Spotlight On: David Barrow

It’s time for the next of our super Spotlight On interviews, where we catch up with one of our many talented authors and illustrators to find out their likes and dislikes, motivations and inspirations. This time we’ve turned the spotlight on the fantastic author and illustrator David Barrow.
David has been a shelf-stacker, a library assistant, a call-centre worker, a civil servant and a printer, before he joined the world-renowned Children’s Book Illustration MA at Anglia Ruskin CSA. Whilst on the course, David created his first picture book, Have You Seen Elephant? which was published by Gecko Press in October 2015. He won the Sebastian Walker award for new talent in children’s book illustration at his degree show and was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. David’s second picture book as author-illustrator Fergus Barnaby Goes on Holiday was published by Hodder in June 2017. David is represented at the agency by Helen Mackenzie Smith.

What inspired you to start drawing and writing picture books?

After leaving university I worked in a children’s library which reignited my love of picture books. I didn’t do anything about that love for years until, unsure what to do with my life, I started an MA at the Cambridge School of Art in Children’s Book Illustration. So really it was the tutors there, Martin Salisbury and Pam Smy, that inspired me to try and get into picture book making. Basically this is all their fault.

What comes first: The drawing, the character or the story?

Everything starts with a simple idea (it has to be simple. My brain is very small). Then drawings, words and characters will develop fractally from that. I find a good way of generating initial ideas is by keeping a sketchbook and long walks are great for sorting plot development etc. in my head.

What artist’s tool could you not work without?/ What is your usual medium, or––if you use a variety—your preferred one?

Being really lazy, I tend to use whatever medium is nearest to me at that particular time so I don’t have to move very far. However, I composite everything digitally in Paint Shop Pro so I guess I couldn’t work without that. No one’s ever heard of Paint Shop Pro. Other illustrators laugh at me for using it and I’m the bane of art directors everywhere.

If you weren’t an illustrator/author what would you like to be?

Throughout primary school I was definitely going to be a fighter pilot until I learnt that you had to do maths. So then naturally I decided on becoming an international rock star. I refuse to give up on this dream. Picture book making is merely a stop-gap.

From Fergus Barnaby Goes on Holiday (Hodder)

If you could collaborate with any other picture book writer/illustrator, past or present who would it be and why?

We’re such a solitary bunch, I think if we’re honest the word “collaborate” fills us with fear. However, I’d love to sit in on Jon Klassen’s work process and steal all of his ideas.

Who is your favourite picture book character, and why?

The monster from Not Now, Bernard by David McKee. He’s so mean and ultimately pathetic. How brilliant that he is the main character in a picture book.

From Troll Stroll (Nosy Crow)

What’s your favourite word/colour?

Towel and wenge. Mmmmm….wenge towel.

What was your favourite book when you were growing up?

The first book I could recite off by heart was The Runaway Roller Skate by John Vernon Lord. I also remember really looking forward to visiting my aunt, because she had a copy of Cannonball Simp by John Burningham which I was mildly obsessed with.

From Fergus Barnaby Goes on Holiday (Hodder)

What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?

My band once supported Supergrass (google ‘em kids) at the Shepherds Bush Empire. We blew up their amp. They were really impressed probably.

What has been your career highlight so far?

It’s a lovely feeling when books that I’ve poured blood, sweat and tears into get released into the wild. I’m just grateful that I’m doing something that I love. However, I’m not as grateful when I’m working at half three in the morning, but them’s the breaks!

From Ice Sea Pirates (Gecko Press)

Bonus question: what classic book of any genre would you most like to illustrate?

I’d love to illustrate Dracula by Bram Stoker. Bit of a departure from picture books. Also, illustrating Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere would be ace.


Next week will see the publication of a brand new picture book illustrated by David called Troll Stroll written by Elli Woollard and published by Nosy Crow, and you can pre-order a copy here. David is currently working on illustrations for the middle grade adventure Ice Sea Pirates written by Frida Nilsson which will be published by Gecko Press later in the year.
To see his full portfolio please click here, and you can keep up to date with David by following him on Twitter and Instagram!