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Q&A with Yuval Zommer

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Yuval Zommer graduated from London’s Royal College of Art with an MA in Illustration. He has worked as a creative director at many leading advertising agencies. Yuval’s passion for picture books has now won, and he is the author/illustrator of many highly acclaimed children’s books. He lives and works in an old house in Notting Hill where he overlooks a small garden which is visited by urban foxes, squirrels, birds and many insects, some of which later find their way into his stories. We caught up with Yuval about his beautiful new book, The Big Book of the Blue, the next in the series following on from The Big Book of Bugs and The Big Book of Beasts.

Your new book, The Big Book of the Blue, showcases some of the world’s slipperiest, scaliest, strangest and most monstrous underwater animals. If you could choose to be one animal from the deep blue, which one would you be?

I think ‘Sid the Sardine’, I got him to swim his way through the book’s pages and you have to try and spot him, which isn’t always easy as he is quite small! He gets to be everywhere and see everyone.

There are loads of weird and wonderful facts in your animal books. For example, I didn’t know that octopuses can use jet power to actually jump out of the water! How do you research your books and do you have a favourite quirky fact from the book?

I work with a wonderful scientist on the research, who’s credited in the book as ‘Sea life expert: Barbara Taylor’. We try and look for the most interesting facts and she also makes sure all my illustrations are anatomically correct! My favourite quirky fact is that the tiny krills form such large swarms that they can be seen from space!

You’ve previously worked as a Creative Director for many of the top advertising agencies. How did you make the switch into creating beautiful picture books?

Picture books were my 1st and true love, I went into advertising after art school yet I was always coming up with sketches, stories and characters when I should have been concentrating on products… I offered and offered my book ideas to publishers and eventually some said yes!

How do you draw the animals in your books when you can’t see them in front of you? Is there one animal that you found particularly tricky to draw?

Sometimes the best thing is to go and look at specimens and records in the museum, especially for the lesser known exotic animals. My favourite is the Grant Zoological Museum but there are excellent Natural History museums not just in London but also in Cardiff, Edinburgh and other cities near you.

I actually found the Dolphins particularly tricky to draw, as I was trying not to make them too cute!

What advice would you give to any budding artists out there?

Before you draw, try and decide on the personality of the animal you are about to depict. Is it sneaky, fierce, hungry, friendly, shy etc? That way when it comes to drawing, your animal will become a character.

To make your animal realistic try and incorporate some of the beautiful patterns or textures of the fur, scales, or feathers. Mother Nature is the greatest artist and that’s always my inspiration.

The illustrations in your books are truly beautiful. Do you have a favourite spread from The Big Book of the Blue? How long does each page take from start to finish?

Two of my favourite spreads from the book have to be the ‘Krill’ and the ‘Jellyfish’. The Krill pages have the moon, stars, many twinkly glowing krills and everyone who is trying to eat them!

In the Jellyfish pages the background is completely black to showcase their transparency and the type had to be done in white!

Each page takes a few days each until I get everyone that should be in that particular habitat to happily swim, float or whizz across the page.


Where is your favourite place to work?

The desk in my front room: it’s facing a large window with lots of daylight, overlooking some trees and a beautiful old church. Sometimes people pass by who are used to seeing me always at my desk working and so they wave hello!

Are you able to tell us what you’re working on next?

We had ‘Bugs’ then ‘Beasts’ and now ‘Blue’, so it’s more than likely that the next Big Book will also be all about something beginning with the letter B… Have you guessed it yet…?

The Big Book of the Blue by Yuval Zommer is published on 10th May 2018 by Thames and Hudson. Follow Yuval @yuvalzommer