In this interview Mike Payne, creator of Tatty Teddy, Charlie's Ark and Little Else, gives us a closer look into his life and work.
A new title for this year, the Life According To Little Else, has already become a popular title for 2016. We got in touch with renowned award-winning international artist and creator of Little Else, Mike Payne, who was kind enough to answer a few of our questions.
How did you get started as a cartoonist/illustrator?
I’ve always loved to draw. It is said I drew before I could walk. I found a crayon in my cot and scribbled through the cot bars on the wall. It wasn’t very good though!
All through my school days I was drawing. I remember that when I was at primary school in an art class we had to draw “A day at the seaside!” I immediately started to draw cartoons of families enjoying a day on the beach but I was halted in my endeavours when the art teacher, a Miss Honeybone, smacked an exercise book around the back of my head saying “Cartoons were not art!”. ( One can imagine my satisfaction to return to that school many years later to give all the pupils a presentation of my cartoon artwork that had been so successful for me to prove that cartoons were indeed art.)
I was encouraged by my parents to join the Civil Service when I left school and I spent some 26 years there rising to a very senior rank. I never stopped drawing in all the time I was there. If someone retired, had a birthday, anniversary, or left to have a baby etc. I would always come up with a scribble for them and this in turn lead to me doing artwork for presentations / training courses and the like. By this time I was married and had two young daughters but I always felt very much like a square peg in a round hole.
It was while I was working in the service that I was approached through head office to see if I was interested in me and my artwork being featured in a new show “Abracadigance” for London Weekend Television starring Richard Digance. I didn’t need to be asked twice. I did the show and was amazed at the response to my artwork. At the end of the show Richard Digance stood by me and asked the audience “Should this man still be working with the Civil Service?” (This was something he hadn’t said in the technical rehearsal!) The audience replied as one “NO!” “What should he do?” enquired Richard. “LEAVE!” came back the reply. This was on Saturday and a live show and I had to go into work on Monday! This was a watershed moment and was the reason I decided to become a full time illustrator / cartoonist.
Can you name 3 words that describe your work?
That’s difficult… I guess that the three words in no particular order would be Innofensive, Humourous, Truthfulness.
What is your working environment like?
I have a wonderful art studio which I designed and had built for me. It is quite a tidy environment with a curved console desk on which sits my Mac Pro. which I couldn’t be without. I have a lovely view of a garden and plenty of pens and pencils to scribble with! Oh yes, and a little black cat called “Brindle” to keep me company.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
I’ve had quite a few. Perhaps too many to mention. The general public never cease to amaze me with their complimentary comments and I’m often humbled by their reaction. A prime example was some years ago when I was at an event signing my creation “Tatty Teddy” at Blackpool Winter Gardens. This guy had travelled all the way up from Portsmouth to Blackpool in his car that morning and queued for over five hours to get my signature on the base of a figurine for his wife. After I signed this little teddy he then drove home to give it to her! Very humbling to say the least!
Who are some of your favourite / most inspiring illustrators and why?
Growing up I was always a fan of ‘Giles’ of the Daily Express and of course ‘Disney’. Giles had a unique gift of including somewhere in his cartoon another joke which you had to look for. He had such wonderful truth in his drawings and he was a big influence on me and my style. As a child I was always drawing Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and all the other Disney characters. I remember one day drawing “Tramp” from “Lady and the Tramp” and I thought to myself why am I copying other people’s characters? I must invent my own!
How do you come up with new ideas? Do you have a process?
It’s a little bit like doing a crossword regularly. One develops an aptitude for it and you start to think in a special way. I’ve done professional acting in my past so I take the role of director. I work out my characters, concentrate on their body language, their props, the scenery and voila the stage, or cartoon, is set.
What was your inspiration for Little Else and what is the concept about?
While having dinner with some friends in a hotel in Wareham, Dorset, I tried to explain how I created concepts and merely said the I love illustrating / cartooning and little else. It came to me in a flash and I drew the first “Little Else” there on the linen napkin in front of me. I was able to negotiate a fee for the napkin and the idea and concept was born.
“Little Else” is about a little girl of four and a half years old. She has a year old brother she calls “Baby” and a puppy dog called “Scooter”. “Little Else” has many friends who interact with her. This is life through “Little Else’s” eyes. Her wisdom, her sayings and her take on life.
What have been your favourite characters / cartoons from your past to work on?
There are a few. One of course is Tatty Teddy, the grey blue nosed bear for the Me To You concept. I created him in 1987 and originally he was just a brown bear with a blue nose and patches. I didn’t turn him grey until a few years later. I drew him for some seventeen years. I also created “Teddy Bigfoot” for the same company as well as “The Miranda Gang!” which consisted of all sorts of animals. (My pen-name for the company was “Miranda” but that’s a different story.)
I very much enjoyed my two years as Sky News Cartoonist which I did in the late 90’s doing cartoons about the week’s news on Friday evenings. Drawing live stretched me no end and I had to find a different gears in order to do the show.
Recently I have enjoyed creating and drawing “Charlie’s Ark”, “Just 4 Mooo!” and of course “Little Else”.
What are your top 5 favourite things in life?
If I had to choose my favourite five things in life I think I would choose the following ( in reverse order)
5. A full English Breakfast
4. Holidays and sunshine.
3. My friends.
2. The ability to draw.
1. My lovely wife and all my family.
Where should a person start if they want to pursue a career in illustration?
A lot of people say that one should go to an art school or college and for some that is a good start. One learns about materials and tools of the trade and the processes in creating artwork that gives life to one’s ideas. I never went to art school or college. I draw purely from a gut feeling. For instance I mix different mediums sometimes such as water colour and gouache if it gives me the effect I want. My first art agent always said not going to art school was an advantage to me in that I had no pre conceived ideas and learnt from my mistakes. One should compile a portfolio of your work showing your versatility and imagination. The plan would then be to approach art directors of companies you feel are the right target for your style and art to offer to show them your portfolio. It is vitally important that whatever you put into your portfolio should be your very best work, for that is how it’ll be judged. One last thing…Never take “No” for an answer. Believe in yourself and OK, it’s an “X-Factor expression”, but follow your dream and never give up.