For an only child growing up in Virginia, New York state, Texas, South Carolina and finally since fourth grade in Maryland, drawing was fine self-entertainment says children’s book illustrator (Robert) R.W.Alley.
My parents saved stuff, especially paper stuff, and that’s why I know that I’ve been drawing since about age two.
The more I drew these characters the more they started moving around on the page and getting into adventures. I started writing down what they said. I started making little books. This seemed like a really fun thing to keep doing.
When it was very quiet on Saturday morning, I’d sit at a little table in front of a small black and white TV and make clay figures and make up stories for them.
Though I received a degree in art history from Haverford College, I also spent a lot of time in the fine art studios. The summer after graduation, I wrote and illustrated my first children’s book, The Ghost in Dobbs’ Diner. It was published in 1981 by Parents Magazine Press.
In the following years, I worked as an in-house artist and art director for several greeting card companies before entering the freelance world in 1985.
For the last fifteen years one of my big projects has been to illustrate new and old stories of Paddington Bear by Michael Bond. The newest are ‘Paddington Goes for Gold’, a picture book, and ‘Paddington Races Ahead’, a novel, both published to coincide with 2012 London Olympics.
With a Paddington film scheduled for release in 2014, most of the Paddington library is being co-published in a variety of languages. Very exciting.
In 2010 I received a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honour Award for ‘Pearl and Wagner: One Funny Day’ by Kate McMullan. This book is companion to four other books recounting the adventures of Pearl and Wagner and their classmates.
In all, I have made pictures for over one hundred other books, including two very large comic panel formatted books by the charming Zoë B. Alley: ‘There’s a Wolf at the Door’, a Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and ‘There’s a Princess in the Palace’.
Everything around me provokes a visual idea. I love architecture and faces. I love the architecture of faces. I am always looking and trying to remember what I see. Sometimes I’ll use a sketchbook. But, mostly I just look. Looking is very useful skill for an illustrator.
Making art for me has always been about telling stories and sharing those stories with as many people as possible.
I figured out early on that books were the way to do this. I like writing my own stories because I have complete control over what part of the story is told with words and what is told with pictures.
In illustrating another author’s words, my focus changes; I have to find ways into the story that will allow me to add to the words, without changing their tone and meaning. In both cases, the key to being a good illustrator is, I think, to be able to first present the narrative of the story in a clear and inviting format and then to enlarge the narrative with strong character drawing and scene-setting.
I know I’ve been successful when I go to a library and find copies of my books that have been truly worn and torn.”
Today I live in Rhode Island with the lovely Zoë B. Alley, author, wife and mother of our two clever children.