Thursday 1 December 2011

Introducing Mr Steve Lenton - Illustrator, animator and Christmas magic maker!

The nights are drawing in, the puffed up Robin in the garden gorges itself on the meaty delights of the 'lard ball', aunties have started panic buying Lindor chocolate balls in bulk and at last the Christmas Coca Cola advert is on television ..every 2.5 minutes. It MUST be almost Christmas!

In a last ditch bid to escape the frenzy of Christmas shopping and visiting relatives I have managed to avoid all year I have battened the hatches on  Book Sniffer Towers in an attempt to create the wondrous yule tide of yesteryear.
Mouse and I have been sitting aside the newly bedecked tree threading popcorn and cranberries onto strings, licking and sticking brightly coloured paper chains and topping up the rum in the rapidly emptying bottle of pre-mixed Snowball cocktail.

This evening we are to don our very best Christmas jumpers because we have a very special guest! Yes indeedy super-suave Steve Lenton is popping by for a sweet sherry and a biscuit!
I first became a fan of Lentons Charming retro style illustrations whilst perusing gifts on
Not usually a fan of fungus I found my heart was stolen away by his festive toadstools, which are simply sublime and from then on I have followed his career with eager anticipation

HARK! who's that ringing on the doorbell? Is it the WI door-to-door carol singers cadging for free mince pies ? NO it's the delectable Steve Lenton with an armful of his wonderful 2DScrumptious goodies!
Looks mighty chilly out there come one in and warm your cockles by the fire side...would you like a small sweet sherry?

Dreaming of a White Christmas..
. *tops up scooner with more sweet sherry*

So Steven tell us how you first got into the Children's publishing industry and how you have found working with two such dynamic and visionary publishers (namely Nosy Crow and Little Tiger Press)
(Feel free to let us know which held the best Christmas party! wink wink...)

Thanks for inviting me here Mr Sniffer! Might I say you are looking particularly dashing in your festive knit! *Sniffer blush alert*

 I’m really thrilled about my book projects. With Nosy Crow I am designing a really funny picture book written by Tracey Corderoy entitled ‘Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam’. This book is FULL of dogs and CRAMMED with cakes – you’re going to love it!

llustration copyright Steven Lenton 2011
From Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam, written by Tracey Corderoy, to be published by Nosy Crow 2013

 With Little Tiger I am creating some fun, vibrant board books featuring some charmingly perky penguins. These books are a first for Little Tiger because they contain foil and embossed elements, which has been a fun and interesting design process!

Five Christmas Penguins © Steven Lenton, published by Little Tiger Press, London, 2012
I’m really excited and very lucky to have deals with such fantastic publishers and I can’t wait for them to be in the shops next year!

You were recently shortlisted for the Waterstone's Picture This competition with your illustrations for Beauty and the Beast (also shortlisted Book Sniffer Pal - Matt Robertson!) Was it an enjoyable experience? DO you think you'd like to illustrate a collection of fairy tales in the future?

The Waterstones competition was the first one I have ever entered so I was over the Alfie moon to be shortlisted. It was a fun and important experience for me as it encouraged us all to think of the overall design of a book within a very short time. I loved designing the Beast character and sketching all the 32 pages was a joy. It would be a dream atop a dream to illustrate a Fairytale story or collection. I would love to design some really weird and wonderful classical characters!

Katie Price eat your heart out!

(c) Steven Lenton
Creating picture books must be a dream come true...what did you want to be when you were a child?

When I was little my dad always read me the large, beautifully illustrated hardback versions of all the classic children’s stories at bedtime.  From ‘The Faraway Tree’ to’ The Hobbit’ and ‘The Wizard of Oz’, I fell in love with the combination of fantastical stories and sumptuous illustrations.   I think it was from then on that I knew that I wanted to create my own stories and characters – to do something creative that involved drawing and design. I never fancied being a doctor or a fireman or anything else really!

Not that we need to highlight the fact that you are a multi talented chap but you are also an animator as well as an illustrator! ( with a BA and MA in Animation)
Do you approach your work differently if its going to move (i.e animation) rather than if it's static (i.e: illustration)?

 *Skratches chin and ponders unexpected interlectual question*
 Initially the two approaches are very similar – you start with pencil sketches, but then, as Pocahontas would say, you come to a fork in the river!  The animation side then goes down a strict route of working out the characters from each angle and testing how they would walk, run etc.  There is usually a large team involved in animated projects and you have lots of opinions flying round the room from creatives, producers and funders.  On the illustration side I am learning that although there are still certain confines and deadlines, the whole process is a bit looser and there are less rules to adhere to which I’m really enjoying.

 What would you say were the principle/keyelements to character design?

All characters vary but in general I think they all need;

Purpose - the look of the character must fit their role in the story and be capable of expressing the required emotions in the text/script.

Appeal – if it’s a pretty princess then make her really pretty, if it’s an ugly monster then make him really ugly! I’m not a big fan of heavy lines, big eyes or primary colours but it a certain character needed them then I would adapt my preferences accordingly.

Originality( I know, I know!) – be it in the palette, proportioning or the style of line.  Also be aware of what characters already exist and don’t design anything that’s too similar.

I believe a successful character design is one that encourages a range of emotion – be it love, fear, empathy or laughter, through both their aesthetic and the role they take within the story.
They must also be memorable, and with this in mind I think an excellent example of this would be Gonzo from the Muppets. 

Yes Gonzo looks silly and loves nothing more than being fired out of a cannon and flirting with his chickens (?!), but he also longs to be accepted and to feel part of a family – and more importantly we the audience want him to be accepted and loved too.  So for Gonzo, his funny looks and humour balanced with a heart-warming  back story create a classic, fun and loveable character.  I think this is true for all the main Muppet characters.  I love the Muppets can you tell? 

In the world of animation and illustration the humanizing of animals has always been important/significant. So; the humanizing of animals a difficult process. How do you approach anthropomorphic development?

 The first thing I think about when designing an anthropomorphic character is the level of anatomical accuracy they require.  For my greeting card dogs they are fairly true proportionally to their real life counterparts and are walking on all fours because that suits the style of the cards.  For ‘Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam’ though, they are more human like in their characterization and also then in their design – standing and running on two legs.   This makes them more fun, appealing  and identifiable for the reader (he says fingers crossed – it’s not out til next year!)

 How/why is it effective?
It’s endlessly fun to see dogs/cats and other animals acting like a human, and even funnier if they are *SPOILER ALERT* wearing chefs hats whilst whisking up cupcakes!

What do you think is the fascination behind it?    

Children (and adults) love to imagine inanimate objects and animals talking and acting like human beings.  Because it’s (probably) never going to happen in real life, watching or reading about animals that can talk and do things just like us is the only way we can witness such a spectacle!

 Your work has a very contemporary look. But what traditional forms or styles of art have had an influence.

 I was lucky at school and university to have great teachers that encouraged drawing, especially life-drawing, so early on I was interested and inspired by the experts of the human form – Michaelangelo, Maggi Hambling, Egon Scheile etc.  And once we all got over the fits of giggles in our first few life classes (our first ever model had a funny dressing gown/ flip-flop combination and her leg in plaster) I really enjoyed drawing the human form – its always a challenge. 

 I have been heavily influenced by traditional children’s illustrators too like Mercer Mayer, Quentin Blake and John Tenniel.  Also from my animation background I am always influenced by many of the traditional Disney animators and their concept art, Glen Keane for example is an absolute master.  Any form of art though, be it drawn, 3D or even a product design can inspire me – but the style needs to be appealing and charming to catch my eye!

 Do modern platforms/formats like the i-pad or electronic tablet/ interactive screen, etc, determine any of the ways in which you work?

Not as yet, but working with Nosy Crow and seeing how they have created such great interactive storybook apps has given me an urge to work on an animated book  - it would be lovely to be able to combine my animation skills with my illustration style…

Is your work produced electronically or traditionally or is it a process involving the two?

My design process begins with a 2B propelling pencil, from the character designs to the thumbnails, roughs and final layouts. 

 Then it’s STOP – SCANNER TIME! 

 I then use my original pencil work as a basis for the colouring and re-working of elements in Photoshop.  So it’s a nice combination of the two J

Can you recommend any good books for us to sniff out?

 I generally like a funny book but my favourite book this year (speaking of sniffing!) is called ‘Sniff!’ by Yocococo and isn’t funny at all – in fact it’s rather sad and beautiful.  I won’t spoil it for anyone who has yet to read this lovely story, but it involves a sausage dog with a slipper on its nose.

Have you spotted any illustrative talent you think we should investigate further?
I am about to start teaching a children’s illustration course in London and am hoping to spot some wonderful new talents there so I shall keep you posted!
Quick Fire Christmas Cannon!

Sherry or Snowball?
Small sherry then a large snowball. Then a port and lemon. I should really be friends with Emily from Coronation Street shouldn't I.

Mince pie or Christmas cake?
2 Mince Pies - warm with vanilla ice cream.

Best choc in a box of Quality Street ?
Do they still do the green triangle? If so then the toffee finger.

Best Christmas present you received as a child?
One year I really wanted a Teddy Ruxpin but I got a talking Wrinkles instead. I got over it eventually and grew to love it.

Tell us a joke fit for a really bad cracker...
I've always loved this one.
What is Santa's favourite Pizza? Anything Deep Pan, Crisp and even.

What's on your gift list to Santa?
Atop my gift list this year is the Charley Harper Illustrated Life book. And also a Paul Frank ipod dock - love Paul Frank stuff.

Worst Christmas present you ever received?
A hideous paper weight that I accidentally left at my parents!

Do you like sprouts?

Yes - I love helping mum cut the crosses into their little bases

Which  Fairytale Character would you be at a fancy dress party?

I would go as hmmm, maybe a prince, though that's a bit dull. Perhaps the little mermaids dad -Triton? In the broadway version of the little mermaid they all whizzed around on roller-boots with big shiny tails behind them - could be fun! Or Rumplestiltskin because it's such an amazing name. Rumple. He he.
Will you be buying your lovely dog Holly a present this year?
I will - this year she is getting a new collar and lead from Cath Kidston - but sssssh don't tell, or rather sign language it to her!

And here is a gratuitous shot of Steve's dog Holly in a Christmas jumper to rival my own!

Sweet as a sugar mouse!
Well what can I say - we thought Steven was a bit of a legend before he popped by to see us but NOW we know he's utterly and truly scrumptious - A proper shiney star atop a huge sparkly Christmas tree.

THANKS for popping by, don't forget your hat and gloves and come and see us again in the new year...

Steve ...Steve ... you've forgotten the paper weight we gave you!!!!!!!!!....come back!


  1. steven lenton steven lenton rah rah rah!
    love the festive pics! hee.
    yes yokococonuts sniff book is a special one isnt it.
    fab interview book sniffer
    fa la la la la

  2. Hey Steven,
    Hope you are well.

    I am currently recruiting for a Permanent Illustrator in Central London and was wondering if it might be something of interest to you.

    If it is please let me know the best number to reach you on or contact me on 0207 665 5813 /

    Kind regards,


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