Illustrator Diane Ewen has received one of the biggest accolades in the literary industry, being named Illustrator of the Fair at the prestigious London Book Fair 2022.
Known for her distinct, vivid designs that champion representation in children’s books, Wallsall born Diane Ewen follows in the footsteps of household names like Lauren Child (Charlie and Lola) and the late David McKee (Elmer.)
We caught up with Diane to find out about her journey from pen to prize-winner.
Congratulations on being 2022’s Illustrator of the Fair!
Thank you! Quite honestly I don’t know how it happened. It was a big surprise, I haven’t quite taken it in yet. It’s really nice to be alongside such a calibre of artists. I’ve always loved Lauren Childs. To know she was a previous Illustrator of the Fair and now I am, makes me think ‘wow!’
When did you decide to become an illustrator?
I started six to eight years ago as an illustrator and did all sorts of art, but I decided I wanted to be a children’s books Illustrator because they contain what I want to do. I want to draw kids having fun and all the fun colourful elements that make these books so enjoyable.
How would you describe your style of Illustration?
It’s colourful and fun! I mix painting with digital art. I might start with watercolour. Then I scan that in, put it in Photoshop and draw digitally. Sometimes I use pen and ink, it depends on how I’m feeling.
Your work champions diversity, what inspired that?
I can’t remember a person of colour in any of the books that I read or saw when I was young. Looking back if you asked me to name a single Illustrator or author of colour I couldn’t have done it. Diversity is my driving force. I want to include Black childen in all of my books though I am inclusive. I like to ensure the characters include Caucasian, Asian and Black children.
Children of all description read these books, so they need to see themselves in them.
What are some of the considerations that go into illustrating children’s books?
You have to keep things simple. Characters should be learning something fun and being dynamic. Anything that appeals to a child of three to five years or upwards that’s who I draw for. I always think what would that child be doing? I draw on life experiences. Illustrators have to be a sponge to what you see. I’ve always been observant to things around me and tap into those things as my resources.
How does the collaboration work between the author of the book and the illustrator?
Rashmi Sirdeshpande who I wrote the dinosaur books with didn’t have any expectations with regard to the images. A lot of authors don’t picture the visuals. We get assistance from a designer but it’s basically what I can see coming out from the words. I’m in charge of the pictures and the author the words, so the collaboration is right down the centre. We reflect the written word, but we put our own spin on it.
It sounds like a dream job, what are some of the more challenging aspects?
First of all you need to get an agent and I found that stressful. You know you’ve got something you really want to do and you know you need to have an agent but I found trying to find one difficult.
I emailed some agents I found online and one got back to me and said she only takes on one illustrator a year. I sent her my work and she really liked it and wanted to see more but I didn’t have enough examples so I mustered up all my energy to create new pieces to show her. In the end I approached The Bright Agency which is now my agent. They took me on without hesitation and it’s just been upwards since them. It’s not plain sailing but all the worry goes. They take care of the contract and leave you to get on with the creative stuff. Before I got signed I did study for a BA in Illustration but it’s not necessary. I know loads of people who don’t have a qualification but are still successful.
You’ve won a number of awards for your work, which is your favourite?
I love all of them! But the Queens Knicker’s Award in 2021 is great, I love the name but also it was our first award which I wasn’t expecting. And then the Jericho Prize (2021) was special because we were the first to win it. When we were short-listed for the Sainsbury’s Children’s Book Award it was also exciting. For as long as I’ve been going to Sainbury’s I’ve always looked at the bookshelf and thought ‘perhaps’ – so every award is special.
What’s the best part of being an Illustrator?
When I put the last tweaks on a set of roughs, I’m happy at that point. Then when I do the colour work, I enjoy that but then when I see it on the shelf it’s another rebirth of happiness. It never stops, you know people are reading it and then you read reviews and people say really kind words about the pictures so it’s a constant wave of happiness. I’m proud of my finished projects and then it’s really nice to get the accolades, it makes it all worthwhile. I also love the American reviews, I didn’t anticipate my work would go further than the British Isles so that’s a bonus!
Learn more about Diane Ewen’s work here.
This article was written by Momtaz Begum-Hossain