Crazy About Cats

Owen Davey talks to Just Imagine to share some behind the scenes facts…

 From Sharks to Monkeys & now to Cats…was there any particular reason you chose cats as your theme this time around?

I find cats fascinating. I was interested to find out about the wild cousins of our (semi) domesticated internet-hogging feline friends and see how similar they were. Cats often dominate nature programmes, but you rarely find out the proper science behind their nature and biology. I wanted the chance to explore their similarities and differences and answer some of my own unanswered questions about why they do what they do

Can you give us your top 5 fascinating facts about cats?

  • Their whiskers are so sensitive, that they can use them to map their surroundings by feeling the movement of air around objects.
  •   Margays are incredibly agile climbers, sprinting and jumping through trees. They can even hold themselves by only their back legs
  •   Jaguars are like the uber hunter of the cats. They use a number of impressive techniques for hunting their prey, and have jaws so strong that they can pierce the shell of a turtle and bite through the skull of a caiman.
  •   Male Lions are not as lazy and useless as they are often portrayed. It is true that lionesses do much of the hunting, but male lions are perfectly capable hunters and can bring down 1 tonne African Buffalos by themselves
  •    Pumas can jump 5 metres directly upwards into trees or onto ledges. That’s the height of a double decker bus.

Your books are always packed full of interesting information. How much research did you need to do on this subject before you began your illustrations & how did you go about it?

I do all my research before putting pencil to paper. I write essentially a dissertation length piece about each animals, with all the sections broken down and titles etc. before I ever properly think about artworking. I would argue that the research is the most important part. I read a lot of books, I look online, I visit zoos, I watch documentaries, I read charts, statistics, scientific papers. What is amazing is that many of these sources will regularly over-simplify information or just downright lie. I have to do a lot of cross referencing, and make sure everything I write is accurate. Once the text is written, it is then sent off to an expert in the matter who can guide me if I’ve been led astray anywhere. I take it as a massive compliment that I rarely have much feedback from them.

As a child, did you always like to read & did you prefer non-fiction to fiction? Has this changed as you’ve got older?

I’ve always loved both and have read both equally throughout my life. My big obsessions when I was younger were the Harry Potter series, and the Horrible History books. I still read or listen to the Harry Potter books roughly every year, but my non-fiction love is quenched more my podcasts these days. I enjoy the conversational quality to them; the easy to understand approach to giving information to the reader. It’s something I try and bring into these books wherever I can.

We’ve read that you always wanted to write & draw pictures for children’s books. Did you start drawing at a very early age? Do you have any top tips for aspiring young illustrators?

I’ve been drawing all my life. It was my first love. If ever I had a spare minute, I would be sketching something out or colouring it in. My advice would be to just keep practicing with it. I’ve made a career out of it and it’s the best job in the world, but I still practice drawing every day and I’m still always trying to improve.

Your work is very distinctive, using bold graphics & textures. Is this how you have always worked or has your style developed with time?

This has been a development over time. When I was a kid, it was all about trying to copy computer game art or drawing fictional warriors. Then I became obsessed with trying to make everything look exactly like real life. Then I realised that I preferred drawing the computer game art and playing around with stylisation. Simplifying stuff down to shapes and lines is an exploratory approach and I feel it gives me a better understanding of the thing I’m drawing, and a more true representation of how I perceive it. It’s way more fun, and way more creative

Please could you tell us how you create your work?

I sketch things out on paper, scan that into my computer, and then use it as a guide to work up a final image in Photoshop.

And finally, do you have plans for any more graphic books with Flying Eye? If so, are these likely to be more animals? Any sneaky previews…?!

Yes there will hopefully be many more to come. I’m working on the next instalment right now, but you’ll have to wait and see what it is…

Thank you Owen for sharing this fascinating insight into your work.