Catch-up with Owen Davey

Owen Davey is an award-winning illustrator based in Leicester.

Since graduating with a degree in Illustration from Falmouth University, Owen has has a number of books published as well as creating the fiendishly addictive puzzle game TwoDots. His extensive list of clients has grown to include the likes of LEGO, The New York Times. Microsoft and many, many more. Most recently, Owen has combined his considerable illustrative talents with his love of monkeys to produce Mad About Monkeys. Published by Flying Eye Books, the book explores over 250 species and contains all you need to know to become a full fledged monkey-enthusiast!

We caught up with Owen to discuss working with Flying Eye books, his inspirations and of course, monkeys!

Hi Owen! Lets start with the most important question of all – Why monkeys? What made you choose this subject for your first Flying Eye Book?

I’ve always loved monkeys since I was a kid. They’re fascinating creatures and there is so much variety amongst them that it just seemed like a great thing to explore.

Can you tell us a bit about the process of creating Mad About Monkeys? How long did it take in total?

It took me a long time from start to finish actually. At least half a year (I can’t remember exactly). It’s not at all the same as creating a fiction picture book. I’ve done a couple of children’s books that are based a bit in fact and I did a lot of research around the subject matter in order to make them authentic as possible, but this was different.

The whole integrity of the book revolves around the research. You can’t make anything up, and you can’t just put something in the text because you read it online somewhere. You need to verify it.

And was the final book very different from the one you first imagined?

The book is actually pretty much exactly how I imagined it really. I spent a long time planning it before I got anywhere near illustrating it and by that point the illustration just flowed really easily. And Flying Eye Books are a great publisher to work with because they just kind of trusted me with stuff. The tone of the book is very much ‘me’. I wanted it to be informal and informative at the same time. Learning can be fun, so why make such an interesting subject matter stuffy or dull? I wanted there to be life in the way I wrote it and for it to feel almost conversational between me and my audience. It’s a book I feel very proud of.

The book is packed with information – how did you go about researching monkeys? Did you learn a lot through it or were you already a bit of a monkey expert?

I knew a few facts about monkeys anyway because I actually did a non-fiction monkey book as a project in my second year of uni in Falmouth, but I had to delve a lot deeper for this project. I spent a lot of time reading books, papers and articles about our simian buddies, and some facts took a seriously long time to pin down. For example, finding out what crabs the long-tailed Macaques eat was a nightmare. I had to rifle through various papers until people stopped just describing them as ‘crabs’. I wanted specifics. I wanted to make sure the book got everything right. I didn’t want to depict them eating a monkey that lived several thousand miles away or that would was poisonous or something. For your information, Blue Swimmer Crabs and Orange Mud Crabs are two of the species of crabs they eat. And they’re both in the book. Oh and horseshoe crabs too but I didn’t have space to illustrate one of them unfortunately. There’s more too but I don’t remember what they are.

The book covers a wide range of species of monkey – do you have a favourite?

Oh that’s tough. Hmmm. I think the Pygmy Marmoset because it’s small but awesome. And it farms!

How closely did you work with Flying Eye Books on the project?

Well the initial idea of the Monkey non-fiction book was suggested by Flying Eye Books to me. We’d been trying to get a project up and running between us but nothing was quite working. I’d done a picture of a Gelada for a pitch that didn’t pan out, they loved it, and so they brought the idea to me. Having already attempted something similar in my uni days, it seemed like a perfect fit so I was chuffed to work on it with them. They were great with coming up with ideas and trimming down anything of mine that was getting too in depth or whatever. There was quite a bit of back and forth with each of us suggesting things or amending elements within the book.

How was your overall experience of working with Flying Eye Books? What do you think sets them apart from other book publishers?

We built up a very organic and fun working relationship. They’re very driven to create new things that are a bit different, and they are second to none in creating consistently beautiful books. That goes for the whole Nobrow / Flying Eye group. I’ve admired what they’ve been doing for years, so it was great to finally get something off the ground with them.

Another project you took part in recently which we loved was your work on Tinybop’s Robot Factory App. What was it about that project which appealed to you?

I like getting my teeth into big meaty projects. I work editorially most of the time so when an opportunity comes along for me to sink my teeth into a big body of work, I love it. Robots are ace and I have thoroughly enjoyed working on other Apps in the past such as TwoDots, so the Tinybop app really appealed. There’s loads more to come on the app too. There are a lot of elements that are yet to be released. There’s an entire world that I created for those robots to explore, so it’ll be fun to see how that game progresses over the next year or so.

How does your process differ when creating visuals for an app instead of a book?

Tough to say exactly, but whenever I start a new project, I’m very aware of the context. It completely alters how you perceive something, especially if it’s interactive.

You’re making worlds in both books and apps, but one has the benefit of being able to move and be manipulated, and the other has wonderful tactile qualities. It’s all about playing to their strengths I suppose.

Tell us about the last book you read – is there a particular subject matter which you are interested in?

I think the last book I read was ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’. Loved it. Saw it the theatre too and that was ace. Not sure I have a particular subject matter I’m interested in when reading in my own time. I just like things done well. I love children’s fictions such as Harry Potter, His Dark Materials & The Hunger Games, but equally love stuff as far reached as Birdsong, non-fiction animal books, and behind the scenes books about Wes Anderson films.

Are there any creatives whose work you have found particularly inspiring lately?

I always find the work of Charley Harper inspiring. I discovered his work a while ago and it helped me find my style in a way. He had an amazing way of seeing things. If something was almost circular, he’s make it circular. If it was almost straight, he’d make it straight. It’s an extension of that idea of a square with a triangle on it symbolising a house. It’s not actually what a house looks like, but it’s close enough for human’s to recognise it as such. For me, that’s where illustration gets exciting. Instead of just drawing something, I try to design it.

Finally, what’s next for you? Any creative projects on the horizon you’d like to share with us?

I’ve got loads on at the moment to be honest. Plenty of new TwoDots levels coming out regularly, and an exciting follow up to Mad About Monkeys is in the early stages, so that’s fun. To be honest, at the moment my goal is to take some time off soon. Go explore somewhere exotic and culturally out of my comfort zone … either that or play games online with mates and have some midday snoozes. Only time will tell if I score either of those modest goals I suppose.


Posted on Jul 7th, 15 by

Greg McIndoe - also known as Headless Greg - is an illustrator and design writer based in Glasgow, Scotland. He regularly writes for design magazines and online platforms, interviewing fellow illustrators and leading creatives.

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