Illustrator of the Week

Emily Gravett

Emily Gravett was born in Brighton, UK. Gravett is 35 now. Her trademark dreadlocks are gone, their only trace the sherbet-coloured stripes through her sandy-blonde hair. She only began producing children's picture books seven years ago, when she enrolled in an art course at Brighton University. After leaving school at 16 she went on the road, travelling in a 30-foot bus with her partner, Mik. "There were lots of festivals in those years, at the end of the 80s, the beginning of the 90s," she says. "It was great." They travelled for eight years, doing casual labour. "You couldn't get 'job' jobs," she tells, "it was always fruit picking: potatoes, apples, pears, plums." Material, years later, for a bear.

In her early 20s she became pregnant, after trying for longer than she'd thought it would take. With a baby on the way, the pair looked for a house, but without references they found only slammed doors. "How do you even apply for a job when you don't have an address?" she says. "Or clean clothes? It felt like we were living in a completely different society - a parallel existence. The two worlds didn't cross - we didn't go into pubs, or restaurants, or shops." But she did have to go to hospital when her daughter, Oleander, was born. Her early infancy then turned out to be a nightmare, played out in sub-Kafka circumstances. The family lived in their bus on an old railway line; even going to the loo was an ordeal. The baby used disposables, but if Emily needed to respond to a call of nature, it meant dressing Olly to go out, carrying her in her car seat, propping her up on bricks, and digging a hole to use as a toilet. And they were in Wales, three miles from the nearest shop, 20 miles from a town. "I'd go to playgroup, and it was all Welsh-speaking," she remembers. "They gave me this invitation to a birthday party; then when we got there I realised it was a birthday party for Spot - you know, the dog from the book!"

Oleander screamed all day. "It didn't matter what you did, walk around, whatever, nothing helped. It was such a shock to my system, that somebody else could control my life like that - I just totally lost it." There was only one activity that soothed the distressed baby - she loved being read to. Looking back, it's as if the pieces of Gravett's life were slowly taking shape.
Meanwhile, the family found a cottage, but Gravett had reached bottom. Mik had begun training as a plumber, and Gravett decided she had to do something, or kill someone. And so it was that she applied to an art course at Brighton University. Because she had left school without any qualifications, they kept sending her UCAS form back without even considering it. In the end she talked herself into the course, producing a pictorial and written record of her year giving birth to persuade the tutors to let her in.
She won the Macmillan prize for Illustration with Wolves which was published in 2005. In June 2008 won the Kate Greenaway Medal, this time for Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears.

She now lives in Brighton with her daughter Oleander, partner Mik, and two pet rats, Buttons and Mr. Moo.