Working with Pictures: Terry Denton

Terry Denton has illustrated many very funny books, including Gasp! and Duck for Cover. He's also Andy Griffiths' partner in crime, transforming Griffiths's madcap concepts into images that are as intricate as they are hilarious. As part of their latest collaboration – The 13-Storey Treehouse and its much-loved sequels – Denton has been working on architecting the world's most precarious branch-based building. We talk to him about artistic versatility and skiing off roofs with Pippi Longstocking.

What was the first piece of illustration you had published?

It was a book called Flying Man, published by Penguin Books way back in 1985. It was my own story and pictures. Never sold many copies, but it got me started.

Illustration from The 26-Storey Treehouse

Illustration from Terry Denton's Bumper Book of Silly Stuff to Do!

What’s the best part of your job?

That I get to draw every day and earning a living from it. That is still something that amazes me. I also collaborate with some great authors. 

What’s the worst part of your job?

Deadlines, and the long hours in the studio to meet publishing schedules. And illustration is a labour intensive thing, so I've missed out on a lot of family outings and holidays. Against that, I do work from home, so I do see a lot of my family.

Illustration from The 52-Storey Treehouse

Illustration from Terry Denton's Bumper Book of Silly Stuff to Do!

What’s been the most significant moment in your illustration career so far?

Maybe having our first child. My partner and I were both working  part-time [then], so suddenly the responsibility breadwinner fell to me. Shortly after [that,] I won The CBC Picture Book of the Year and that changed my standing in the book world.

What’s the best advice you’ve received about illustration?

Be versatile. And write your own stories as well as illustrate for others.

If you weren’t illustrating, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

I would paint full time. And build stuff and sculpt. I have built a lot of my house and I really love that kind of work.

Terry Denton – and a fan – at the Children's Book Festival

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be an illustrator?

Draw. Every day, if possible. Even if it’s only for 20 minutes. But like a musician plays daily, so for an artist. Become absorbed in your art.

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

I buy in a physical bookshop, if I can. Especially art books. I need to see them and flick through them. If I can find what I want, then I will get it online. 

Illustration from The 13-Storey Treehouse

If you could meet any character from a picture book, who would it be and why?

Hmmm! Pippi Longstocking because she would be fun. We’d probably not talk a lot, just do stuff, ride horses, ski off roofs, etc. Ditto the BFG.

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work  – and why?

I grew up with Peanuts, Warner Brothers cartoons, Roald Dahl and then Lord of the Rings. Raymond Chandler and P.G. Wodehouse. A Pilgrim from Tinkers Creek by Annie Dillard. Herman Hesse, Kurt Vonnegut Jnr, Tolstoy, Shakespeare. Basho. 

 

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