Tom Morgan-Jones at Big DoG Children's Book Festival

Tom Morgan-Jones talks Big DoG and his favourite illustrated books

19 March 2024
The Big Dog mascot, a large and fluffy orange dog, from the children's book festival in Dumfries.

Not one, not two, not even three Big DoG events are enough for illustrator Tom Morgan-Jones. He’s taking part in a total of four events at the festival – including one with Mari Kidd that’s all about Scottish heroes. They will be messy and fun. Before he arrives we asked Tom a bit about himself, being an illustrator and his favourite books.

Children's Book Festival author Tom Morgan Jones holds his book 'The Red Dread'.

Tell us a bit about what people can expect at your Big DoG events?

I'm chuffed to be running four events at Big Dog: Two longer Drop-in-Draw-Along sessions downstairs at Moat Brae, one on Saturday and one on Sunday morning, and some pop-up Draw-Alongs and Draw-Offs outside in the garden at the Garden Party on Sunday afternoon. They will all be relaxed, fun and probably a bit silly. The Drop-in-Draw-Along sessions give you the opportunity to join in and draw on huge rolls of paper, so you can either draw on your own, or collaboratively with others. I'll be there to draw and give top illustrator tips, and you'll be able to ask me any questions you have about drawing and illustrating. I've illustrated over 75 books for children. I've also had my work appear on the side of milk cartons, on top of cakes, all over satirical board games, inside museums, on the outside of schools, on screens behind bands and poets, on chocolate bars and the back of buses and all the way around tins of dog biscuits and Norway's National football stadium so you will be in safe hands!

The events will be a bit messy and very much for all ages, from wee ones up to the age of any really old grandparents, or great grandparents, or great great great grandparents. Everybody is welcome to come and draw, take a line for a walk and see where it ends up.

Who are your top three Scottish heroes and why?

Janet Keiller of Dundee, she invented marmalade with bits in. And I LOVE marmalade. Do I need to say more?

Isaac Cruikshank was an incredible cartoonist, satirist and poker of fun. He drew amazing pictures which are really inspiring.

Ross Collins who is a children's book illustrator, he writes and illustrates very funny books. He's now become a friend, and I sometimes email him when I'm sitting on the loo, but don't tell him that I said that bit.

In your work is it important to have a sense of fun?

I think it is of the utmost importance that you should have fun when you draw a picture if the picture you are drawing is about anything that has the letters f, u or n in it.  If you are relaxed, you might draw a better picture. To think creatively is to play, and if you play and don't have fun then you might be in trouble. You can also produce serious work and still be playful. Playfulness and fun can help you get a serious message across sometimes. And silly is just fun.

I appreciate you can also draw something serious, sad, meaningful or moving and it may not appear as fun. I illustrated a poem by John Dougherty recently and it was about 'It's okay not to feel Yay every day' so I drew a picture of a sad dog with a brooding cloud over its head. And then when I was at a bookshop recently a child said 'the dog still looks like it might have fun, it has a look about it'. I hadn't noticed it at the time, but the child was right. So maybe fun creeps in even at hard times, which is good.

Making pictures looks difficult, what’s a good way to start?

Start anywhere on the page, and see where you pen or pencil takes you. A drawing is about mark making and having fun. It doesn't need to look realistic, it doesn't need to look like a photograph, you can take a photograph for that. With drawing you can be playful, and just see what happens. If you don't like what you've drawn, a good thing about drawing is you can just draw another picture. I draw lots of pictures before I'm super happy, more often than not, for every picture you see in a book, there are probably tens and tens of pictures you don't see. Don't worry about making mistakes, just keep drawing and something magical will happen. And everything gets better with practice.

What were your favourite books as a child – were they ones with illustrations?

Yes, I started off having picture books read to me as a small child, Meg and Mog books stick in my mind. They were very graphic and colourful. I remember the pictures more than the words, probably because I was too young to read. When I went to primary school I was enchanted by the drawings of Fritz Wegner, he illustrated a book called FattyPuffs and Thinifers by André Maurois. I loved the story and the spidery line illustrations were a wonderful combination that inspired me. Another favourite childhood book of mine was Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox illustrated by Jill Bennett, again these were amazing line drawings, the were cutaway scenes where you saw underground and the farmers looked so mean, I really enjoyed those pictures. I still have copies of these books today and look at them.

What are a couple of good current children’s books for the stories and the pictures?

I admire Jon Klassen's I Want My Hat Back for the playfulness of the image and the text, although that was published in 2011 so maybe it's not current anymore, perhaps it's more of a classic now. One of Jon Klassen's latest books is The Skull which is a bit bonkers and beautiful too.

Chae Strathie has written So You Think You've Got It Bad? A Kid's Life in Prehistoric Times which is a lot of fun, that's illustrated by Marisa Morea. Children really do have it better these days, we adults just need to look after each other and the world more.