Howard has always been captivated by animals and art. After finishing his PhD in dolphin genetics, he pursued a career as a children’s illustrator. We tracked Howard down at his Durham, UK, home and asked about his art process for our Ecosystem Food Webs series.
Q: The Ecosystem Food Webs series teaches kids how animals and plants rely on one another in nature. How did your science background and degrees help you illustrate this series?
HG: Firstly, I loved this project! It was so nice to be illustrating wildlife. With a background in zoology, this was right up my street! I suppose it gave me a motivation to really research the animals that feature in the series, in an effort to get things as accurate as possible, while still having fun with the characters of course!
Q: Your art is very expressive and detailed, it’s almost like we are catching the animals in action. What’s your technique for staging a scene?
HG: After gathering reference material, I first identify the most important thing, and try to convey that in an interesting way, using various composition methods. All the while, I'm making sure important elements are not in conflict with secondary elements or characters in a scene. It’s not something I always succeed at. I’m still developing as an artist, so every day’s a school day!
Q: What do you feel is the most challenging part of illustrating a book?
HG: For me, making sure recurring characters are consistent and recognizable throughout a book has always been my greatest challenge.
Q: Which book was your favorite to illustrate?
HG: That’s a tricky one, as they were all really fun! With my background in marine mammal science, you would think the marine food webs one. However, I think the freshwater book was my favourite! The heron’s ‘story’ was particularly fun.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration from? Are there other artists and illustrators you look up to or admire?
HG: I have a few favourite illustrators. Too many to list, but Benji Davies’ The Storm Whale was a kick to give illustration another serious go—I really enjoyed that book…and it was the perfect juxtaposition of what I had done before and what I am pursuing now. I also get a tremendous amount of inspiration from fellow artists I follow on social media—there are so many talented artists our there!
Q: When you’re not illustrating, what do you like to do?
HG: I like to cook (nothing fancy). With two little ones under three, they are a big part of the non-working day. Illustrating has somewhat taken me away from the sea, which is something I miss. But it’s great when there’s an opportunity to go for nice walks along the coast and keep an eye out for marine mammals.