Drawing out the child within

The Irish children’s books illustrator Karen Harte is the special guest at this year’s edition of the Campus Book Festival, where she will participate in two events set to inspire and motivate aspiring artists keen to follow her career trajectory. In this interview, she speaks about the realities of the industry, and what keeps her already-vivid imagination fired up for fresh projects

Karen Harte
Karen Harte

Several illustrators have already registered for your workshop at the Campus Book Festival! What should they expect?

I’m very excited to meet everyone! They should expect a chat about my background and the processes, collaboration and skills involved in illustration for children’s books. And hopefully some advice and inspiration they can take home!

Any advice you’d like to share with young illustrators who would like to kickstart their career in illustration?

Put your work out there, network as much as possible at industry events, markets, classes, talks and other such events. Build your portfolio with passion projects and self-started work and figure out your goals.

What inspired your career choice? Does the Irish book industry enable illustrators like you to explore, develop and live off of illustration?

I’ve always loved to draw and it has been my lifelong dream to illustrate children’s books. I have a background in animation and graphic design so illustration wasn’t my only focus for many years. It’s a career I have built up over years of growing my skills and confidence. Almost everyone I know that works in book illustration diversifies their income, with other kinds of illustration, design, commissions, workshop facilitation and so on. I’ve found it’s important to have a few income streams as a creative.

Children tend to have a fertile imagination. How do you make the most of this in your illustration?

Remembering what was exciting or special to me when I was a child helps a lot. I loved very detailed illustrated books with lots of ‘easter eggs’ and new things to find hidden in the pictures. Having a four-year-old son now is very helpful to jog my memory: he is very imaginative and loves playing games and make believe!

Unlike Malta, Ireland awards a Children’s Laureate to an author or an illustrator every two years. How important is this role in a book community to raise young children as readers?

I got to spend some time recently on an artist’s retreat with our Laureate Na nÓg, Patricia Forde and it was an amazing experience. I think having someone with great creativity, experience and enthusiasm as a national figurehead for children’s literature is an incredibly powerful statement and a validation to children that reading is so vital to life.

What is your take on the increasing use of AI-generated imagery? What is the future of children’s book illustration?

AI generated imagery is a concern for a lot of artists, particularly the ethical copyright and legislation element. Seeing international broadsheet newspapers using AI generated images to accompany editorial pieces is concerning, as is people online asking illustrators to ‘sum up their style’ so they can provide a prompt…it just feels depressing. It would be fantastic to see AI used to help streamline processes instead of trying to take the place of imagination and stealing art already created.

Karen Harte will be participating in two events at the Campus Book Festival 2024. On 20 March at 10:00, Harte will lead a workshop entitled ‘Working in Book Publishing as an Illustrator’. Registration is required, and those interested are to send their name, surname, I.D. Card number, and number of persons attending to [email protected].

Harte will also take part in a roundtable discussion on ‘Becoming a Children’s Book Illustrator’ on 21 March at 10:00. Karen Harte’s participation is partly sponsored by the Irish Embassy in Malta.

Organised by the National Book Council (Malta), Campus Book Festival 2024 will be taking place from 20 to 22 March. Click here for a full programme of events, and here to find the Campus Book Festival on Facebook.