy Gray


I've got a couple of my own projects I am also working on.
The biggest project though is the Undrawing course... which is aimed at helping indie kidlit authors to illustrate their own books, even if they have no idea which end to hold the pencil (if you get my point...ahem... these pencil jokes are a little wooden... arrrggghhh! can't stop!!!).  It's in early stages, though should be ready by November, I am just taking a cohort of students through it and seeing where the holes are.

It will take someone from self-editing, getting their book illustration ready, scripting, illustrating (teaching people how to draw), designing, book cover, marketing and getting onto the self-publishing platform. I've got a horrible feeling I have priced it too low, but we will see. I'm looking for people to signup just to say they are interested at the moment.

What is something most people don't know about you?

I like to dabble in all sorts of creative things... from DJing to creating videos on youtube.  All under the onegraydot banner.
Well not the djing...thats Revdjpriest.  

THE ANIMALS OF SPENCER FOLD by Phillip Young © Andy Gray


I'm an ordained minister in the Church of England...

My kids tell me I have a very large nose which they often call a shark fin, and I can touch the tip of my nose with my tongue... I have a ridiculously long tongue for some odd reason.  (tongues are really really cool because they are the only muscle in the body attached at one end!  Stay interested in the things kids are interested in. Did you know, for example, that the bubbles in bread are created by fungus farts....  think about it, you'll see what I mean).


THE ANIMALS OF SPENCER FOLD by Phillip Young © Andy Gray


Where can people find you online?

I'd really like to drop you to the information for the course I am putting together, if that's ok, as it's the way I am trying to serve the most people going forward while I am still coping with the workload from the bigger clients.


I prefer not to list everything I have done... its a bit 'hey look at everything I have done'. Instead, you're only as good as your last books. I won my first art prize when I was 10 years old by designing the logo for my school which they used for 20 years.  I don't have a formal art qualification, I learnt everything from studying other artists and reading books. So keep an eye out for Pete Lynas' book on THE VERY RUDE TOYTOISE, and you can probably order from Amazon, the book I illustrated with ball point pen from Alison Baxter: LOST PROPERTY.

4 comments:

  1. Inspiring post! Thank you for sharing your journey into illustration Andy. Love your work-so much energy!

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  2. Loved the advice urging kidlit writers to "stay being the child in your heart" - lovely sentiment and sound writing advice!

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  3. Fungus farts, huh? LOL. Yes, great advice to stay connected to the child you were (are). Thanks for a great interview! Fun banner!

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