Aaron Cushley is an illustrator from Belfast. His work originates from a mixture of my his curiosities, and from the world around him. No wonder one of his publications this year was none other than – How Does Chocolate Taste on Everest? With a thoroughly enjoyable and immersive narrative from Leisa Stewart-Sharpe, this is set to be one of the top non-fiction titles of the season. However… be warned! This isn’t a comfy, cosy type of book. This one is for TRUE adventurers, adventurers with a thirst for thrills and spills in the natural world. Aaron and Leisa take your little adventurers from scorpion stings ouch! in Ethiopia, trekking through Kenya, to glidding in an airship above Greenland. Told you it was immersive! And thoroughly enjoyable too. Hence the reason why… I couldn’t wait to invite Aaron Cushley to MyBookCorner to chat to us about his illustrative process.
Eye-opening, thoroughly enjoyable and scorpion-sting free. Come, enjoy…
It’s a pleasure to get the opportunity to speak and I’m so happy to be able to dive into the process of this book. It was mostly serendipity that got me into children’s book illustration. I knew I wanted to work in mostly a demographic for children but I had originally just planned to do the odd book cover or spot art for books. I was lucky enough to get a first fully illustrated picture book a few years ago and then the work seemed to organically flow and trickle from there. I think the real core of my work is trying to keep the work/ interests I have now and convey them through a child’s vision.
My mantra is always “I let my inner child loose, and gave him a pencil”.
I was brought forward a brief by my agent Robyn, and then I was put in contact with Nathalie, Phoebe and Laura who all were so great at introducing me to the outline of the project and when I heard that it was very much centred around travel and the world around us I immediately got invested. The question just sounds interesting, “how does chocolate taste on Everest?” I mean what a thought to start a conversation and it always is fun to ask these questions to children because they have the best questions, and the most interesting responses to them.
The process for me from book to book changes depending on what my initial thoughts are when I’m given the brief. Some will be sketched into thumbnails in a sketchbook and others I will start with a blank document and sketch digitally because you can get a lot out in short space of time. I never start with a white page, always a beige or subtle colour because it really helps focus your thoughts when you’re not looking at stark white and not knowing what to put down first. For HDCTOE, I was lucky to have already been graced with a basic premise of what each spread needed to have which really helped rough out the image. The longest part of my process is colour. Once the outlines are done I usually start with the background, adding more to it and then leaving the characters and animals last to make sure they fit with the world, rather than creating the world around the characters.
I loved so many but my favourite part of the book was the Mariana Trench [above] and the mission complete spread because that was so fun creating the postcards from each destination and I’m very much a boy out of water, I prefer the ocean spread and scenes as you get to revisit a part of the world that has such fascinating animals and you get to dive, pun intended to places that look almost otherworldly and there’s something fascinating about not knowing what creatures have yet to be discovered in the depths of the ocean.
Your top tips for budding illustrators?
Sketchbooks are not nearly as polished and pretty as you would think, do what you’re interested in and never sell yourself short. Something I didn’t know until late was that the work you post on your social media does not have to be final art. One of my biggest clients was started from them seeing a sketch I did on a Thursday evening because I was experimenting with drawing animal poses. Followers do not equate to your worth.
What’s up next for you?
2021 was very much a non stop of brief work, a few large projects and very tight on time with one in particular which I wouldn’t recommend doing again, but it proved to be one of my favourites. With the state of the world a lot of delays in publishing dates and releases has meant that I’ve had to sit on revealing projects for a long time but 2022 will see one very special project releasing that I am so privileged to have been brought on for and a sequel to another that I can’t say the name of yet but can say if you like animals then you’ll want to keep a look out in spring.
Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to talk briefly about this book and I hope that people enjoy it, and get some answers out of it.
Psst: did you eat lots of chocolate when creating this book?!?!
Not as much as you’d think, but the urge to always have a bar of chocolate beside me to battle the cravings.