Steve May – Q&A

Steve May
Steve May
Steve May is an animation directorx & freelance illustrator based in London (UK).

He was born in sunny Hastings & studied painting & film-making at Trent Polytechnic (1988-91) and after several years working as an illustrator / animator, a roady for Nirvana (once) & aspiring (but unsuccessful ) pop star gained an MA in Animation at the Royal College of Art (1999-2001)

As an animation director his films Anger & Rabbits won the Association of Illustrators Gold New Media Award in 2012 & 2010. X&Y (2008) was shortlisted for the British Animation Awards 2008 & has been screened internationally. His films Gut (2001) & Round (2000) have been screened in numerous international festivals & he has directed work for commercials & television including Cyberstreetwise for HM Government, & Spacehopper Man for BBC 3’s acclaimed Monkeydust series.

As an illustrator he has produced high quality illustration work for a variety of clients including Marks & Spencer, Harper Collins, The Guardian, The Economist, Puffin & Faber amongst many others .

He is currently represented by Picasso Pictures (for moving stuff) & Arena illustrators agents (for still stuff)

He lives in glamorous north London & his mum says he’s a genius.

Steve can be found at:
Arena Illustration:
Twitter: @stevemaythe1st
Instagram: @stevemaythe1st

When did you know you wanted to become an illustrator?

I always drew obsessively as a kid but I didn’t realise you could do it as a living until I was about 10 years old & discovered 2000ad

How long does it typically take to make a page or cover for a book?

Ha ha! How long is a piece of string? It depends how many characters are involved. My present book has a big cast of characters so the cover was quite complicated!

What’s your favourite piece of art equipment?

I love dip pens although I’m a rather destructive illustrator & I frequently destroy them!

Do you have a favourite colour scheme, if so what and why?

I seem to often lean towards purples & oranges but nothing in particular

Who were your inspirations when starting out?

There are SO many artists I love but Tove Jansson (Moomins) Mick McMahon (Judge Dredd etc.) Albert Uderzo (Asterix) & Ralph Steadman all had a huge influence on me

Do you have another job beside being an illustrator, if so what?

I’m an animation director & I lecture in animation.

What do you do to overcome a creative block?

Eat things I shouldn’t or go for long walks & start up conversations with random cats I meet in the street.

Do you have a favourite piece in your portfolio, if so could you share it and talk about it?

It changes all the time. I like to feel I’m always moving forward so it’s usually something I’ve done recently. I’m rather fond of the cover from Supernan’s Day Out by Phil Earle which was published last year 2022 by Barrington Stoke – it’s got lots of things I love in it, superheroes, the seaside, ridiculous animals (& if you look closely there’s a little cameo of me wearing a striped shirt eating an ice lolly & holding an inflatable fish in the background.

What was your first book related project?

I *think* the first children’s book I illustrated professionally was called ‘James & The Alien Experiment’ by Sally Prue back in 2005

What type of media do you prefer to work in and why?

I love pen & ink but I generally work digitally so my stuff is usually a bit of a hybrid

Do you have a playlist you like working to? If so do you want to share it?

I like noisy music when I’m colouring in!

Do you have any rituals when working?

Does ‘pulling stupid faces’ count?

Do you have a favourite artist outside of the world of books, if so who and why?

Too many to mention, early Hockney, Francis Bacon, Jean Dubuffet, Aubrey Beardsley (& all the other ones I’ve forgotten!)

Did the books you read as a child influence your work?

Very much so! I loved the Asterix & Moomin books & Richard Scarry’s work was phenomenal. (I had the honour of getting a quote on the covers of recent Scarry reissues from Faber which was VERY exciting!)

Has your illustration/art style changed over time?

Yes, but gradually. (although I’m sure my critics would say I just drew the same nonsense over & over again!)

How closely do you work with the author on developing the illustrations for a book?

I like to be able to send over character ideas & discuss them with the author – sometimes I’ll ask them if they have anybody in mind for a particular character. When I was working with Harry Hill we concocted a villain who was half Nick Cotton from Eastenders & half ‘Evil-David Dickinson’!*

(*You’ll only know David Dickinson if you watch too much daytime TV!)

If you could illustrate any classic book which would it be and why?

Alice in Wonderland would be fun but I’d also love to have a crack at Andy Stanton’s Mr Gum books!

Which illustrated books in the last year have you loved?

Too hard! I did rather love Sister Clawdetta by the brilliant Tor Freeman!

If you can please tell us about your latest project and if not your last project

My latest project is a picture book with the brilliant Francesca Simon which I’m sworn to secrecy on – I’ve been working with Francesca on her Two Terrible Vikings series for Faber but this is a new picture book for younger readers – hilarious & VERY colourful – watch this space…

Do you have any events on in the near future?

I’m doing Wimbledon Bookfest for World Book Day on the 9th March with Francesca Simon talking about our latest book Two Terrible Vikings – Feast With The King – expect mayhem (that’s MAY-hem of course!)

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