Wednesday 4 July 2012


Ahoy there Sniffers - Have I got a treat for you today! ... OH YES indeedy I do.
ME! by Benji Davies!

I've just got back from my monthly coiffure buffing at Billy Sweeney's Bouffant Barber's and you'll never guess who was in the barbers chair next to me! Blimmin' hot to trot, cad about town Mr Benji Davies! (YES the chap who designed my new profile picture - Smart eh!)

I couldn't quite believe my luck  - so while he was a captive in the chair I thought I fire a few questions his way ...


Hey Benji, Fancy seeing you here!
Have you sniffed any good picture books lately?

I just bought 'A First Book of Nature' written by Nicola Davies & illustrated by Mark Hearld. Its not a regular picture book, but its a really beautiful combination of artwork and words.

If you could choose any children's classic which would you most like to illustrate?
If I had to pick one of them it would probably be Wind in the Willows - I've always loved that book.
Maybe I'd go for a childhood favourite instead, a lesser known classic - The Little Grey Men by BB.

What is the view like from your studio window?

Not a lot! Its a very quiet street in hackney and my table faces the wall. I do like to do a bit of pacing though, so if its nice and sunny I'll get a brew and walk up and down the drive - probably looking a bit lost. We have a large metal shutter over the downstairs window which we keep shut in winter to keep out the cold but its nice when it gets to spring and we can open it up and let the light in.

Benji's home studio

What do you listen to while you are working, Bit of light jazz? the Archers?

I listen to a lot of different music. But if I'm in the mood for a bit of foot tapping its a mix of old rock and bluesy stuff... Cream, Led Zep and Bowie are my faves.
But I find that some days I can work a whole day in total silence and not realise.

What was the absolute best piece of advice you received while training?

My degree was in animation and the tutors were often down the pub...!
I recently watched a talk that Neil Gaiman gave at a graduation ceremony which was full of nuggets.
If you haven't seen it, look it up online, its worth a watch.

Which one piece of advice would you give to an author working with an illustrator on a joint project?

All the authors I have worked with have been very good and easy to work with, i don't think i could give them anything valid.
I'd really like to work more closely with an author on something, its always a very disconnected relationship with everything filtered through the publisher.

What are you beavering away on now?

I'm working with Nosy Crow on more Bizzy Bear books and gradually rolling out app versions of the first four books, plus another larger format board book with noises!
Also developing ideas for texts as I want to get into working on more of my own ideas alongside other authors work.

Tell us which three things you would take to a desert island?

my sketchbook, a good knife - and the wife.

Do you collect anything? Can you send us a picture of your collection ...

Its not really a collection as such but I like to have a good sniff round a car boot and find an interesting book cover or two.

Obviously you have become an emerging icon in the world of illustration but who inspires you?

I went to a Ronald Searle exhibition recently - all round brilliance, not just humour but drawing, composition, character - the lot.
Anyone who can draw really well though I suppose. I love that cartooning tradition, I used to spend hours poring over my dad's collection of Giles annuals.

List three essential tools of your trade (tea and biscuits are a given)?
First and foremost something to draw with and something to draw on. And for the way I work, a Wacom (plugged into a computer of course).

If perchance we had a short break during our busy working day who should we follow on Twitter?

You could follow me (@Benji_Davies) or of course the Book Sniffer! (@maybeswabey)
Jamie Hewlett is on there - and I noticed he was giving drawing feedback to his fans - which is great to see from someone of his level.

What are your thoughts on the digital future of picture books?

I'm not sure I have much to add that hasn't already been said but...
I think they might supersede printed books in terms of learning to read, because they have the capability of being so much more adaptable and interactive to the reader. But real books still have so much value and are tactile, more human - I'm sure there will be a nostalgia for print for many years to come.
To make good digital stories I think you need to almost try imagine that there never were books... you have this interactive screen - how do you tell a story then.

How does creating artwork for an app differ from artwork for a picture book?

With the Bizzy apps for Nosy Crow, the artwork is all adapted from the original files that I created when I made the book versions, which I have to go through bit by bit and piece everything into an order that makes more sense to the programmer and animator - re-layering and labelling things, making sure there are no gaps in the artwork behind the characters and objects so that they can move them around the scene and not reveal messy holes. They also have to fit a different format for the screen, but apart from that, the illustration process is exactly the same.

Which of your books are you most proud of?

I mainly enjoy working on picture books. The most fun was probably Winston Was Worried (Book Sniffer review coming soon) It was just great to have a humorous text to work with, and create all the canine characters - lots of colour and silliness.
I'm really looking forward to publishing my own texts though, and showing other sides to my work.

Image taken from Winston Was Worried

Which other author or illustrator would you like to collaborate with?

Mick Jackson's books are great, sort of in between being for children and adults. I love his novel Underground Man - although I'm not sure an art director would pair me up with him. But it would be great to have a go at something for slightly older children, something with a bit more meat and bones.

Do you create a character before a story of visa versa?

My first picture book Hodge the Hedgehog, written by Amy Sparkes, began as a portfolio piece. It sat there for a year or so before Meadowside saw it and paired me and Amy together for the book. I didn't have a story for him so I was more than happy that Amy had written the perfect story and had given him a name.

But its also great to get a piece of text from a publisher, and draw the characters out of it - there's greater scope even though the text gives you parameters, the illustration has something to focus on. Sometimes I find that without a text as a brief, when anything is possible, you can get lost with all the possibilities.

Who's sketch book would you most like to snoop through?

Gustaf Tenggren did some beautiful work, he illustrated lots of books, was an accomplished artist and worked for Disney in the early days. I'd love to go back and be a fly on the wall in his studio.

Can you show us your fave page from your current sketchbook ...

This is a little self-initiated thing I've started based on a poem I recently found that I wrote when I was seven. I thought it would be fun to collaborate with my younger self! I'm going to post it up on my blog once its done.

Do you have time to draw / sketch for pleasure as well as work ?

For me its a really important thing to do, although I never make enough time for it.
When i do get the chance, I post things on my website to show people that I have a real interest in drawing itself, not always having to lead to an illustration.

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?

Its not really about my career but I was very proud when my partner in crime Jim Field won the Roald Dahl Funny Prize this year for his book "Cats Ahoy". (follow Jim on Twitter @_JimField)

We've worked together as animation directors getting on for ten years, and been friends since we met at university, so it was lovely to see him get the accolade  - its a very funny book and his style sits perfectly with Peter Bently's swashbuckling feline romp of a rhyme.

Tell us a secret....

I have just had my first author illustrator picture book commissioned... very very excited about that!

Well now we're both primped, preened and doused in Old Spice it was time to bid our farewells - THANK YOU for letting us quiz you Mr Davies and we simply can't wait  to hear more about your secret book project - squeeeeeeeeee!

CHECK OUT Benji's marvellous website and blog here!

YOU SIMPLY MUST check out Winston Was Worried Published by MacMillan Children's Books, Wrtitten by Pamela Duncan-Edwards - it's one of my fave picture books of the year! TOOT TOOT!

ALSO check out  Jump On Board The Animal Train! - Published by Simon and Schuster -  wonderful with a cherry on top!

THANKS again (with a side of chips) to Benji for his wonderful Book Sniffer portrait!

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