Arise, the king of sketch

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Ever wondered who’s behind the whacky doodles dotted throughout the printed version of Sorted? Val Fraser caught up with Andy Gray, a multi-talented illustrator with a quarter of a century of commercial experience of drawing pictures for storytellers and companies behind him. Her task was simple: to find out more about the man whose cartoons put a smile on the faces of our readers…

Recently, Andy Gray was invited to put pencils to paper and create representations of the bible characters which feature in the children’s book Whistlestop Tales, a tome written by Krish and Miriam Kandiah (and published by Hodder & Stoughton). Andy’s creative input to the project also included the typesetting, or as he modestly puts it: “I did the scribbles and layouts!”

Catching up with him when he wasn’t drawing or administering his faith duties (yes, Andy is also a practising vicar), I asked him how this particular collaboration came about?

PICTURE OF CONCENTRATION: Andy Gray snapped while hard at work.

“An awesome bloke called Joe Fisher wrote a book through lockdown and asked on social media for an illustrator. Another awesome bloke, Andy Taylor, who knows Joe from Greenbelt, tagged me in the post. I illustrated for Joe. The story is a kid-friendly, focussed reflection in rhyme on the pandemic called When the Bugs Came. We turned it around in record time from a Kickstarter, to sending out in under three months.”

“Unknown to me, Joe was that pleased with it, he sent it to Hodder. And Hodder asked if I would do a sample piece for a couple of projects they needed illustrators for.”

And that, as they say, was that! Now Andy is working on a follow-up book for his friend Joe (appropriately titled When the Hugs Came).

“I don’t try hard to get work. I follow my nose, and my nose follows God,” he explains. “Well, I guess that means I follow God since I’m attached to my nose! I just trust him. He’s the friend who will never leave me or forget me. And he’s done that since I was eight years old. It’s awesome and quite the adventure. You just have to follow each day; do what He says to do each day, and stuff happens.”

Whistlestop Tales is the first children’s book written by the Kandiah’s. They have brilliantly re-imagined 10 bible stories in an exciting global adventure, showing how a wonderful array of characters are swept up in God’s plan for the whole world.

HAMMERED: this illustration graced the pages of the August-September 2021 edition of Sorted.

During his creative career Andy has worked on several children’s books; each one embraces a unique style. Some of his drawings seem very controlled, delicate and magical, while others are cute and whimsical. His fluffy animals look soft enough to stroke.

In contrast, the illustrations for Whistlestop Tales seem scribbly and a bit messy – more out of control and not unlike the ones readers of Sorted will be familiar with. It may appear they have simply exploded onto the page. It would be a mistake to think so, for each one has been forged in the painstaking process of immersive artistic expression. Each one is carefully crafted to tell a story in miniature, often laced with humour. The character’s facial expressions are priceless and Gray admits: “I can’t draw camels!” Often there are tiny details which reveal themselves only upon a second viewing.

In addition to illustrating books, Andy leads activities and events in schools. He seems at home in this playful environment and has designed elaborate murals which cover an entire wall, eight metres long by two metres tall!

The mural came about as a result of Andy’s work with the Diocese of Bath and Wells. He’d help them to create and develop ‘chat mat doodle sheets’.

He explained “The diocese’s GoTeam came up with the idea of a printable placemat kind of thing; a verse, a bible reading and some questions. The idea is to help people just chat about the bible.

“The chat mats have ended up around the world, from schools to churches to prisons. We have over 40 so far, and are about to do a load with a slightly different style for young people. One of our ministers realised that it would look great in their church school on a wall that needed updating from a mural done 20 years ago.”

OUCH: Another of Andy Gray’s wonderful magazine illustrations.

To create the fully customised mural (pictured, below) Andy tapped into the ‘school hive mind’.

“I got the school to work with all the kids to identify the main things that had meaning for the school,” he says. “I trawled the school paperwork digging out the values. And designed the chat wall for them – the idea being that the kids could think about the wall together. And prospective parents could be shown the school values as much as read about them in a pack.

“I did the design work and used augmented reality to transfer it to the wall. Emma King, the community worker employed by the church, and a regular face at the school, did the painting. Then I went back in and blacklined the whole thing. It took four days to design and colour. Two days to draw on the wall. Two weeks to paint (Emma was awesome). And another day to blackline.”

You can see Andy’s latest ‘scribbles’ in the new edition of Sorted, which hits the newsstands this Friday (15 October). To connect directly with Andy, click here and to check out the Whistlestop Tales click here.

Val Fraser

Val Fraser is a trained journalist with over 12 years’ experience working on staff in various demanding media environments. She has authored/edited thousands of articles including news, travel and features. Val has authored/contributed to nine non-fiction books. A regular columnist, she stepped up to the role of Digital Editor in September 2022 and is responsible for the Sorted Magazine website.
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Sorted discusses the big issues of the day – focusing on subjects as diverse as culture, sport, cars, health, faith, gadgets, humour and relationships. We aim to be positive and wholesome in all we do. And we have been achieving this since 2007.

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