How I Became a Children’s Book Illustrator By Gwen Millward

Recently I reviewed a Gwen Millward's wonderful new book Bear, Bird and Frog, the illustrations are simply beautiful and its a joy to read. I'm keen to find out more about the authors behind the books we read everyday and fortunately Gwen Millward agreed to write something for Being a Mummy on how she became a children's book author and illustrator. I hope you find this as inspirational as I did.

I think my love for children's picture books comes from being read to as a child, especially a bed time story. I really enjoyed looking at the pictures while the story was being narrated. The books my parents read to me were always beautifully illustrated.  We were quite a book obsessed family.  Errol Le Cain's illustrated fairy tales were a particular favourite of mine.  His illustrations are so full of intricate detail and colour, I could and still do spend hours just pouring over his work. It's a real feast for the eyes.
I think his illustrations also really ignited my passion for children's books.  I wanted my work to affect people in the same way his illustrations affected me. 
My Dad is also an illustrator and fine artist so I spent a lot of my childhood walking around galleries looking at exhibitions. We would make special trips to London so Dad could go to the Royal Academy or the Tate to see specific shows. I'm not sure I appreciated it at the time but I remember watching people moving very slowly and silently from one painting to another obviously captivated by what they were looking at. I remember thinking how remarkable it was that these paintings could have such an impact on so many people who must have come from all over the world just to look at them. So I suppose I had a great respect for art from an early age, very much thanks to my Dad.

I began illustrating my own stories when I was very young, about 5 years old.

The text was always very minimal (written in Welsh) and the pictures always took centre stage with elaborate detail and colour. I used to get very excited when it came to the colouring in bit (I still do).
I went to Edinburgh College of Art when I was 18 and studied illustration. This is where I really began to enjoy art. My tutors were all very encouraging and supportive.  I don't think my illustration 'style' formed properly until my final year. My work was quite surreal to say the least and perhaps not as child friendly as it is now. I definitely went through a period of transition while I worked on my first picture book 'Guess What I Found In Dragon Wood?'.  My publishers, Puffin were again very encouraging and I think the way my style developed after this first book was published is thanks to the guidance of some very lovely people at Puffin.  

Over the last few years I have definitely learnt a few do's and dont's in picture book publishing. For example, not to make teeth too prominent when illustrating dragons, it can make them look a little too menacing, not great for a bedtime read.

The Bear and Bird books came about after I wrote a little story about two friends falling out because one was doing more work than the other, vaguely inspired by a little tiff with my partner. I doodled the bird as the unhelpful friend and then bear just seemed to suit the role of kind yet put-upon partner (I'm very much bird in these books).
Visually I really like the juxtaposition of little bird next to big hulking bear.

The second book in the series was very much inspired by childhood friendships. I'm also the youngest of three children and I think problems naturally arise when there are three. Lots of games are designed for two and when partnering up one friend always gets excluded. Bear Bird and Frog is about what happens when one of the friends feels he's been neglected by the others.

I hope my illustrations inspire children to draw. It is the most amazing feeling to know your pictures and ideas have influenced someone or been the inspiration for a drawing.


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