ILLUSTRATOR INTERVIEW: Chris Nixon
How did you become interested in becoming an illustrator?
I was always interested. For as long as I can remember I’ve been into drawing. My mum enrolled me in art classes when I was five or six, and that was it, really. I did oil painting and went sketching outdoors, that kind of thing. When I left school I knew I’d study art at university – there was really no question of doing anything else.
I started out doing a course in multimedia design and animation, but later I switched to the Bachelor of Design, majoring in Illustration, at Curtin. I completed that in 2007.
You were discovered by Fremantle Press at your graduate exhibition. What did you exhibit?
My exhibition was a children’s book that I wrote and illustrated. That was really because in the later part of my course I had a teacher who encouraged me to draw children’s books. So I came to children’s book design a bit later.
How would you describe your style?
That’s a hard question! It’s difficult to say. I guess I’m interested in capturing the imagination and wonder of kids. I like to focus on how they see things.
The little girl in Crocodile Cake and Jake in Jake’s Gigantic List are certainly captured with a lot of expression. Where did the inspiration come from?
We agreed Crocodile Cake would be set in Fremantle, so I took plenty of photos of the houses and streets for reference. A lot of the house in Crocodile Cake is the one I live in. And the little girl…some friends have a daughter who I drew a portrait of a few years ago, and the character in this book is very much based on her. The rest of the characters from Crocodile Cake are either based on my own family or close friends. It’s all very close to home.
With Jake I really wanted to capture the excitement of a young boy around his birthday, so I tried to remember what that felt like. Jake’s character needed to be cheeky, fun and naÃ¯ve all at the same time, so it was fun for me to illustrate his expression.
Jake’s Gigantic List has a lot more text than Crocodile Cake. To what extent do you see your illustrations either supporting or changing the story in each?
Jake’s was actually more difficult to illustrate, as I had to think of it more as an accompaniment to the text, as something to help kids understand the text.
They were both great to work on, though perhaps Jake’s was more fun. There was more variation in its setting and Jake’s imagination could really run wild. The illustrations were black and white so colour wasn’t an issue whereas with Crocodile Cake I had to think about the finished product a lot more and where the strong colours would be and keep it all in my mind. Cate [the editor] and I decided to start out with warm colours and move into cool colours, to help kids feel the move from daytime to night time to morning again.
Considering the young audience for these titles, how did you adapt your style to suit?
It was easy because I looked to the characters first. With Crocodile Cake I was stumbling through, as it was my first book, but Cate guided me a lot. For both books, once the characters were stylised that just carried through the whole book.
Do you see yourself primarily as a children’s illustrator?
My ultimate goal is to work in animated film production. But I see children’s books as a good avenue to get into that, because doing a kids book is a lot like illustrating a storyboard. For the moment I think I’ll stick with children’s illustrating. I really enjoy it.
What do you enjoy most about the illustrative process?
Definitely the initial stages, when I start thinking about the characters and developing ideas.
Where to from here?
I’m currently doing some freelance illustration. Actually, I’m working on some album artwork for an EP from a heavy metal band – completely opposite to children’s illustration! But I’ve also signed up to illustrate a children’s book with an independent publisher. I’m just happy to have my illustrations published and I look forward to the next project. I feel my technique and quality of illustration is improving with every piece of work I do. Hopefully a book I illustrate can be turned into a film one day.