Where were you born?
I was born in Edinburgh, Scotland but I grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland. My mum was pregnant with me, my dad was driving when their car got shot at — bullets making holes in the doors. My parents thought Scotland would be a safer place for me to be born but returned to Belfast a week later. It was a time known as ‘The Troubles’ and nobody went out much. I recently took my family there and, I’m happy to say, it’s much better today! Where do you live now?
We live on a very quiet acre of forest near Melbourne. I have two sons, Sonny and Milo, who like to wake me up very early in the morning!Where did you go to school?
My primary schools were Skegoneill Primary (which no longer exists) and Whitehead Primary.Did you have a nickname?
My nickname at school was Sparky — not because I had great ideas or wanted to be an electrician! It rhymes with Marky!
What were you like in school?
I was a daydreamer at school. My teachers thought I was deaf because I too busy daydreaming to listen. When they tested my hearing and discovered I could hear they decided a short, sharp slap around the ear was the answer! Can you imagine being wakened from a daydream this way? I still remember how it felt and that was almost forty years ago — I'm very glad they don't do this anymore!What is the naughtiest thing you did?
The naughtiest thing I ever did at school was sing a rude song at the school talent competition. It was all about my teachers and all their bad habits. It started with 'I'm only a poor little student and all the teachers are always picking on me...'
And finished with '...and the other teachers come out of the sea!'
Three of my friends sang it with me and all of us got into big, big, BIG trouble. I remember at the time being very worried, like it was the worst thing to happen in our town — even with ‘The Troubles!’ My parents had to come to school to hear how naughty I'd been. When we got home, however, they admitted they thought the song was quite funny — unlike my teachers!What was your favourite book growing up?
Although we didn’t have a library at my primary schools the first picture book I remember was The Spooky Old Tree
with the Berenstain Bears — I still love all their books. I tried to read Jaws
later in Primary School but it was too hard. My favourite book at school, which I didn't read until high school, was The Hobbit
.Who is your favourite children’s author?
My favourite children's author is Emily Rodda because I love her books and I’ve been lucky enough to illustrate some of them. She's also really nice and really great to work with. We even like the same movies!
What is your favourite food/colour/movie?
My favourite food is something my dad taught me called Potato Kugel — his grandma taught him how to make it. I come from a long line of sweet tooths and this dinner is more like eating dessert!
My favourite colour is green because it's a secondary colour, meaning it's a mixture of two primary colours. It can be a warm green with lots of yellow or a cold green with more blue.
My favourite movie is Alien
. It also has the best alien design ever! But you should never watch it while having dinner!! Who inspired you to illustrate?
A teacher in grade 5 told me I was good at drawing and that was my first inspiration (although to this day I think she was just being kind.) Her encouragement led me to wanting to become an artist. I didn't know about illustration back then. If someone told me I'd be drawing monsters as a job I'd never have believe I could be so lucky!
How did you get started? How old were you?
My biggest inspiration as an illustrator is the Swiss artist H. R. Giger. He designed the alien in the Alien
movie and his paintings were the first time I saw airbrushing.
After I left university I worked as a set designer for television commercials. The only problem: I wasn't any good at it. I daydreamed of monsters and dragons, and sometimes forgot what I was working on.
One day I walked into the studio, this is where the commercials are filmed and saw a table full of breakfast cereal boxes and bowls. My boss hadn't been pleased with my recent designs and asked me to clean up whenever I could, probably to keep me occupied. I took the opportunity to please him by throwing all the cereal boxes into the bin. Unfortunately the boxes had all been for a new breakfast cereal — our next commercial! My last day, before getting the sack, was spent fishing out empty breakfast cereal boxes out of a dusty dustbin.
I went home, drew dragons and monsters and began sending them to magazines. After many rejection letters a magazine published my picture of a robot. I didn’t get any payment for it but something much better happened — an author wrote to the magazine asking me to illustrate his latest book! This led to more book covers. I lived in Perth at the time and flew to Sydney to show publishers my work. Scholastic liked what I'd done and gave me more book covers to work on. This was back in 1998 when I was 26.How do you think up ideas?
I get my ideas from nature. Sometimes I'll walk in a forest imagining the trees are aliens. Other times I'll see something by accident — like the time I thought I saw a two-headed sea gull — which turned out to be just two sea gulls walking side by side!!Do you have a special place where you illustrate?
I do all my artwork in a large garage. It was a great space for me to draw, paint, airbrush, make models and generally make a big mess! However recently I've started using computer more and more and only use a small corner of it!
What is the best thing about being an illustrator?
There are so many great things about being an illustrator. Every single day I wake up and I'm thankful I get to dream up new monsters and dragons. There's really nothing at all I'd rather do!Have you had any funny or embarrassing moment as an illustrator?
My most embarrassing moment as an illustrator was when I agreed to do a calendar with fairies (I'd never drawn them before.) I gave them pretty dresses and smiles but I left too much white above their eye balls which, combined with their big smiles, gave them a very disturbing look — scary fairies!! I was glad when the calendar was finally out of date!
What do you do when you are not illustrating?
Before I met my wife I drew every second of my waking life, taking breaks only to go to the beach with my still-best-friend Damian (who also lived near Bondi beach at the time). However, these days I don’t draw on weekends — I take my sons for runs, mountain biking, swimming, bush walking — and I’m so glad I do because come Monday morning I’m bursting with new ideas!
What would you have chosen to be if you were not an illustrator?
In High School my careers teacher told me I'd be an architect. I studied Maths, Physics and Art and worked really hard to get into a university in Edinburgh. Then my parents emigrated to Australia. I deferred my architecture degree to join them, thinking I’d start my degree a year later, but I ended up studying design at Curtin University in Perth. Perhaps if I wasn’t an illustrator I could be an architect — I just hope I don’t daydream and forget something important like windows or worse — foundations!!Which famous person from the past would you like to talk to?
I'd love to meet Vincent Van Gogh, he’s my favourite artist. I've always loved his use of colour. He painted how he felt and not just what he saw. If he was angry he'd paint the sky red, even if it was blue. I’d love to tell him how great he was and how famous he’d become because he never knew it while he was alive. He only ever sold one painting!
Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?
My claim to fame is having Edgar Allan Poe — the American writer of short horror stories — as my great, great uncle. His grandfather was Admiral John McBride who emigrated to America from Ireland. Growing up my family always had lots of Edgar’s books and were very proud of him. It was his stories that got me interested in monsters and horror!Website/blog details