Thursday, 18 December 2008

Hornsey Gallery Reception Party

Many thanks to everyone who showed up for the author/illustrator event and exhibition reception party for the Children's Illustrators show at Hornsey Gallery on the 16th, it was a very busy day and a great success. During the day the Wood Green bookshop sold books from local authors as well as the exhibiting illustrators, though as all my work is published outside the UK at the moment I had nothing to sell except limited edition prints. In the evening the reception event drew publishers, authors, illustrators and at least one agent as well as members of the general public.

I was pretty busy so I don't have any photographs to show yet, but there were two photographers from the local press present so there may be some snapshots available later. The show runs until the beginning of January, I won't be in the gallery again until it's closure, but I'll try to take some snapshots then.

If anyone is able to get to Crouch End do drop in, the gallery is upstairs of Hornsey Library.

My greatest thanks to the organizers Elena Pippou and Sean Edwards for all their hard work, and to fellow exhibitors Ros Asquith, Tanya Linch, Sian Pattenden and Jane Ray.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

I am not an Artist

I am not an artist.
Or maybe I am, I don't know, it's not my position to judge.

Art is after all in the eye of the beholder. i.e. the general public, the viewer, not the creator.

It's the bane of the creator that we are too closely involved in our own work to accurately judge whether our work can be called Art. Of course we have a biased opinion, I think everything I do is significant or I wouldn't do it, but I also detest everything I've created as I know I could have done it better, had I been more in control of my faculties, had my vision not been clouded by the mundane things in life, or the limitations of media, or my lack of technique or skill. Whatever I draw, it's usually a percentage of what I aim at - 70%, 80%, occasionally 90%, but rarely the jackpot 100.

But on the other hand I can look back at some pieces and see subconscious threads appearing that I hadn't been aware of when I began the piece. Sometimes I'm bemused how I managed to draw some illustrations. Pictures evolve as you create them, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes pictures reach a level you hadn't considered at first. Those are the good times, when you seem to be in partnership with your hand rather than controlling it completely, when intuition takes over.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Group Show in Crouch End, London

Throughout December I'm participating in a group exhibition with my old friend Jane Ray and three other illustrators. If anyone's in the area do have a look. I'll be at the reception party on the 16th, come along if you can make it!

Exhibition of Children's Book Illustrations

With works by Ros Asquith, Tanya Linch, Sian Pattenden, Jane Ray and John Shelley

The show runs 3rd December 2008 to 4th January 2009
open 1pm to 7pm Monday to Friday, and Saturday and Sunday 12pm to 4pm

Reception Party (all welcome)
16th December, 7 to 9 pm

@ The Original Gallery
2F Hornsey Library
Haringey Park
London N8 9JA

For information call Elena Pippou on 07967 336 128

Saturday, 15 November 2008

One year on

Today was the one year anniversary of my wife Makiko’s death.

Naturally a lot of emotions have been running through my mind, and daughter Seren’s. It doesn’t seem like a year, that day of her death will remained engraved on my memory for all time as if it were just a few days ago. I can’t believe I’ve been away from Japan so long, our present existence still feels so temporary, as we’re still in a little apartment in a provincial corner of the UK. The anniversary made us think not only of the memory of my wife, but also our present situation and what we’ve achieved, or not achieved in this year of trauma and change. We seem to have reached a level, another chapter seems to be drawing to a close, it always appears as if Seren and I are crossing thresholds, yet progress remains very very slow. As someone said to me recently, you know you’re alive, but you’re not really living, merely going through the motions. I wonder how much longer this emptiness will go on.

I intended to do something special today in memory of Maki, though there’s little in our environment that reminds us of her, most of her personal items were taken by her family, leaving us with photos and not a lot more. Unfortunately I’ve caught a cold off Seren which has knocked me for six, I could barely get up this morning. Nevertheless we needed to shake ourselves out of the stifling mood and get out of the flat, so we decided to go shopping for clothes for Seren, something that we used to do regularly as a family in Japan. Through that I felt that Maki was somehow once more with us, it was in it’s own way a fitting memory. On the train to and back from Sutton Coldfield Seren and I helped each other think up children’s stories, something very special seemed to be happening, though it’s only the two of us, I felt I had the strength of family we had when Maki was alive too.

Whether her spirit was there with us I don’t know, but I’m sure she was somehow watching. Bless you Maki.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Illustration Friday - Repair

Another picture book illustration, this one from The Boat in the Tree (Front Street 2007). It just seemed to fit the topic perfectly!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Illustration Friday - Late

Something fitting for this weeks theme. It's from Maho no Kasa, a translated version of Rose Fyleman's story "The Magic Umbrella", published by Fukuinkan Shoten in Tokyo 1999 and reprinted 2007.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Nichiban Campaign

A recent ad campaign in Japan is a fairy web picture book for the 60th anniversary of Nichiban, the Japanese sellotape manufacturer.

Access the Nichiban site and click on the middle icon on the right hand side. It takes a while to load so you may need to be patient. I'm afraid it's all in Japanese! On the next page choose the top icon to start the story. Buttons to move to the next page appear in the bottom right corner of the screen.

It's not a real book unfortunately, I was asked to draw all the page elements which the ad agency put together digitally and animated.

Story in a nutshell: Fairies Sello-kun and his friend Ecolo are about to start school, but have been burying human objects they found in the forest in secret places. When Ecolo's younger brother cuts himself on one of the objects they're forced to admit their guilt and get a dressing down from Ecolo's dad and Sello-kun's mum about how human rubbish pollutes the environment. Their punishment is to collect all their buried objects in the wood. When they're done, Sello-kun's mum gives them a reward: a roll of eco-friendly bio-degradable sellotape for their school work!

Whimsical fantasy or cynical advertising ploy? You decide. A curiosity!

Friday, 26 September 2008

Illustration Friday - Packed

Here's another image for Illustration Friday. It's an old exhibition piece from a few years ago. Now what inspired me to draw this? I can't remember, it was from a doodle on a train. Skinny runt though I am, perhaps I was feeling spiritually bloated.

Saturday, 13 September 2008


I very occasionally participate in the Illustration Friday projects when I have something suitable. Here's something for this weeks theme "Island". It's from The Boat in the Tree picture book.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Eco Car

Here's some images for a recent Japanese job, a brochure on the development of "Eco-cars" (environmentally friendly low Co2 emission vehicles) for JAMA (Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association).

I don't drive, so this is about as close as I get to working for the motoring industry! These kind of simple conceptual images are a lot of fun, and it's a theme often explored in my commercial work, i.e. humanity interacting harmoniously with the environment. Ironically, the word "jama" in Japanese means 'obstacle'.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Daiwa Foundation thanks

Many thanks to everyone who attended my talk at the Daiwa Foundation in London on Thursday.

I was greatly surprised by the generous turnout, 71 people signed up to hear my talk, I hope my tales of an illustrator in Japan were of interest.

My deepest thanks to the Daiwa Foundation for organizing the event, to Sue Hudson for arranging things, and to Satoshi Kitamura for chairing.

The event was it seems a great success, I for one certainly enjoyed myself, if I receive any photos I'll post them here.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

"Artist in Residence: 20 years as an illustrator in Japan"

The Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation presents an illustrated lecture

Artist in Residence: 20 years as an illustrator in Japan
by John Shelley

Thursday 3 July 2008
6.00pm - 8.00pm
Daiwa Foundation Japan House

This event is free but advanced booking is essential.
Places can be booked at
Illustrations by John Shelley can be viewed at

John Shelley, an illustrator based in Japan for 20 years, returned to the UK this year. His talk will cover his experience working in Japan as an illustrator and how the Japanese creative market differs from that in the UK.
The chair will be Satoshi Kitamura, a renowned children’s picture book author and illustrator.

John Shelley was born in Birmingham and grew up in Sutton Coldfield. He studied at Bournville School of Art, then at Manchester Polytechnic under children's illustrator Tony Ross. From 1983, he began working as a freelance illustrator in London, and by 1984 had co-founded the artist's collective Facade Studios with designer Andy Royston and illustrators Jane Ray and Willie Ryan. His interest in ukiyo-e prints attracted him towards Japan and in 1987 he moved to Tokyo, making it his home for the following 21 years. The intervening time witnessed an outpouring of commercial illustration for clients in Japan and children's books for publishers across the globe. In Japan, his award-winning commercial art has been used in everything from animated TV ads, poster and newspaper campaigns to character merchandising and editorial illustration. With a unique insight into the Japanese creative market he stood as a committee member of JAGDA (Japan Graphic Designer Association) and presented at colleges across the country. Following his first major picture book, The Secret in the Matchbox (1989, Mother Goose Award runner-up), his children's illustrations have been published in the UK, USA, Europe, Japan and East Asia, and have continued to gain steady recognition across the world. As an author, his published stories include Hoppy’s New House (Fukuinkan Shoten) and The House of the World (Benesse). Shelley is active on the world stage, having run events on children's illustration in Los Angeles, Manila, Paris, Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) and Bologna, as well as in Tokyo and the UK.

Satoshi Kitamura (chair) is a renowned children’s picture book author and illustrator. Born in Tokyo in 1956, Kitamura enjoyed reading comics and illustrated novels from a young age. Without any formal training, at 19 he started his career working in advertising as an artist, eventually making his way to London. He has written and illustrated over 20 of his own books and worked as illustrator on countless others. He illustrated Angry Arthur (written by Hiawyn Oram), which won the Mother Goose Award and the Japanese Picture Book Award in 1983. He wrote and illustrated UFO Diary, a Smarties Prize finalist in 1989. Having lived in the UK now for over two decades, his illustrations show both Eastern and Western influences and are characterised by moody London streetscapes and wide-eyed expressive 'friends'.

Daiwa Foundation Japan House is located at 13/14 Cornwall Terrace, London, NW1 4QP.

For more information of all events organised by The Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, see

The Daiwa Anglo Japanese Foundation
Daiwa Foundation Japan House, 13/14 Cornwall Terrace, London, NW1 4QP
Tel : 020 7486 4348 Fax : 020 7486 2914 Website :
Registered Charity No. 299955

Thursday, 17 April 2008

More on Bologna

The Book Fair

SCBWI had a stand at the Fair for the first time this year, and it was a marvellous base of operations for us. Being worn out by the Conference I was quite happy to take things steady at the Fair. I had nine appointments with publishers, but spent a lot of time at the Stand as I had two showcases to run, two portfolio reviews, and two hour long 5-minute portfolio critiques - SCBWI kept me pretty busy.

SCBWI Stand in Hall 26

There was always something going on at the Stand, the constant crowd of members hovering around in front of it tended to attract other passers-by and was a great way to generate interest in SCBWI. As every showcase ended the card, posters and books at the stand multiplied, until by the end it was starting to look pretty messy, something I'd like to address in future, but the overall impression was very good. To my knowledge we sold the rights to two books directly from visitors to the stand - an Australian author and Babette Cole both had books that were seen on the stand and subsequently picked up for foreign editions.

I ran a presentation on SCBWI Tokyo and another on my own work, both seemed to go down well.
During my showcase presentation

Perhaps the most interesting event was a sketching "duel" between Doug Cushman, Paul Zelinsky and Bridget Strevens-Marzo, who all illustrated live a picture book text written and read aloud by Erzsi, line by line. The repeated readings were particularly effective in drawing in an audience (pardon the pun).
The Illustrator's Duel

Erzsi reciting her story
We also ran two hour-long 5-minute speed portfolio reviews which were well subscribed to. Doug and myself were the main reviewers, seeing some 20 portfolios each overall, some of the work was pretty good and deserved longer than 5 minutes for comment, but I think the attendees went away satisfied and with a good impression of SCBWI.

By the end of the Fair we were all pretty exhausted, but well satisfied that the Conference and Fair stand had been a great success.

The biggest lesson for me was that the market in most countries is becoming more and more geared towards bright, simpler, commercial images, and not the more laboured traditional work I often was approached to do in Japan.

Outside the Fair. L to R: Paul O. Zelinsky, Bridget Strevens-Marzo, Me, Erzsi Deak, Doug Cushman, Leonard Marcus

Bologna Snapshots

Every Bologna is different they say, and so it proved this year. It was the second time I'd been to the Book Fair, the last visit being in 2004. Then I was merely a visitor, this time I was associated with the SCBWI Stand. Because of my recent disrupted circumstances for a long time I wasn't sure I'd even be able go, but the organizers were very understanding and accomodating, not least the main organizer, SCBWI International head, and friend Erzsi Deak, to whom I extend my deepest thanks .

I stayed with my good friend Doug Cushman, Paris-based US picture book author/artist. He'd reserved an apartment right under the twin towers and generously saved me a room which I ended up sharing with Leonard Marcus, the children's book writer, historian and critic. This turned out to be a great arrangement, we had plenty to talk about and stuck together quite a lot throughout the Fair. Leonard has recently completed a new book Golden Legacy, a history of Golden Books in the US.

First up was the 2-day Biennial SCBWI Conference.

This took placed within the Fair facilities on 29th and 30th March, just before the Fair opened. There were more people attending than I'd expected, over 150 I believe, ranging from pro's to newbies. The speakers were largely very competent (with the exception of me perhaps). There were 2 rooms, one main and a smaller room where the illustrator events were held. Catering was very well arranged, using an outside catering service, if anything there was more food than could be eaten and snacks provided throughout the 2 days. The bookshop desk sold copies of titles by attendees and the faculty.

Writer/Illustrator Talks
I can only comment on those events I sat in on, which naturally leaned towards the Illustrator-focused talks, so apologies to the agents, and writers who ran sessions in the other room - there's a good coverage of these on other blogs.

Doug Cushman, Paul Zelinsky and Jan Ormerod
Picture-Book illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky started the show and gave an excellent and amusing powerpoint presentation of his work, showcasing his astounding stylistic versatility from his first very tight work on Rumplestilskin through The Wheels on the Bus to his expressive recent books like The Shivers in the Fridge.

Following him web designer and writer Candy Gourlay gave an authorative talk on how writers can engage with the internet, full of amusing detail, anecdotes and information. She managed to cover a great deal of ground, with websites remember “It’s not about you it’s about them” (the visitors)... So know your audience.

Jana Novotny Hunter in the main room.
Jana Hunter’s talk covered the history of picture books and the lessons we can learn from them as authors and artists, and was very thorough, especially for those who may not have a solid grounding in the subject.

Pat Cummings' workshop for illustrators.
I particularly enjoyed Pat Cummings' confident and friendly picture book workshop, I'd seen her in action last year in New York and she was just as good here, critiquing submitted work from established pro's as well as newcomers.

Kathleen Duey was also full of strong advice for writers, though I unfortunately missed the beginning of her talk. Points I picked up on: Get the reader to care about the central character; the less narration the better; viewpoint is powerful; set your stage from the beginning.
Kathleen Duey

Official star of the show was picture-book author/illustrator Babette Cole (sorry, no pictures!), who had the whole room rolling in laughter. She talked a lot about the history of her career and love of horses, but ended on promoting efforts in the UK to regenerate interest in picture books through an event The Big Picture. As I was on the faculty I got to know these people very well, all of them were great to meet, many new friendships forged. Unfortunately I missed the agents and the writers talks as I was in the other room, but I heard they were all solid.

The illustrated talk on the character strip Ariol by comic artist and illustrator Mark Boutavant and his editor Pauline Mermet was absolutely fascinating despite the unfortunate non-show of the strip writer Emmanuel Guibert. In a series of powerpoint slides Mark showed his awesome talent and some rare insights into the working methods used by comic artists in France. Interestingly he insisted he hated doing comics and would much prefer single images, I know how he feels.

Editor/AD talks
The Editors gave robust talks. Scholastic Editor David Saylor's talk on graphic novels was inspiring enough to persuade me to dig out my old web-comics created in Japan. He talked a lot about the recent Bone comic he’d worked on, saying for submissions he’d like to see at least 32 pages of dummy plus a synopsis of the whole text. 6 x 9 trim is apparently the standard for Scholastic.

In the International Books for Pre-Readers talk British editors from Bloomsbury and Scholastic UK several times refered to the current predominant use of "blim" (use of sparkly glitter, silver laminate etc on covers) to sell books in the UK now.
Editors discuss their recent book projects - Sarah Odedina (Bloomsbury) and Catherine Halligan (Scholastic).
The illustration First Look critiques were interesting, consisting of a desk full of editors giving 3 minute comments on submitted artwork displayed on a screen.

On day 2 I gave my Illustrators International presentation, sharing the bench with veteran international Marie Wabbes, who formerly lived in Africa now based in Belgium, and Bridget Strevens-Marzo, the SCBWI International Illustrator Coordinator, who works for publishers in many countries while being based in France for many years. We each had just 15 minutes to run through our careers, I spoke of my 21 years in Japan and experiences working internationally for the US and UK. It wasn't really long enough to expand in any detail, but my current circumstances led me to be grateful for the conciseness. I had some good feedback from it anyway, some people thought my talk was too short and wanted to hear a lot more.

In the final event Why I Love this Book & Published It, chaired by Leonard Marcus, each editor chose a favorite book to talk about. It was interesting to see the difference in taste and opinion between editors of different countries.

At the end of the conference there was a closing party held at a bookshop in town. As it was the night before the Fair opened there were many publishers present, it spilled out into the street and went on to the early hours, with the bookshop owners husband dj'ing classic garage surf rock'n roll tunes.

Sorry I've no photos for a lot of the events mentioned, but Erzsi's Facebook page lists many more.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Bologna Book Fair

I've recently returned from the Bologna Book Fair, where I was one of the speakers at the SCBWI Biennial Conference. This was scheduled a long time ago, and despite my change in circumstances I was loathe to cancel, as it gave me something solid to focus on during this period of adjustment. I also needed to seriously re-connect with publishing in the West!

I'll post a report if I'm able, but for snapshots of the proceedings go to the organizer Erzsi Deak's Facebook page.

In addition to the Conference this was the first year SCBWI had a stand at the Book Fair.

Moving on

My deepest thanks to everyone who has supported me and daughter Seren during these past months of grief and change. It's been tough adjusting to the UK after so many years, but we're beginning to find our feet now, thanks to the wonderful assistance of family and friends around us.

Whatever happens, life goes on. As this is an art blog I'll speak no more on the subject of my grief, our circumstances etc. They really deserve a blog of their own... if I only had the time!

Once again, thank you everyone.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

New year, new life

2007 was a hell of a year. I can confidently say the most unforgetable year of my life. I wasn't going to spell everything out in the blog, but hell with it, here we go. You'll understand why there have not been any blog entries lately shortly. Read on.

The first six months were full of hope and promise. Work was looking good, in February I was in New York for the SCBWI Conference and had a very promising reception from American publishers. This was followed by successful workshop tours to Manila in May, and Mongolia in June. Things were cooking. My wife Makiko moved into higher echelons of responsibility within her company, and was entering her stride as a manager. These things alone would have made it a memorable year.

But then my mother in the UK suddenly died in August from food poisoning. Soon after, my darling wife Makiko, my idol, died tragically in November at just 31 years old. Two of the most important women in my life were taken from me in the space of just three months. All I have left now is my 4 year old daughter Seren. After my wife's passing my former in-laws however attempted to abduct Seren, obliging the two of us to suddenly drop everything and leave Japan at short notice in December.

There is much much more on these events I could write about, but not today. The personal nature of the tragedy stays my hand.

The lives of Seren and myself have been irrevocably changed. We're no longer in Japan, my home for the last 21 years, and are instead about to re-settle into the UK. It's a bewildering reverse culture-shock after all this time. I'm now a single parent of a four year old, with no strong connections to this country and a freelance illustration business to somehow re-establish. It's not going to be easy.

And yet I have faith that with the dawn of a new year things will begin to look up for us, it's best to be philosophical about our position. I've always been a fatalist, I can't help but believe that this series of great upheavals were somehow meant to be. Seren and I are now entering a new stage in our lives, with new challenges, but also new opportunities. Despite the uncertainty of our future, our spirits are unbroken. With the support and generosity of wonderful friends and my family we've been able to remain strong. Battered by the seemingly unending series of traumas yes, but we are intact.

I've no idea what 2008 has in store for us, but things will move on for the better. With the new year a certain weight has been lifted. The nightmare of 2007 is over and good riddance. Roll on 2008, year of hope and fresh beginning.