Mark Beech

Mark Beech

Mark Beech Interview

Mark Beech

Children's Illustrator

Who or what made you want to become an illustrator?

I have always been an illustrator. From a tiny child I drew. I drew on paper, walls, carboard, anything that allowed me to tell my stories in pictures. As I started to read I was captivated more by the illustrations in books and always tried to re create my own version. I was lucky enough to have a family who supported me in this and when I started school I had a fantastic art teacher who took the baton from them and encouraged me to draw as well as explore other areas of creativity such as pottery. I am amazed to this day that my primary school had a pottery department and a working kiln! Marvellous.

How and why did you decide to pursue illustration as your career?

I have always illustrated but took my degree in fashion and textile design. I had a tutor on that course to thank for starting my career as he helped me realise I was an illustrator and went out of his way to introduce me to people who made a living from their illustration work, and could help me start my career.  Until then I had no idea it was possible to do that. This was a before the internet and I am grateful to this day for their help and support.

Did you attend art school or undertake any other formal artistic training?

Yes. When I left School I took two year art foundation course in Lancashire where I lived, then went on to study a BA in fashion and textile design in South England. My two year foundation course gave me a real grounding in all aspects of art and art history, and again introduced me to people who thought like I did. It was a great two years and I am still friends with many of the people I met on the course.

Where do you currently live and where did you grow up?

I currently live in the wilds of Lancashire, England in the Forest of Bowland. I was also born in Lancashire, but lived in London for many years before finally being drawn back home. The Forest of Bowland is a beautiful part of the world and the exact opposite to Shoreditch. So from the middle of the countryside to the middle of the city and back again!

Was creativity part of your childhood?

Absolutley. My earliest memory of being involved in something creative was with my Granfather who owned a butchers shop. Every Christmas he would decorate the shop windows with holly, ivy, and I am afraid with pheasant and other game. I loved spending the evenings with him putting it all together and he always encouraged me to try new ways of doing things. My sister and I were in the local choir, and drama clubs, so we had a good grounding in creativity from a very early age and we were always encouraged by our parents and family. We were very lucky.

Have you always loved to draw?

Absolutely. It was just something that I had to do. I even illustrated my bedroom walls when I was a tiny child, which ruined the wallpaper but it didn't seem to bother my parents. They just let me do it and when I had run out of space they re decorated!

Who or what have been some of your major artistic influences?

What a good question. When I was young I was given a book called "Once Long Ago" which was illustrated by an artist called Vojtech Kubasta. His work is stunning and I couldn't believe how much detail he could incorporate in his illustrations. 

I also loved Jan Pienkowski's sillouette work, as well as anything by the great Quentin Blake. Another book that really influenced me was A Tolkien Bestiary written by David Day and illustrated by various artists such as Ian Miller, Michael Foreman and Lidia Postma. It's a beautifully illustrated book and I thoroughly recommend it.

Do you have a favourite picture book or recall one of the first picture books you saw?

It has to be The Very Hungry Caterpillar. What a fantastically designed book. Eric Carle did a wonderful job there.

Describe your working technique and how you came to perfect it.

I work in black ink for the line work and use anything that will give me an interesting line. I am currently using bamboo dip pens a lot. They give a lovely and varied line. For colour, I use watercolour inks. They give lovely bright colours that don't "muddy up" and of course photoshop for tidying things up.

What piece of software or hardware could you not live without and why?

Photoshop. What did we do without it? Also a good A3 Scanner and the biggest lightbox money can buy. All essential items of kit for me.

Do you keep a sketch book?

Yes. I always sketch. I do a lot of character work so observing people/animals moving and trying to capture it is always very useful. 

How many times do you tend to draw a character until you are happy with it?

Usually two attempts and I am there. I do a lot of prep work and play around with ideas before I do an actual character. Getting the movement right before focusing on the characters' details is the best way I find to work.

Which project has been most instrumental in developing your personal style?

I don't think I can site one project. I have been lucky enough to be able to work with The Enid Blyton estate as well as Sir Terry Pratchett's estate and the work I have done for them has been instrumental in my style development over recent years. I worked on a cover for a book written by Michael Rosen and Walker Books which I really liked and has influenced my work since too. It's a simple cover, but it seemed to work.  

Mark Beech interview image 0

Have you ever thought about trying out a different technique or a different style?

I am trying out new things all the time. When I am briefed for a project I listen carefully to the needs of the client and adapt my style to meet those requirements. I think it's very important to look at the brief and adapt my technique to meet it.

How long does it take on average for you to finish a spread, from initial sketch to final colour?

A double page spread can take up to two days depending on the complexity of the illustration, whether it is a black and white or a colour illo. So it all depends on what I am illustrating.

Where do you get the ideas for your characters?

From my sketchbook. Magazines T.V shows, or just observing life. There is inspiration all around us, which is why I keep that  sketchbook handy.

Share your favourite piece of artwork from your portfolio and walk us through its creation.

I have lots of favourite images, but I do particularly like this image which came from Terry Pratchett's "Dragons at Crumbling Castle". In the book, the Town of Blackbury are trying to get tourists to visit and to do so invent a fake Blackbury Monster which is supposed to live in the depths of the local pond.

It was a group setting which needed to fit a full page and capture everyone trying to spot the monster. Whilst reading the story, I made notes of who was mentioned and which pages they needed to be seen on. After that it was a case of sketching out the scene in a larger format than the print size and going from there. The story usually gives me all I need to know in terms of coming up with ideas. I think the final drawing turned out to be fun. 

Mark Beech interview image 0

Have you visited any schools to speak or hold workshops?

Yes, I have. I really enjoyed doing it too. I developed an illustration workshop idea and as a group the children and I came up with a story and illustrated it together. It was a great thing to do and involved all the children in various tasks. I have always enjoyed running the school workshops and its great to encourage children to tell stories and to draw!

Animals feature heavily in children’s books – do you have a pet?

I have a dog called Bungle. He is a lovely chocolate lab, and is a great life model too!

Mark Beech interview image 0

Connect With Us