Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Fight Back hits the shelves this week. What better way to celebrate than to meet the remarkably talented James Hart and hear about his creative process!

When did you first start drawing? When did you realise it was something you wanted to do for a living?

I began drawing straight from the womb…  Honestly, I’m not entirely sure, I feel like it was as soon as I could hold a crayon. I can’t remember not drawing, I’ve always loved it.

I DO remember when I was 4 or 5 making up a team of super hero type characters called the Blood-Men! Because blood was cool and stuff. Inspired by He-Man. I’d draw them on card board and make cut out toys and give them blood-related names. Since that time I’ve always been creating characters in my head and on paper.

In primary school I was asked if I wanted to be an artist when I grew up… I didn’t know. In my head I never wanted to grow up and wasn’t thinking about that stuff at that stage, I just liked to draw. Why do adults always ask stuff like that?

It wasn’t until high school when everyone began to think a little more seriously about what they wanted to do for a career. Everything else that other people wanted to do sounded so boring to me. I just liked to draw. I soon discovered that there were in fact jobs that let you do just that! Jobs where you could sit at home and draw ALL day in your undies and people would give you money for it!

What is your approach to creating the characters in Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables?

The characters to Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables came quite naturally (thanks to awesome an awesome author). Mr Bambuckle the teacher, however, required a little more work, knowing that he needed to be more iconic and remarkable!! The first thing that I did was read the stories a couple of times and let the characters form in my mind. A lot of my designing of characters, scenes, book covers etc all start with me just letting it stew in my mind while I’m doing other things. Which is good and bad. Good in that my brain is kind of just doing the work without me knowing, and bad in that I am never not working. 

From there it’s a matter of scribbling down the loose look of that characters as I see them in my head, sometimes a few times until it looks how I want them to look based on descriptions in the book and how they act and behave.

Who is your favourite character to illustrate? Why?

My favourite character to illustrate in the book is Carrot. I just really love scribbling his curly hair and shirt stripes. Plus he’s a really good kid. I also love drawing canteen Carol and Mr Sternblast because they’re fun to draw, especially with their cranky expressions.

What are some of the other projects you’ve been working on? Do you take different approaches to different books?

Over the last few months I’ve been working on lots of different books – all of them with slightly different styles and looks. I’ve recently finished the D-Bot Squad series with Mac Park, I’m currently finishing off The Mysterious World of Cosentino book 3, I’m in the middle of a new series called Other Worlds by George Ivanoff of You Choose fame, and I’m just beginning a new project involving fart monsters. Each of these has a slightly different way of illustrating. Cosentino looks quite animated, Otherworlds is more comicbook like and more in the  style of the You Choose books and I’m actually using a different program to do the inking lines on the computer. And the Fart Monsters project has no black outline and is more cartoony. Swapping between these styles can be tricky and I often forget how many fingers I need to be giving the characters of different books.

What can you tell us about the actual illustration process? What tools do you use?

My process is that of a production line, using a Wacom Cintiq tablet to draw directly to my computer, on various software, mostly Photoshop and Sketchbook Pro. I’ll run everything through my ‘illustration factory’ one stage at a time. For example, if I have a book like Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables, I’ll scribble out every illustration (say 30) first VERY roughly all in red, blocking out the scenes and composition. I’ll then move on to neat roughs of all 30 in a dark grey. All of these roughs are drawn in a single file called ALL.psd in Sketchbook Pro with folders and layers numbered according to illustration number. I will then save out jpgs of each of the illustrations from the psd file to send to the publisher for them to check and give feedback before working on the final illustrations. Have you fallen asleep yet?

Certainly not, James! 

The final illustrations are made in separate files (for Bambuckle’s I used Sketchbook Pro for the finals, where as other books I mostly use Photoshop for the final art)  I will continue the production line by doing all the line work first on each illustration. Then I’ll do all the flat tone or colour work of each file. Wake up now!! Then I’ll go through and do the shadow and highlight tones for each file. The final pass is doing any changes to line colours or extra tweaks. I’ll then save them all out to a different folder as flat versions with no layers. Then it’s off to the publishers to be checked and if they’re all good then they’re ready for the printed book. Hooray (now you can sleep)!! Between all these stages are lots of snacks, coffees, head scratching, email writing, self doubting, kid wrangling, Instagram surfing, YouTube/Spotify listening and naps! Phew!!

Tell us about your workspace. What are your top five office necessities?

My work space has been through sooo many different combinations of layouts and designs and furniture. I’ve finally found the best position for everything and recently completed a small renovation of my studio, including building a custom work desk, painting a full wall black board and having some air conditioning installed so I can finally work comfortably upstairs through summer with out my arm sticking to my desk and sweat dripping on my keyboard. It’s now a space I never want to leave.

Hmmm, top 5 office necessities. 

  1. Coffee

  2. Youtube & Spotify

  3. Snacks

  4. Headphones

  5. Wacom Cintiq

What advice would you give to budding illustrators?

The first thing is simply just practise. Just keep drawing. Everyday. Draw anything and everything. Keep a sketch book and take it with you everywhere you go. Ideas can pop into your head anywhere. If you have your sketch book with you, you can do a quick squiggle of the idea and/or write it down.  

Setting goals is very important too. Then focusing on that goal and not getting distracted along the way. Which is hard. BUT never give up! I found something the other day that I made about 12 years ago. It was a folder with lots of pictures I’d found and printed out of other artist’s work that I loved and wished I could draw like. I’d put it all together as a kind of folio of work that I wished I’d produced. It was a physical goal. Something to work towards. I am constantly trying to get better as a craftsman, and that folder helped me.  

But most importantly, HAVE FUN! Drawing and creating characters and stories is so much fun! And if you’re having fun with it, it will shine through in your pictures and stories and then other people will enjoy it and have fun too! 

Thanks James! Your illustrations are being enjoyed by thousands of children – keep up the incredible work!