Illustrator Interview: Paul Kidby

Self taught artist Paul Kidby was born in West London in 1964.  He left school at 17 and worked as a commercial artist before becoming a freelance illustrator in 1986. He is best known for being the ‘artist of choice’ for the award winning writer Sir Terry Pratchett, and has designed the ‘Discworld’ book jackets since 2002 and has illustrated many ‘Discworld’ publications including ‘The Art of Discworld’ and best-selling ‘The Last Hero’.

Paul has also increasingly built himself a reputation as a sculptor and his limited edition bronzes are collected worldwide. Kidby original artwork and bronzes have been exhibited in London, Paris and widely around the U.K. Today Paul balances his output between Pratchett and his own projects and lives and works in the New Forest with his wife Vanessa.

1) How did you become an illustrator of children’s books or similar works?
I became an illustrator of books by working at various jobs in the commercial creative industry that gradually edged me another step on the ladder closer to my goal. My journey began at the age of 17 and included making false teeth, painting roller blinds, designing rice pudding and lightbulb packaging, creating greetings card designs and finally over 200 magazine covers – which paid the bills but was not  exactly creatively satisfying.  My life changed in 1994 when author Terry Pratchett was doing a book signing in the city of Bath, I queued for a few hours to meet him and handed him an envelope of my Discworld character designs.  Terry phoned me when he had completed his signing tour to say he liked my drawings and that we might work together.

2) Describe your illustration style and creative process. What makes your illustrations unique and different?
My style is traditional. I use old techniques and processes and don’t create my work digitally.  I use hard leaded pencils on smooth white paper or board and for colour I work in oils or acrylics, which I build up in thin layers.  I enjoy working tonally and my style is rather meticulous and detailed. I am inspired by The Golden Age of illustration when beautiful books were adorned by the works of Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac and their skilled contemporaries.

3) Has technology changed your trade and the way you work?
It has not changed the way I create my work but I scan my work and send digital files these days rather than sending the original artwork to the publishers.  Social networking has also changed my working habits, I now feel part of an online community rather than an isolated artist!

4) As a self-taught artist, when did you realise you could make a living from your talent?
I have always made a living from my talent since the age of 17, through hard work,  determination and my choice to initially settle for lower paid creative work rather than higher paid uncreative work.  I was, and still am, lucky to have a supportive family.

5) When collaborating with an author or a client, how do you ensure you are able to translate their words into art and convey the message they are trying to portray?
One of the best parts of illustration is the design process where the text is interpreted into line; I find this the most fun and also the most challenging aspect of the work.  I read the text carefully, make notes and, as a starting point, I often think of an actor who might play the character. Good communication with the client is important at this stage too, for example I originally drew the Discworld character Ponder Stibbons to look like John Lennon but when Terry saw my sketch he told me he imagined him to look more like Bill Gates, so I redesigned him accordingly!

6) Tell us about your collaboration with the late Terry Pratchett and what opportunities did you gain from such a partnership?
The chance to visualise the Discworld was a life changing opportunity for me.  In the early years I would meet Terry often to discuss ideas and show him my sketches.  We shared a fascination for history, folklore and a slightly off the wall sense of humour which enabled us to connect our mediums in a happy union.  The chance to illustrate the book jackets and internals for so many of his books was an amazing privilege for me and I will always be grateful to him for allowing me to wander his world with my sketchbook.

7) Who or what continues to inspire your work from painting to sculpturing?
I am inspired by the natural world: the flora and fauna of the landscape around me and the folklore of The British Isles. I enjoy and take inspiration from attending galleries and exhibitions of all sorts of art. I have a large collection of art and reference books and I enjoy watching  films to see how others have created characters, costumes and environments for the big screen.

8) What advice do you have for aspiring illustrators when first dealing with a publishing house?
My advice is to maintain good polite communication and be punctual with schedules and deadlines. It’s also important to remember you are working as part of a team, therefore you must expect your work to be critiqued, changes requested and digital alterations with colour tones etc made by the design team, it’s part of the process and not a reason to take umbrage!

9) Please provide a short brief of each of the pictures you have submitted
Colour artwork for the book jacket of The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett.

The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett

Colour artwork for the book jacket of Diary of a Mad Brownie by Bruce Coville.

Diary of a Mad Brownie by Bruce Coville

Discworld Massif, a large scale painting featuring over 70 favourite characters from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld

Auld Goggie, a character from The Charmed Realm book by Paul & Vanessa Kidby.

The Charmed Realm book by Paul & Vanessa Kidby

Should you wish to know more about Paul, here are his pertinent details.

Website: Paul Kidby
Paul’s social media connections:

   Linked In Icon

13 thoughts on “Illustrator Interview: Paul Kidby

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this insightful interview inside the workings of a masterful illustrator such as, Paul Kidby. I found it fascinating the way he described his technique of putting himself into the role of an actor when reading the writer’s lines before creating his art. And, I love the fact that he doesn’t do digital, but still creates by hand. To me, nothing can match brush strokes of fingertip imagination! Having just published a children’s book Babies of Two, with our fellow blogger, artist Alisa Belzil, I understand the method behind her magic a bit more than ever before.

    Liked by 1 person

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