Meeting Makers – The Children’s Book Illustrator

Sarah McIntyre

Photo by Blast Photo

I say Sarah McIntyre’s an illustrator, but really she’s a Renaissance Woman. Author, illustrator, devotee of vintage hats and glasses, collaborator, spokesperson, photographer – she has it all. And she just happens to share studio space with the knitter, Deadly Knitshade!

Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve

Photo by Blast Photo

I thought Sarah’s life couldn’t get any more creative,  but when I glimpsed photos from the press launch of her latest children’s book, Oliver and the Seawigs, I realised I’d seriously underestimated this woman. Her creativity had reached its zenith with A WIG MADE OUT OF CLING FILM. You read right. Prepare to meet a maker most extraordinary. I give you, Sarah McIntyre !

Sarah, it’s safe to say that your wig took my breath away and I’m sure it knocked the odd eye out too. In a minimum of words, can you tell us what it was made of?

Sarah: It’s cling film! I had an old pith helmet and my sculptor friend Eddie Smith built me a base for the wig out of wire and mod rock, all coming out of the helmet. Then we stuck on mod rock tentacles and used a glue gun to fasten big cling film curls. You can see the whole process with photos over on my blog!


Photo courtesy of Sarah McIntyre

How did the general public react when you made your entrance at The Golden Hinde?

S: I was mostly trying to keep my balance, but my co-author, Philip Reeve, had loads of fun watching passers-by walk up, spot me, and stop dead in their tracks. I got wide smiles and ended up posing for quite a lot of photos!

Tell us how you came to share studio space with Deadly Knitshade. Does she drag you into her knitting projects?

S: Well, sadly I’ve never learned how to knit or crochet, but I’ve had such larks getting involved in her projects. You can spot me and my Fleece Station studio mates modelling a lovely knitted book cover in her book Stitch London. And when we launched my Vern and Lettuce book, she played a big role in organising it and brought along her knitting mates, showing people how to make little knitted sheep (‘cos the book stars a sheep, named Vern). We had a whole bunch of different prizes for the sheep, it was a great party. We both love making little characters and larger-than-life costumes and talking with her always gives me new ideas.

mcintyre_vernlettuceNew Vern and Lettuce paperback cover, coming out on 1 August.

Can you give my readers one top tip for unleashing their own creativity? How did you learn to be so fearless?

S: I suppose there’s always the fear that books won’t sell, and I’ll have to find another means of earning my keep. But as for being fearless, I’m very tall and I’ve always been a bit clumsy, had fashion disasters and put my foot in it when I’m in conversations. I had to get used to that, it wasn’t going to change. And that extends to drawing, I had to get used to making bad drawings sometimes, and occasionally even revelling in drawing things that I’m not particularly good at, and accepting that they won’t be perfect. When I draw someone’s portrait, for example, I usually draw the first portrait quite badly. But it’s what I need to get to know their face, and explore the shape of it. Then the second drawing often turns out much better because I understand their face better. Some of the best art techniques I’ve learned when I was making bad drawings, and I was able to use them in making better drawings.

I tell that to kids, when they ask me how to get into making books as a profession. I tell them that it’s not about waiting until they’re grown up and going to art college, it’s about… making books. Now! Make lots of books, make lots of BAD books! Photocopy them, swap them or sell them at small press fairs for a few pounds, even 20p. And they’ll find that bad books become less bad books, and gradually they become good books. There’s nothing shameful in doing something badly, as long as you don’t peddle it forever as your final crowning achievement; keep making, don’t stop.

Sarah McIntyre

What is Oliver and the Seawigs about?

S: Oliver Crisp’s parents are explorers. Oliver’s never had a home, his parents have always been whisking him on their backs through dangerous swamps and dodging lava with him in his pram. At last, there’s nothing left in the world to explore, so they decide to settle down in their house by the seaside. Except… what is this? There are islands in the bay in front of their house that the Crisps have never seen before. They must be explored! Oliver’s parents rush off in their dinghy while he unpacks in the house. But when he looks out the window, he sees his parents’ dingy washed up on the shore and they’re nowhere to be seen. The islands, too, have disappeared.

Oliver sets off to find his parents, which turns into a rescue mission because they have been kidnapped by a fearsome island! And as for the Seawigs, every island wishes, above all else, to have REALLY GOOD HAIR. …Hair which may or may not contain sea monkeys and a short-sighted mermaid with a big backside and a terrible singing voice. They’re quite competitive about this.

But no more spoilers! I think this is some of my best artwork yet, I really hope you love both the story and the pictures. I imagine adults will love it, kids above, say, 7 will love reading it, and younger kids will love it being read to them. A weird and wonderful sea adventure for everyone.

Thanks so much, Sarah! I love your thoughts on creativity and overcoming fear and the book sounds crazy awesome. I am so buying that when it comes out next month.

For more photos from the Oliver and the Seawigs pre-launch party, go here. Oliver and the Seawigs launches on Wednesday, 4 September at Daunt Books, Marylebone (see poster) with Oxford University Press. It promises to be a gem. It’s written by Philip Reeve of Mortal Engines fame and illustrated by Sarah.


What do you think to Sarah’s wig, readers? What’s the most outrageous costume you’ve ever made?

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15 Responses to Meeting Makers – The Children’s Book Illustrator

  1. oh, that is just wonderful

  2. Philippa says:

    I think it’s amazing. I love this series about creative people!

  3. Uta says:

    That’s amazing. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I love that wig! And thank you Sarah for sharing your creative process.

  5. KnitNell says:

    The wig is fabulous, there are never enough pink wigs in the world! – and I had a peek at Sarah’s blog – she sounds like she has a great time with her creativity. V interesting Post – thanks DYMK

  6. Steph says:

    Vern and Lettuce is so adorable – really recommend buying it. That wig is amazong – a very talented woman

  7. yesilikethat says:

    An amazing project, what a inspiring woman! Also, brilliant advice on creativity, reminds me of that Ira Glass quote. You have to be bad at things before you can be good. I am by no means talented at drawing but I enjoy it and have found the same thing – if you worry about making it perfect first time, you’ll never put a mark on the page.

    • Yes! I was going to say that Ira Glass (of This American Life) said something really similar about having the courage to keep making bad work until it gets better. So inspiring! Thanks Karen and Sarah!

  8. Stephanie says:

    Wow I kind of want to be her! I think she has it all figured out. I will buy that book! 🙂

  9. senjiva says:

    I cannot contain my excitement! This sounds amazing!!! (ok, yes, I am an adult…no I’m not!!!!!)

  10. eumoronorio says:

    oh I want to hunt down her books for my son now! The drawings are so fun and so is she!

  11. lisa g says:

    the book sounds super fun, and WOW that wig! thanks for sharing!

  12. liza jane says:

    Awesome! Love that wig!

  13. Pingback: Meeting Makers – The Author | Did You Make That?

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