Axel Scheffler was born in 1957 in Hamburg, Germany. At school, although always good at art, he never really considered a career in illustration. But long before he began his professional life, he had won his first drawing prize for an international chocolate company – his prize was a cuddly lilac cow.
Axel went on from school to study History of Art at the University of Hamburg – but he didn’t like the course and decided to leave. Knowing that he wanted to live in another country and learn a second language, he moved to England to study illustration at the Bath Academy of Art.
After graduating with a first class degree, Axel moved to London where he began illustrating for a variety of English and German advertising companies, magazines and newspapers. He took his portfolio to a number of publishers and Faber commissioned him to illustrate The Piemakers by Helen Cresswell and The Bottle Rabbit by Bernard McCabe. In 1989, Walker asked Axel to illustrate a text by Jon Blake, You’re a Hero, Daley B.
A writer called Julia Donaldson was also writing songs for Playdays at this time and her song A Squash and a Squeeze was commissioned to be a picture book. Axel Scheffler was recommended as an illustrator for the text and an award-winning team was created.
Their next book, The Gruffalo, was published in March 1999 and has already become a modern classic, selling more than 2 million copies worldwide and translated into over 20 languages. Axel also continues to illustrate for other authors as well, including Ian Whybrow and David Henry Wilson.
Axel has achieved worldwide acclaim for his humorous illustrations, and his books have been translated into over 29 languages. He has enjoyed particular success in his award-winning picture book collaborations with Julia Donaldson, but is also the best-selling illustrator of novelty books such as The Bedtime Bear. In 2006 he was been called upon to design Gordon Brown’s annual Christmas card!
Still living in London, Axel makes frequent visits to continental Europe. His hobbies include walking, cooking and reading and beadwork.
Axel has won many of the major book prizes, including the Smarties and Bluue Peter Awards for The Gruffalo, the Blue Peter and Sheffield Children’s Book Prizes for Room on the Broom, the British Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year for The Gruffalo’s Child and the Red House Award for Super Worm.
Interview with Axel Scheffler
Who or what inspired you to be an illustrator?
I have always liked to draw since childhood. When I came to England I went to Bath Academy of Art to study illustration, which gave me the idea that I could make a living out of it.
After leaving the Bath Academy of Art, what was your first commission as a professional illustrator?
Initially, I illustrated for a selection of different English and German magazines and newspapers, then Faber commissioned me to illustrate the books The Piemakers by Helen Cresswell and The Bottle Rabbit by Bernard McCabe.
You often illustrate Julia Donaldson’s stories, for which you have both won many awards. The Gruffalo has become a modern classic. How and where did this partnership begin?
Julia wrote a book called A Squash and a Squeeze in 1992, which was the beginning of our collaboration. She sent the text to her publisher, and a friend of mine, who was working there at the time, recommended me to illustrate it. Julia and I met at the launch party afterwards and have stayed good friends ever since.
How long did it take you to illustrate Tiddler?
Actually, it took me longer than I expected it to, about five or six months.
Do you and Julia sit down and talk about how she imagines the illustrations will look or does she just leave it to you?
We never really meet to discuss anything. Julia will write a book and send it to her editor, who then passes it to me to illustrate. Julia sees my sketches and makes comments, but we don’t usually interfere with each other’s work, so it’s fine!
When you’re not drawing, how do you like to relax?