Exclusive Interview with Colin Thompson

Another way of seeing things: Colin Thompson opens up on his work as a puzzle illustrator

Puzzlers love the illustrations by Englishman, Colin Thompson. They are colorful, unusual, decorative, and easy to solve because just a few pieces combine to form a little picture. Ravensburger currently has ten puzzles in the range, including the bestseller “Magical Bookcase” which is also available as an 18,000 piece puzzle.

In an interview, 75-year-old Colin Thompson tells us more about his work and how you can make it as an illustrator despite being colorblind.

1. You are working as a writer and as an illustrator. What do you love more? Writing or drawing?

This is a very difficult question because both of them are the best. Although I did not start writing until I was over forty-five and I have drawn pictures since before I started school when I was four, I think of myself as an author who also does pictures. They both use completely different parts of your brain. So, one day I want to write and the next day I want to draw all day. Some days I jump back and forth a lot and do both.

2. When did you start drawing? Did your studies have an impact on your remarkable way to draw? And if yes, how?

I think almost my earliest memory is drawing pictures when I was very young. I did not enjoy school or any formal studies and I think most of my education was a complete waste of time and money. Here I am in July 1947 being an artist!

3. Where do you get your ideas from? Does your everyday life also influence your work as an artist?

Anywhere and everywhere. The smallest little thing can end up being a whole book.

4. You are colorblind. What are the symptoms of your illness? Does it affect your work? And if yes, how?

I also have Asperger's and like color blindness it is NOT an illness. They are both just a different way of seeing things. Apparently, I am red-green colorblind. My daughter Hannah is also colorblind in the same way which is quite rare in women AND she has TWO university degrees in graphic design. It has NEVER been a problem for me, though it does mean I could never have been a policeman or a pilot both of which are careers where you can get killed.

5. Your illustrations are drawn with lots of attention to detail. How long do you work on an average illustration? Are there illustrations that are easier and quicker to draw and others that are troubling you from time to time?

I work on lots of things at the same time. For example, right now I am working on five jigsaw pictures, two picture books which I am writing and illustrating, one picture book I am writing, but someone else will illustrate and I am writing the first of a series of three children’s novels. My ‘bookshelf’ picture took about six weeks with very few other things going on at the same time. That picture was originally a double page spread in a picture book called “How to Live Forever”.

6. When do you realize that your piece of art is finished? And how? With so many details I could imagine that you can go on forever.

Yes, it can be difficult to stop sometimes!

7. “The Bookshelf” is one of your most popular puzzle illustrations, it even was published as an 18,000 piece puzzle. In the bookshelf filled with many books you can find well-known book titles that you humorously re-named. “Gone with the Wind” has become “Gone with the Wine” and “Lord of the Flies” is now “Lord of the Pies”. How did you choose the book titles and why? And what's it all about?

When I was doing that illustration for my picture book, How To Live Forever, my youngest daughter Alice who was a teenager at the time (she now has 2 children) and I sat down one afternoon and wrote down all the famous books we could think of, then we worked out all the puns we could think of including some very rude ones that I couldn’t use, but were very funny.

Below: His artwork featured in our 18,000 piece puzzle titled Magical Bookcase

8. Also some other illustrations such as “The Craft Cupboard” or “The Gardener's Cupboard” take place in a shelf where people can find exciting things that are painted in every detail. Do shelves fascinate you? And why? How did you get the idea of creating many different shelves with different subjects?

Shelves are a great way of putting lots of things into one picture with lots of fine detail.

Below: The Craft Cupboard and The Gardener's Cupboard puzzles.

9. Which of your many works do you like most? Why? Retrospective, which image did you enjoy most working on?

My favorite and most successful picture book is “How To Live Forever” and my favorite novel is also “How To Live Forever”, though the book I am most proud of is my autobiography “Fitting In”. It is NOT a children’s book but is the best thing I have ever written.

About Colin Thompson

Colin Thompson was born in London, England in October 1942. He was fascinated by drawing even before he went to school. After school he studied for two years at art college in Ealing and Hammersmith, then worked as a screen printer, graphic designer and on theater staging. He subsequently studied at the London Film School for a year and made a range of documentaries for the BBC. He only began his writing career at the age of 45. His first book was published in March 1991. Since then he has had over 65 books published, mainly picture books and children's books. Colin Thompson has three daughters and five grandchildren and lives with his current wife Anne in Bellingen in New South Wales, Australia.

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