Award-winning author and illustrator Catherine Rayner studied Illustration at Edinburgh College of Art. She fell in love with the city and still lives there with her husband and young son. Catherine finds huge artistic inspiration in her pets and often uses them as models.
Catherine won the 2009 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal for Harris Finds His Feet, and has been shortlisted four times for the award. She was also awarded the Best New Illustrator Award at the Booktrust Early Years Awards in 2006 and was named one of Booktrust’s ten Best New Illustrators in 2008. In 2010, she was the inaugural illustrator in residence at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Her book Iris and Isaac won the UK Literacy Association Book Award in 2012.
What is your most vivid childhood memory? I remember being in a cot and wanting to get out! I think I can also remember my first night in a big bed in our old house. I remember all our pets and the day we got a puppy – a Dachshund called Wilfred. I was three years old.
What was your favorite book as a child, and why? I loved books, so had a lot of favourites. I particularly remember pouring over Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge books. I loved the detail and liked imagining mice really did have hidden palaces in tree trunks!
Where do you get inspiration for your books? I don’t have one single thing that inspires me so I’m not certain where it comes from. I have vivid memories of what I enjoyed reading as a child. This must feed in to my work.
My pets inspire my drawing, I sketch and photograph them all the time. The countryside and my garden feed my imagination when it comes to creating backgrounds. My son Finlay also tells me stories about his day. He has the most wonderful imagination.
Why do you choose to depict animals rather than humans? I do humans too, but I just like drawing animals better. I love the textures you can get into their coat, their whiskers, expressive ears, paws, tales, eyebrows, and well… everything else! They are so much fun to draw and the creative possibilities are endless.
Do you have a favorite animal? I don’t have a specific favorite, but I really, really love guinea pigs and horses.
Do you have a favorite colour? Blue makes me feel calm.
Who is your favorite artist? Elena Odriozola – she’s an amazing illustrator.
Which picture book artists do you admire most? Quentin Blake – the energy in his work is exhilarating. Elena Odriozola – her work is quirky and strange, but so beautiful. I also love Lauren Child’s illustrations, they are so playful and clever. I admire many, many more – too many to list here!
Tell us a little bit about how you put a book together I usually start with an idea for an animal I really want to draw. Then a character develops when I start drawing. Once I have the character a story starts to evolve, it’s very exciting once you realize a book idea might work. I have quite a few characters sitting in sketchbooks waiting for stories!
Once I have written the story, I’ll draw tiny layouts to try to figure out exactly how the story works. At this point, I’ll often tweak the text so it works well with the illustrations. This part of the process takes a very long time. Then I move on to colour roughs so I can position the text. Once I know exactly how the book is going to look I start on the final artwork.
I silk screen print my backgrounds then paint my characters on top. I usually spend around three months on the artwork and then design the cover right at the end.
All in all I spend around nine months on a book. But the idea has usually been brewing away in my head for years before hand.
How do you choose the animals to feature? I’ve always been fascinated by hares so I naturally wanted to do a book about them. I liked the idea of a colorful young hare and a big speckly old grandpa hare, who are the two characters in Harris Finds His Feet. I think part of the reason they are so lovely to draw is because they have such expressive ears!
I started drawing tigers because I spent a lot of time at Edinburgh Zoo. I spent hours watching them and I loved how their stripes moved when they moved making them change all the time. The sketches I made at the Zoo became Augustus and His Smile.
At the time, there was also a polar bear at the zoo, she was called Mercedes. I wanted to do a book about sharing and companionship. Mercedes lived on her own, which I thought was so sad. So in my book I gave her a friend and the duo became Iris and Isaac. I also wanted to paint her in natural, stunning surroundings and I liked the challenge of making what could be a ‘white book’ into a really colourful story.
Abigail the giraffe was born because I was doodling when I was on the telephone one day. I had seen giraffes at the zoo and been amazed by them but that wasn’t the reason I started drawing them. The more I doodled, the more unusual and beautiful I realized they were. As a character, Abigail just appeared in my sketchbook one day, and I knew she would love to be good at counting!
Sylvia and Bird was completely different. I wanted to explore a mythical creature so I had no boundaries for a change, but she is actually based on a seahorse. Painting bright blue spots and wings was a real treat. I’d never seen a dragon like Sylvia – so the story of her searching for somebody who looked the same seemed obvious to me.
Do you have a favorite book of your own? I’ll always have a soft spot for Augustus because he was the first book I ever made. He’s such a soulful tiger and I still enjoy painting pictures of him. He feels like a trusty old friend!
What is your son’s favorite book? Finlay’s favorite book changes daily. At the moment we are reading Beware of The Storybook Wolves by Lauren Child a lot, he’s a bit obsessed with wolves. We also love I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen; it makes him giggle. The Thomas the Tank Engine series is also a firm favorite.