Questioning Creatives

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This article was written on 11 Sep 2013, and is filled under illustrators.

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Petr Horacek

I was born on the 30th June 1967 in Czechoslovakia.  I grew up on the outskirts of the capital city Prague. From the ages of 15-19 I studied art and design.  After finishing high school I worked in a design studio for two years and then studied at the Academy of Fine Art in Prague.  I met Claire, who is from England and my wife, at the Academy. She studied there as a postgraduate. We lived in Prague together for almost three years and then moved permanently to England in 1995.

I started doing illustrations by chance. Somebody who had just written a story for children heard that I could draw and asked me if I would like to do pictures for the story. The illustrations were not very good, but I really enjoyed the challenge. The books were self-published and therefore never made it to the shops. However, working on these books inspired me to create my own stories.

The most important moment for my career as an illustrator was when my first daughter Tereza was born. Working on new ideas become much easier. I was inspired.

Walker Books published my first books ‘Strawberries are Red’ and ‘What is Black and White?’ in 2001.  For these two board books I received the Books for Children’s ‘Newcomer Award 2001’. Since then I have published quite a few board books and picture books with Walker Books and Candlewick Press. My new book is called Animal Opposites, which is a pop-up book for kids from two years and upwards.

I live in Worcester, England with my two daughters Tereza and Cecilia and my wife Claire.

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When did you decide you wanted to be illustrator?
It was probably when I came across ” The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle.

The book was given to my daughter when she was born, by my friend. Coming from a foreign country I didn’t know about the existence of this book. I didn’t know how popular it was. I thought it was a true masterpiece and I wished I could do something like this one day myself.

Would you recommend studying at art school?
As a student I had a great time. I studied design from age 14 to 18 and then at the Academy of Fine Art from age 20 to 26. What was the best about these ten years was the fact, that I could do what I liked the most, painting and drawing. Being at art school gave me time to develop as an artist. Saying that, I’m quite glad I didn’t study illustration, since I think it’s rather difficult for many students to get rid of some of the bad things they learn at art school. Lots of students also end up copying their teachers and find it very hard to find their own style.

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How long was it before illustration became your primary form of income?
As an author you live from royalties, so the more books you publish and sell, the more money you get. It can take a few years before you earn a living.

Could you describe your typical day?
If I’m not too busy catching up with a deadline I start the day slowly. I go out in the morning. I like cycling, a game of tennis or pop to the gym. I deal with emails and the boring stuff when I get home and then I start doing what I like the best – painting and drawing or working on a book. I go downstairs when the children come home from school. We have dinner together. I then work usually until nine or ten. These days I do quite a few school visits as well and I make time for family and friends too.

What do you wish you’d know when you first started out?
I was ready to learn and I wasn’t naïve. I knew that it would take time before the books would be noticed and for me to be able to make a living. I just wanted to do something I liked. What I perhaps didn’t know, was that it will be so hard to get the books to bookshops.

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What’s the best thing about being an illustrator?
The best thing is that you are your own boss. You have all the freedom you need, but it’s also the biggest responsibility.

What’s the worst thing about being an illustrator?
That you are sometimes dependent on people who are “just doing their job”.

I’m lucky to be published mainly by Walker Books. People I work with are very enthusiastic about books and they always put something extra into their work.

If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be?
I like the smell of wood. I think being a carpenter would be nice.

Any other tips you could share?
If you have an idea write it down and start sketching. It doesn’t matter if you don’t finish it off. It is the practice, which counts.

www.petrhoracek.co.uk

twitter.com/PHoracek

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