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Jill Barton

As a child

I grew up near Manchester during, and just after, World War II. Every summer my parents would pack our huge, green trunk; my dad would take it to the station on a wheelbarrow; and we would leave dirty old, war-torn Manchester, to spend four weeks with my maternal grandparents at their farmhouse in Bedfordshire. I can’t remember any rainy days, and we were free to explore the dusty country lanes, play in the barns with the animals, and fish in the river with jam-jars tied up with string. Those idyllic days have influenced so many of my illustrations, and my granddad was the central character. It’s been great to have drawn so many grandfathers (both man and duck) in the stories I have illustrated.

As an adult

I have always loved drawing and when I left school at sixteen I checked out the Manchester School of Art. Way back then there were no courses specializing in illustration, so I did not pursue my dream. Then, when I was forty-four, after my three children were grown up, I decided to try again. I took a foundation course, and went on to take a degree in illustration. I graduated at forty-eight, having enjoyed every minute of being a mature student. Walker Books, with impeccable timing, offered me my first book just before my degree show. I later taught on the same course combining both careers until it became too much and I had to choose between them. So, naturally, I chose my first love. Illustrating children’s books has changed my life completely. But the most exciting and satisfying thing of all is knowing that loads of children are reading and enjoying my work. My little grandchildren think that everybody’s grandma draws pictures in books.

As an artist

I do not write the stories I illustrate, so I have to wait for a suitable text to come to me. I have had some brilliant stories to work on. It is very exciting when I receive a text, and I know immediately if it’s right for me. The hairs stand up on my arms, I’m smiling as I’m reading, and visual images are already chasing around in my head. I love gently humorous stories, full of movement and body language. The main characters could be human beings. They could be polar bears, ducks, caterpillars, a pig, or even a broken down car. The possibilities are endless.

Things you didn't know about Jill Barton

  1. I was born during the war – I had a Mickey Mouse gas mask and I wore a siren suit.
  2. We had an air-raid shelter in our back garden. There were bunk beds in it and a little stove.
  3. I was supposed to wear a brace on my teeth but I caused such a fuss that the dentist gave up on me. I’ve still got crooked teeth.
  4. I had a cat named Tibby, and a dog called Patch. I love cats but am allergic to them now – their fur makes me sneeze. They seem to know this and always sit on my lap.
  5. I have five grandchildren: four girls and one boy. Two of my granddaughters are very good at drawing; maybe they will be illustrators one day.
  6. I enjoy renovating houses, and I do not mind dirty jobs and really hard work. I hate housework and ironing, dusting and cooking.
  7. I live with my sister and we are great mates. When we were young we were always arguing because I used to borrow her clothes without permission.
  8. I’m good at sewing, but can’t knit.
  9. I can write and draw holding a crayon between my toes.
  10. I would love to be able to sing or play a musical instrument. My father played saxophone and clarinet and taught people to play the trumpet, but none of his musical ability has come my way.

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