Dan Taylor – children’s book illustrator

Daniel Taylor has come a long way since he sat in his maths lessons, doodling in his exercise books.

The Staffordshire artist is celebrating the publication of his first book – and is being hailed as the next great thing in the world of book illustration. Not bad for a 23-year-old, who is just a year or so out of college.

Dan was chosen to illustrate Dogfish, a colourful picture book for pre-schoolers, written by Gillian Shields.

The book, which came out a couple of weeks ago, has already won the heart of critics and was received warmly at the illustrious Frankfurt Book Fair last year when publishers Simon and Schuster first unveiled the book.

And, much to Dan’s delight, it was selected by Waterstone’s as one of its children’s books of the month. I’ve always loved picture books, even at primary school, I think I knew I wanted to create images like the ones in all my favourite books,” says Dan, a shy blond from Cannock, who shares a name with the realist Canadian artist.

“I even remember talking to one of my friends who was good at English – ‘you do the words and I’ll draw the pictures!’” But even now, with his first book on the shelves in book shops, he finds it hard to believe he has actually attained his dream.

“It’s very surreal to see my illustrations in a book, even stranger to see them on the shelves in shops,” he says.

“It’s amusing, flicking through the pages. Each illustration secretly reminds you of what you were feeling when you were creating it – sleepless nights, running on coffee, banging your head on the desk.

“To anyone else, it’s just an illustrated book. To me it’s a diary of emotions. But however stressful or hard work it can be, it’s thoroughly rewarding in the end. “

The former pupil of Cardinal Griffin RC School, in Cannock, has always enjoyed art, much to the chagrin of some his teachers.

“I think my teachers at school noticed I had a talent for drawing – probably much to their annoyance at the doodles in my exercise books – maths in particular,” he laughs.

“But it was during my first year at high school I was plucked from my class and told that I could be getting on with my GCSE art. So from then on, I did my art class with older kids.

“By the time I was studying for the rest of my GCSEs I was doing my A level art. I think my art teacher thought I needed more of a challenge.”

After his A-levels, he completed a two-year HND in Illustration at Stafford Art College, before going on to Birmingham Institute of Art and Design to complete a BA in visual communication.

It was while at the Institute he was introduced to the world of book illustration. In 2004 he entered a competition run by Macmillan children’s books, which was open to all art students across the country, to submit illustrations for a children’s story.

He was thrilled to come third and was commended for another entry the following year.

“I think it was all this that gave me the buzz for children’s illustration,” he says. But after graduating, he freelanced for IE Design, in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter and illustrated some calendars for Marks & Spencer.

He toyed with the idea of working in children’s books again, but – like many people who try to gain a foothold into this most competitive of industries – was not offered any work. I hadn’t quite given up, but not long afterwards I had a call from my current publisher at Simon and Schuster who used to work at Macmillan and she said she had been interested in my work,” he says.

“I was pretty much signed up to do Dogfish straight away.”

The book is a delightful story about a little boy who wants a dog, but who only has a goldfish. The illustrations are quirky, bright and colourful, with a slightly retro feel to them.

The shades are muted and the pages burst with texture.

Dan works on an Apple computer to create his images. “I have a drawing tablet and pen that connect to the computer, so you can draw directly into Photoshop.

It’s a nice flexible way to work, as you can always click ‘undo’ if you make a mistake.

“The downside is, you have too much freedom, and sometimes you’ll mess around with one image for hours and hours, I often scan in hand drawn line work and textures.”

Like all artists, he is inspired by the everyday world around him: from books, other illustrators work on the net, music, film and cartoons. He picks up on designs when walking around shops, looking at clothes and furniture.

It’s no surprise, when looking at the Dog-Fish illustrations, to learn that he like art from the 1950s and 1960s, particularly Abner-Graboff.

“He is brilliant. I don’t know much about the artist apart from he has a wonderful name.

His work has simplicity and a strong sense of design, but it’s warm and playfully absurd.”

Another inspiration is Mary Blair, a conceptual artist who worked for the Disney studios, creating hundreds of concept paintings for Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland.

“Her sense of composition has really been an influential to me. I love designers such as Alexander Girard or Robin and Lucienne Day, from furniture, wallpaper to fabric design.

“They might not be a direct influence on my illustration work, but all these elements go into a big inspirational blender in my head.”

Dan is keen to pursue his dream for a while longer and is already signed up with his publisher to do another project.

“This one will be my own story, which is very exciting,” he laughs.

But his ultimate dream? To follow in the footsteps on his art hero Mary Blair and pursue animation.

“I’m always fascinated by the concept art created for Pixar Films. I think that would be quite a fascinating career,” he says.

Dogfish by Gillian Shields, illustrated by Dan Taylor. Simon and Schuster, £10.99 (hardback), £5.99, paperback.