A surrealist comedian, children’s book author/illustrator and winner of the Funniest Joke of The Edinburgh Festival. Olaf’s stand up shows include his award nominated debut hour ‘Olaf Falafel and The Cheese Of Truth’, ‘The Marmosets Of My Mind’, ‘Knitting With Maracas’ and the award winning ‘There’s no i in idiot’.
Olaf is the author and illustrator of several kids books including the flatulent ‘Old MacDonald Heard A Parp’ trilogy, ‘It’s One Giant Leek For Mankind’, ‘Blobfish’ and his first middle grade series for Puffin Books ‘Trixie Pickle Art Avenger’.
As well as finding comedic success onstage, Falafel has also enjoyed online fame with his short viral videos. These absurdist movies include slices of truth telling cheese being thrown onto newspapers, Opera singers mixed with modem dial up tones and the Bee Gees hiding in his beard.
The comedy website Chortle affectionately described Falafel as ‘an idiot’ and when he doesn’t have a microphone in his hand you’ll probably find him with a pencil and pad trying to draw something equally idiotic.
When did you know you wanted to become an illustrator?
When i was around 8 or 9 I used to make my own comics, get my dad to photocopy them at work and sell them in the playground at school. That was probably the start of both my comedy and my illustration.
How long does it typically take to make a page or cover for a book?
It varies so much – I’ve just created a cover for a book proposal that took me four hours but I’ve got spreads in some of my picture books that have taken four days
What’s your favourite piece of art equipment?
I love the Pentel Brush pen, it gives a great line and it’s not to messy. I swear by it.
Do you have a favourite colour scheme, if so what and why?
Before I was a comedian/author/illustrator I worked in design and ad agencies. One designer nicknamed me Timmy Mallet because I always liked using bright and garish colour combinations. He still calls me it to this day.
Who were your inspirations when starting out?
Pete Fowler was and is the illustrator whose work I’ve always loved. I discovered him through the artwork he did for the Super Furry Animals, I love the characters he creates – a perfect blend of funny with stylish.
Do you have another job beside being an illustrator, if so what?
I’m a comedian! The two jobs really go hand in hand for me, especially as I like to try and make funny books. Also the onstage experience helps when I do school events, a room full of kids and a room full of drunk adults are surprisingly similar!
What do you do to overcome a creative block?
Go for a walk – I read something ages ago about kinetic thinking – how your brain fires up when the legs are going. Could be complete rubbish but my brain seems to enjoy a stroll.
Do you have a favourite piece in your portfolio, if so could you share it and talk about it?
I like the nap/dream illustration from Old MacDonald Heard A Parp. Partly for sentimental reasons because it was my first ever children’s book and also because it’s quite weird. There are floppy Dalí-esque clock, a farting unicorn and a couple of hidden jokes in there such as the planet Mercury looking like Freddie Mercury.
What was your first book related project?
It was Old MacDonald Heard A Parp which was originally called Old MacDonald Heard A Fart but the publishers felt it was too rude for UK audiences so I begrudgingly changed it. You can get hold of hardback Fart copies in Australia and New Zealand though!
What type of media do you prefer to work in and why?
Ink and watercolours or digitally drawing in Procreate.
Do you have a playlist you like working to? If so do you want to share it?
Lately I’ve been listening to Dave Brubek when I need to think – the upbeat scattergun jazz seems to help. If I’m drawing and don’t need to think too much I’ll have a movie playing in the background. Anything with Liam Neeson or Denzel Washington usually does the job.
Do you have any rituals when working?
Not really, I like to change things up in terms of where in the house I draw – I get bored if I’m in the same chair for too long.
Do you have a favourite artist outside of the world of books, if so who and why?
Peter Blake has always been a favourite since my college days. I like his deceptively simplistic style and the humour in his paintings.
Did the books you read as a child influence your work?
I loved Richard Scarry’s books when I was little, I was fascinated by all the small details and how all the different things were labelled. The running jokes that went through his books are definitely something I try and add to mine. When I was a bit older, around nine or ten I discovered The Ha Ha Bonk Book by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. It was filled with great jokes, surreal characters and loads of bonus humour within the illustrations.
Has your illustration/art style changed over time?
I have an instinctive way of drawing characters that has remained fairly consistent over the years – bendy limbs and a treble-yoo nose (like a double-you but with an extra u). I like to experiment with different mediums and styles but I like to try and keep it recognisable as something I’ve made.
How closely do you work with the author on developing the illustrations for a book?
Very closely as the author in most cases is me!
If you could illustrate any classic book which would it be and why?
I quite like the idea of illustrating A Midsummer Night’s Dream because of all the fairies, fools, queens and kings.
Which illustrated books in the last year have you loved?
I’m a big fan of Gustavo The Shy Ghost by Flavia Z Drago and also the follow up Leila The Perfect Witch.
If you can please tell us about your latest project and if not your last project.
Trixie Pickle Art Avenger is my latest book, it’s also my first foray into ‘middle grade’ chapter books. I was (and still am) what they call a ‘reluctant reader’ so I wanted to make something accessible to kids like me. It’s influenced by The Beano, Diary of a Wimpy kid, The Ha Ha Bonk Book and Viz. I’ve rammed it full of funny illustrations and because it features real facts on famous artists as well as farts it’s the perfect blend of high and low brow and actually quite educational. Also, the follow up book, Trixie Pickle Art Avenger Toxic Takedown is out on May 4th so that’s exciting!
Do you have any events on in the near future?
I’m at the Leicester Festival on February 19th where I’ll be doing a book event followed by a family friendly comedy event and then a ‘grown up’ comedy show. I’ll be up at the Edinburgh Festival again in August doing loads of funny stuff.