Mike graduated with a degree in Children’s Book Illustration and now works as a full-time illustrator. He has always loved experimenting with his designs, combining his passions for art and his computer! He lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and two cats, and spends his days doodling and creating fantastical characters to bring his books to life.
As an illustrator, did you always want to work on children’s books?
I’ve ALWAYS wanted to be a children’s book illustrator. Ever since I was a little boy, I wanted to draw the pictures that I saw in all the fab books in the library and at home. So much so that when I grew up, I went to University to study a degree in ‘Illustration for Children’s Publishing’.
What do you need to be able to sit down and start working?
A big cup of tea, a cheeky biscuit, the radio, my Macbook Pro, my amazing Wacom Cintiq drawing tablet that lets me draw directly onto the screen….and some more tea!
What processes do you go through after receiving an illustration brief?
When I first get a brief? Panic, excitement and then a zen-like focus!
I first scribble down my initial ideas and character sketches whilst reading through the story. They usually look nothing like the finished artwork, but it helps me to think and work through the story in my own way.
I then get lots of reference material together for all the things that appear in the story, which helps me to develop my initial scribbles into more refined sketches. Then it’s on to the initial rough spread stage, where I sketch out the pages on my Wacom drawing tablet, allowing me to easily undo all my mistakes! Once they are ready, I send them off to the brilliant team at Caterpillar*, who make their comments and give me feedback.
When I get all their comments back, I make any changes that have been requested and set about adding some flat colours. At this point, it’s more about trying to get the palette and the ‘look’ right. Once I’m happy, I then start to colour the pages up in detail, adding shading and making the pictures all look nice. When that’s done, they are sent back to Caterpillar and they make any final suggestions for tweaks before everything gets sent off to the printers!
What is a typical day in the life of Mike Byrne?
I sit down at my desk at 9am, spending the first half hour or so going through emails and necessary admin before I get started on the ‘fun’ stuff!
I work through until 12:30 when I get changed and either go for a jog or a quick ride on my mountain bike before heading back to the house. I grab a sandwich and another cuppa, before getting back to work at 1:30.
I then carry on working right through till 7pm (ish) when I down tools to go and cook dinner for my wifey before she comes home from work.
The books you have worked on for Caterpillar, including Bunny Starts School include lists to help improve memory. Are you a forgetful person and do you make lots of lists?
I’m not a forgetful person, but that is because I make so many lists! (Just take a look at the photo of my workspace.) I have lists everywhere… you can never have too many lists!
Page shown is from Teddy’s First Sleepover
Can you remember your first day at school?
I can! I was very excited and very nervous. I remember holding on tightly to my Mum’s hand not wanting to let go…That was until I saw one of my friends at the school gates and ran off straight to meet him!
Your characters in the Let’s Get Ready series are all very friendly, happy animals. Do you have any pets that inspire you?
I have two cats. A tabby cat called Molly and a big fluffy cat called Boots. They spend their days coming and going, but often stop by my desk to say hello and to get a quick cuddle!
If you hadn’t been an illustrator, what would you be doing now?
I have no idea, but I’m sure it would have involved me drawing in some form!
What’s your favourite food?
Cheese… of all kinds!
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of becoming a children’s illustrator?
Do it! It really is the best job in the world. I get to spend my day, indulging in my hobby, drawing fun characters and getting paid to do it!
If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be and why?
New York. I went there for my first wedding anniversary and it is the most amazing city in the world. It is such a vibrant place, with so much to see and do. I already have a list of things I’d like to do and places I’d like to visit the next time we go there!
What book are you reading at the moment?
I’m currently reading the Game of Thrones series by George R.R Martin.
*Opinion Mike Byrne’s own – the Caterpillar team in no way coerced the interviewee!
Bunny Starts School is out now!