Fantastic Fantasy Artwork: The Spooks Series by David Wyatt

David Wyatt is an illustrator with a highly  impressive body of work. On my own book shelves alone his artwork can be found on familiar titles like Peter Pan in Scarlet, The Hobbit, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and Larklight. He has also illustrated for Diana Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett and Brian Jacques but the artwork that will feature as the fourth part of our ongoing Fantastic Fantasy Artwork series will be the brilliant cover and interior illustrations that he creates for Joseph Delaney’s soon-to-be-completed Spooks series.

The original (and best) cover of The Spook's Apprentice.David very kindly took the time to talk with me about both his work on the Spooks books and his successful long-time collaboration with David Fickling Books. I first asked David to recount his memories regarding illustrating the first book in the series, The Spook’s Apprentice:

"When I did the first Spook’s book way back in 2004, I had no idea I would still be involved in The Wardstone Chronicles 10 years later (I’ve just received the manuscript for book 14). The original hardback cover was conceived to reflect the fact that the story was narrated by Tom in his notebook, hence the rather minimal, scuffed old tome look. It helped that the book was slightly smaller in format than normal, giving it a pocket-sized feel. The texture of the illustration was achieved by scanning in an old leather bound copy of Coleridge poems. I did the type and the little Spook design to look like faded gold foil – a bit of embossing at the print finishing stage helped to make it look authentic. We still use this look for the Amazon Special Edition release, although the recent books you’ll find on the shelves use a more modern, traditionally sized approach by another illustrator."

Not only do the Spooks books have beautiful covers they also feature illustrations that head each and every chapter. These perfectly encapsulate the book’s atmosphere and they consistently bring to life a character, location or, even better in my opinion, a creature of the dark. I asked David how he approached this interior drawings:

An interior illustration from a Spooks book #1

"I chose the interior illustration style to be reminiscent of old wood cuts, but heavily reliant on silhouettes so I didn’t have to show too much detail. Readers of the Spook’s series will know things can get a little gruesome so I have to be careful about how much of that I reveal. I think I’ve relied less on silhouettes with each book – they can be a bit limiting – but I’ve tried to keep the high-contrast, chunky blackness going throughout.

An interior illustration from a Spooks book #2

Normally I read through the manuscript and make notes about potential images. Then I read through again and do some tiny scribbles to see what works best. I’ve had no direct communication with Joseph – very unusually with illustration I don’t even send in roughs. I just get on with the images and hope they’re ok – I think I’ve only had to alter one picture in all this time. I must stress this is not a normal state of affairs in my line of work!

The actual artwork is drawn simply with a felt pen that is scanned in. The heavy blacks are added digitally, with some improvements made along the way. Sometimes I use a bit of splatter, which is made with a toothbrush dipped in ink – this is done separately and placed on the artwork where needed."

An interior illustration from a Spooks book #3

David has enjoyed a long and productive relationship with David Fickling Books whose name is, in my opinion, the literary equivalent of the royal seal of approval. I asked him if he found that working for DFB had led to working on some of the very best books, which in turn led him to create some of his very best work:

"I’ve known David Fickling since the early nineties, when he was at Scholastic in a small office off of Cambridge Circus. He and his lovely team of designers really gave me my start in children’s book illustration and I produced loads of covers at that time, as well as illustrating books by Terry Deary and Philip Pullman. Even back then, we were aware of each others love of comics as a way of telling stories, but it’s only recently that we have embarked on a project, the Tales of Fayt, written by Conrad Mason. It’s essentially a graphic novel, but will be published initially in episodes in The Phoenix, David’s weekly comic. David (along with his son, Will, who has inherited his father’s enthusiasm for good stories) has been very involved in the creation of this project, and we have had several long and productive meetings to ensure we make it as good as we can. David has a very positive, encouraging manner that really makes you want to dig deep and do the best possible work, which explains his success as a publisher. Also, he is not averse to taking risks, which is becoming increasingly rare in mainstream publishing."

I would just like to thank David for his time in answering some questions and in kindly supplying the beautiful illustrations that accompany the words on this page. I hope others found the illustration process described as fascinating as I.

David Wyatt is the fourth featured illustrator in our Fantastic Fantasy Artwork series. Please see also:

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