Tim Warnes’ and Jane Chapman’s writing and illustrations

Jane working on some of her bears

Jane working on some of her bears - Credit: Archant

They share a studio, the same profession and they’re married so it’s all the more awe-inspiring that Tim Warnes and Jane Chapman’s writing and illustrations have won them both awards and international recognition. With the magic of childhood at the heart of their books, Christmas is a particularly busy time of year

Tim working on his crocodile

Tim working on his crocodile - Credit: Archant

Tim Warnes and Jane Chapman met on their first day at Brighton Art College where they were both studying illustration. “Tim looked too cool to speak to me, but I later found out he was shy,” says Jane with a smile. Three years later they were engaged and wondering what to do next. “We honestly didn’t think we’d work as illustrators in the real world.” But one of their tutors, a highly successful illustrator in his own right, suggested that they give it a go. “He’s the reason we had the nerve to send samples of work to publishers,” says Jane. “I’m not sure we’d have bothered had he not given us that pep talk.”

Tim had two book deals within a year of leaving Brighton, whereas Jane, whose work at that time was based around portraiture, had a few jobs in editorial illustration, “but not enough to make a living.” Jane painted portraits locally, and even designed soft toys for an American company, with some of her designs ending up in Marks & Spencer, or sporting Harrods labels. “The money was terrible,” she recalls. “We were just married and had a mortgage to pay. Tim was illustrating his first book, so I put together a portfolio of crazy characters and phoned Tim’s publishers and begged them to see me. Believe me I was hanging onto his coat tails very tightly,” she laughs. That was almost twenty years ago. Since then the pair have had 167 titles published, won numerous awards and regularly feature on bestseller lists, including the New York Times. “I couldn’t tell you how many publishers we have,” says Tim. “We’ve worked directly with twelve, but then the rights get sold to other publishers all over the world.”

So do they ever collaborate on a picture book? “Sometimes one will write the story, and the other will illustrate, but it’s understood that whoever is the author doesn’t get to comment on the illustrations, and vice versa,” says Jane, adding. “We want to stay married!”

Tim always knew he wanted to be an artist. His father trained as a textile designer before becoming a paper conservator at Windsor Castle, restoring old masters by artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, so at home Tim had access to all sorts of media and art books. He was encouraged to keep sketchbooks, and spent all his spare time practising drawing birds.

“I only got new pens at Christmas,” says Jane enviously. “I was always colouring, or making something in front of the telly. I never dreamt that I could make a career out of pictures.”

Preparations for Christmas start very early in the Warnes’ household, snow scenes (and plenty of penguins) are often being painted in August. The artwork for a picture book is usually produced at least a year in advance of publication so Tim and Jane are constantly trying to stay ahead of the game. They stay flexible with new clients, working in different media and styles - so Jane even has a pseudonym: Jack Tickle.

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They are always exploring new outlets for their creativity. Jane recently developed a range of pyjamas for a local company, Turquaz, which is based in Milborne St Andrew, and Tim has been working with children’s production company, Complete Control, developing an app, Ollie’s 123, for pre-schoolers. “It’s narrated by our youngest son, who also designed the cool typeface,” says Tim proudly, “and it has some cute giggly worms.”

So what inspires them? They both agree that having two sons enabled them to understand what constitutes a drama to a child. Tim still keeps sketchbooks full of annotated drawings and conversations. “My sketchbooks are a storehouse of ideas. It’s my first port of call when I’m stuck,” he says. “We write and paint what we know from our own experience. You can tell a lot about an illustrator from their pictures.”

The pair have filing cabinets filled with thousands of reference drawings too. “They are too valuable a resource to throw away,” says Jane. “When I look back on the body of work we’ve produced over the years, there’s a definite shift towards a different palette of colours which is probably influenced by advertising, or even fashion trends.”

The couple, who have lived in the beautiful Piddle Valley for the last 14 years, are looking forward to a big extended family Christmas.

“It’s our turn to host this year, so there’s a lot of preparation. I wrote a book last year about the struggle to keep the spirit of Christmas in mind when all around you is chaos,” says Jane. “It’s easy to become overwhelmed with tasks.”

Is it Christmas yet? recently published by Little Tiger Press features two bears trying to wrap presents, bake a cake, find a tree… “The big bear is like me, trying to relax, but finding it harder and harder to keep calm as the big day approaches,” laughs Jane.

Two more of Tim and Jane’s books, The Very Snowy Day and I’ve Seen Santa! - which tackles the problem of being observed ‘helping’ Father Christmas on his rounds - have been adapted for the stage by The Blunderbus Theatre Company and are currently touring the UK. “It’s great to see the work take on a life of its own,” says Tim. “Sometimes friends say, ‘I’ve just seen your book on CBeebies’, which is always exciting. I know a highlight for Jane was when Bernie Cribbins read The Bears in the Bed and the Great Big Storm on Bookaboo!”

Jane’s Christmas gift recommendation is Bear Stays Up for Christmas: “It has lots of snow, fuzzy animals singing carols around the fire - and Father Christmas of course.”

The book hit the news recently when John Lewis was accused of copying the book’s popular animal characters for its new Christmas advert, The Bear and the Hare. Shortly after the advert aired on television for the first time, viewers took to social networking sites to point out the similarities to the book, written by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jane, who wouldn’t comment on the furore (John Lewis denied the claim).

The perfect Christmas story for Tim is Little Honey Bear and the Smiley Moon, with its magical moonlit snow scenes. “Children often ask us why we like painting bears and mice so much,” says Tim. “We love drawing all sorts of different animals - but the publishers seem particularly keen on bears and mice. Having said that, I’ve managed to convince a British art director to let me paint a crocodile. The feedback has been very positive, I’m glad to say.”

With projects piling up, Tim and Jane are busy well into 2014. “But right now we have to concentrate on Christmas day,” says Jane.

"Ho, ho, ho to that!” laughs Tim.


Illustrated by Jane Chapman:

Is It Christmas Yet? by Jane Chapman (Little Tiger Press 2013)

The Bears in the Bed and the Great Big Storm by Paul Bright (Little Tiger Press 2008)

The Very Snowy Christmas by Diana Hendry (Little Tiger Press 2006)

Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson (Simon & Schuster 2004)

Illustrated by Jack Tickle (Jane Chapman’s pseudonym):

The Very Merry Mice (Caterpillar Books 2010)

The Very Smiley Snowman (Caterpillar Books 2006)

Illustrated by Tim Warnes:

Little Honey Bear and the Smiley Moon by Gillian Lobel (Little Tiger Press 2006)

I’ve Seen Santa! by David Bedford (Little Tiger Press 2005)

Shhh! by Julie Sykes (Little Tiger Press 1996)

Find out more about Tim and Jane on their website chapmanandwarnes.com.