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Jake Alexander

Award Winning Children's book Illustrator talks about discovering Illustration, Winning Awards and getting Published.

On a Saturday morning with the busy sounds of Battersea streets & coffee being ground at Doppio Coffee Warehouse, Jake Alexander and I had a moment to catch up on where he finds himself in his career. During the last year of our degree at the Arts University Bournemouth in 2019, Jake & I shared a busy house with another 6 friends. Since, Jake has become an Award Winning Children’s book Illustrator and Author with his book ‘We Want Our Books’ and many other projects. I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect and learn about the key moments that influenced his career so far.

Prior to university, Jake always recognised that he was a visual person, with a passion for drawing & making. This took him to the Arts & Design Foundation course at AUB, where he expected to move towards fine arts however...

“I was always fascinated by people who make things especially on behind the scenes stuff eg. for films, where you see how everything could come from just one production sketch or illustration. After talking with a tutor (He worked on Star Wars) he suggested that I do Illustration and I agreed."

This pivot allowed Jake to change his relationship to his practice, from self-led explorations to responding to briefs. Once on the Illustration Degree, Jake grounded himself within the course and with his course-mates "being friends with so many amazing and talented artists really pushed me to develop my skills and practice". When asked about this process of discovery, he said:

"I'm a big believer in winging it. However, at some point I finally began to think more creatively so my work became more authorial

With his approach to making art figured out, Jake's career began rather accidentally based on an initial decision and it's knock on effects , which I will aim to describe in 4 simple steps:

Step 1: Be an incredible artist with years of work leading up to this point

Step 2: Decide to turn your final major project at university into a children's book

Step 3: Be encouraged by your university to apply for the Macmillan's Children's Book Prize

Step 4: Win the Macmillan's Children's Book Prize, get published & get signed to an agent

I simply love the way Jake talks about this experience as a series of happy coincidences, not mentioning all the hard work along the way:

"So I knew for the final major project I wanted to do it on systemic racism. But I had no idea what context it would be. After a lecture with Laura Carlin, she said that any topic can be approached in a children's book if done in the right way. And I had not even thought about doing a kid's book ever. So I decided to wing it, and do a children's picture book on systemic racism. Wrote it in a couple of weeks, then made it in a few more. Anyone who makes a children's book in third year is encouraged to submit it for the Macmillan's Children's Book Prize. Which I did, not thinking anything of it. I just thought it would be a good idea to get my work in front of industry professionals. I then won. Which was surprising. And from that I developed the project on with Two Hoots (An imprint of PanMacmillan) for over a year, into what is now ‘We Want Our Books’. My first book."

From this moment on, Jake has described his career progression in a rather collaborative way between all his clients, agent, publisher, other artists and authors. During my own conversations with other makers, I have come across a level of protectiveness with ones work, which Jake seems to channel in a different way. Rather than rejecting criticism or feeling insecure, he embraces it with the simple goal of improving the quality of his work.

"I love working with other people. So I always actively seek their feedback. In terms of following advice, I just trust my gut, if someone says something about my work I try to look at it from their point of view. Sometimes I agree with them and sometimes I don't. I think it's important to believe in your work but it's also important to be open. Otherwise arrogance and pretension creeps in."

As a young Illustrator, Jake has really propelled himself with consistent hard work and what he believes was a 'lucky break'. Stating that he feels further ahead than he ever thought he would be at this stage. Jake has decided to fully commit to his work and not rely on a part-time job when he moved to London this year. This decision is always a difficult one in any makers career, however with the support of an agent, he believes he can spend that time further developing his practice with personal work alongside commissions. He jokes about his long-term goals are to...

"Make loads of money? And be famous. But if not then having my own studio space away from my flat would be lovely. I'm hopeful that things will just line up. So I'm either overly confident or stupid, so ask me that again in 6 months, Ana and we'll see where I'm at"

I promise I will, Jake and I'll share it with everyone in the upcoming year. In the meantime check out all his current published books ‘We Want Our Books’ and 'Black and British: An Illustrated History' written by David Olusoga and many more projects on Jake Alexanders Website. I'll also leave you with Jake's list of dream makers Victor Bizar Gómez, Laura Carlin, Dapo Adeola, Jon Klassen & Judith Kerr.

Thank you so much Jake for participating! I can't wait to share more Creative Diaries with you all.


Illustrations by: Jake Alexander

Portrait of Jake: Gianluca Urdiroz

Children's book award: Macmillan's Children's Book Prize


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