Chris Naylor-Ballesteros British illustrator living in France


What brought you to illustration?

I've always liked and been able to draw and then when I grew up I worked in graphic design doing page layouts for newspapers which I really enjoyed, and all sorts of other commercial stuff. When my children were young I discovered I really loved a lot of the picture books I read to them and realised it was the perfect medium for combining stories, illustration and composition of image and text. I kind of I studied them as I read them and tried to learn what worked and what didn't. I made my first book for my children and it turned out looking ok, so I decided to get serious about it.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

It depends on what chores need doing at home, how busy I am or how close a deadline is, all that kind of thing. I like working in the mornings most and evenings if I'm busy.

The afternoons are always a drag.

Are there any illustrators who influenced/influence you?

I'm usually influenced by whoever illustrated my newest favourite book, then I have to try to 'un-influence' myself.

Illustration from "I Love You, Stick Insects", published 2018 by Bloomsbury Children's Books

Illustration from "I Love You, Stick Insects", published 2018 by Bloomsbury Children's Books

What was your very first illustration?

Not sure of the very first, but there's a random memory of something I did when I was around ten — at the start of the eighties when there was the Citizens' Band radio craze in the UK and a CB radio shop opened on the route of our walk to school. I decided to draw a groovy potato character talking into a CB radio, called 'CB Spud'. I have no idea why. My friend was convinced I'd copied it from the merchandise in the shop window and I was really annoyed by that. It was my CB Spud. The first professional illustrations I did were for an English-language newspaper in France that I worked for. Occasionally we had some page-space to fill and a story looked like it'd suit a satirical or humorous picture. I was allowed an hour or so to come up with something and I really enjoyed that super-quick process.

What inspires you? Where do you get your ideas from?

Usually lots of thinking time. Sometimes an interesting premise or fictional situation presents itself in my head and I try to make a story of it — often failing, occasionally succeeding. I once (and only once) woke up in the morning with a four-word sentence in my head and five minutes later I had an almost finished story for it. I don't know if it's very good yet, but I wish they were all so easy. 'The Suitcase' took less than a week to fall into place after initially struggling for a while going up different avenues. Other books took more than a year.

Illustration from "I'm Going To Eat This Ant", published 2017 by Bloomsbury Children's Books

Illustration from "I'm Going To Eat This Ant", published 2017 by Bloomsbury Children's Books

Do you have a favourite illustrator/artist/author?

I grew up with Quentin Blake who infuriatingly makes it look so easy. I have lots of favourites now, but they change from week to week.

Do you like listening to music or audio books while working or do you prefer silence?

Music yes, but not really audiobooks. Too much talking (even music radio) is a distraction if I'm working on text. But the right music at the right moment can change how you feel about a picture or a piece of writing and let you really get what you're trying to communicate.

Do you have a favourite place to work?

For thinking I like walking and all the rest is in my little studio/office at home.

Is there a particular story you would love to illustrate?

That's a hard question. Maybe one of my current submissions that I'm hoping to be accepted — that'd be great! I read a Jack London short story recently called 'To Build A Fire' about a man and a dog on a foolhardy trek in the wilderness. Spoiler alert: the man freezes to death and the dog abandons him, so not really a bed-time children's book, but lots of opportunity for some bleak, snow-filled illustrations.

Illustration from "The Suitcase", published 2019 by Nosy Crow

Illustration from "The Suitcase", published 2019 by Nosy Crow

What was your favourite illustration you have made so far?

I have a lot of love for some of the illustrations in my first published book, "I'm Going To Eat This Ant", because I struggled for a long time to find an illustration style that felt authentic to me and also looked like a serious or 'professional' picturebook illustration. I was learning by trial and error, making several subsequent versions of the book until I finally started thinking it was looking ok. I like the water-crossing spread in 'The Suitcase'. It's simple, but dramatic. It was finished quite early in the process of making the book, but literally the day before deadline I decided it could be better and I asked my editor, if I had time to have another go. She said yes and the new version just made it into the book.

What makes a good illustrator?

I don't necessarily think it's someone who employs traditional technical ability. It's someone who can communicate emotion or atmosphere, regardless of the means or techniques. I'm quite good at drawing realistically and I often think it hinders me, as I tend to illustrate in a way that's too literal and have to force myself to ignore perspective and logic and the reality of an object or character to make it more interesting and less a technical challenge.

Illustration from "The Lonely Christmas Tree", published 2019 by Bloomsbury

Illustration from "The Lonely Christmas Tree", published 2019 by Bloomsbury

Do you struggle sometimes? Do you have to motivate yourself, and if so, what helps? Is there a kind of "illustrator’s block?"

Oh yes, there's an 'illustrators block'. I think The Block happens in all kinds of work, no matter how creative or not it is. Sometimes you just can't make it happen. And you have to find some willpower if you can, or have a serious deadline zooming closer towards you each day. That helps motivation but doesn't make it more fun!