Drawing from life

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 March, 2009, 12:00am

Despite what grown-ups like to tell you, not every job is a chore. Just ask Tony Ross. Sleeping late, doodling and travelling for free are all in a hard day's work for the 83-year-old children's illustrator.

He is the creator of classic characters such as Horrid Henry, an adaptation of the Little Princess (which he wrote as well) and, more recently, Dr Xargle.

Ross has also enjoyed the company of some aut hors you might recognise, such as Paula Danziger and Michael Palin. Or his most famous client of all, Roald Dahl. In the 1960s, Ross worked alongside Dahl to publish The Magic Finger and Fantastic Mr Fox.

'I didn't meet him a huge amount but I remember he was sometimes quite grumpy,' Ross says during a phone interview with Young Post from his hometown of Cheshire, England.

'He was very careful about my drawings and looked at each one for a long time, but he didn't worry much about making changes. In fact most of the time, he wanted to talk about airplanes!' While the former pilot talked planes, Ross would talk about his own passion, sailing.

This exploratory streak might explain why Ross is still drawing well past the age most people retire. He keeps his creative juices flowing simply by living.

'Just the simple process of being alive, questioning everything you see, being interested in everything you see' inspires his drawings, he says.

It also helps that Ross can go to bed whenever he likes and get up whenever he likes. 'I also really enjoy the travelling involved,' he adds, referring to the trips he makes for book tours, workshops, and jobs.

Ironically, illustrating wasn't Ross' first choice for a career. He wanted to be a cowboy, but his dreams were dashed when a fan letter to John Wayne went unanswered. That's when he took pencil to paper and worked 'very hard'.

Any tips for young budding artists? Ross advises aspiring illustrators to draw constantly, and most of all to 'look at real things and not pictures of them in books'. He says: 'If you want to draw a tree, go to a tree.' Ross will reveal more this Sunday at the Man Hong Kong International Literary Festival(festival. org.hk)