Spotlight On: Sam Zuppardi

The Nowhere Box cover
Category: Bookbug

'Spotlight On' gives you the chance to learn more about the work of authors, publishers and illustrators connected to the Bookbug programme. This month, author and illustrator Sam Zuppardi answers some questions about his work. Sam is the illustrator of The Nowhere Box, which was the Bookbug Book of the Month in July. Sam is currently working on a new picture book, Jack's Worry, due to be published by Candlewick Press in 2016. Sam blogs regularly at Brushing Up.


Tell us a little bit more about your work

I write and illustrate children’s books. I work mostly in acrylic and pencil and I’m most happy with my work when it looks homemade, scruffy and like something you could try at home.

A creative rut usually occurs when I’m thinking too hard about what I’m doing so freeing things up helps – doodling without worrying about the end result is useful

What is your earliest reading memory?

Being read to is probably my earliest reading memory. I had a lot of picture books I used to love and both my parents were good at making time for reading together.

I had a brilliant version of Noah’s Ark, which had amazing, evocative drawings. I was a big fan of Noah as a result of that book. On one visit to my grandparents my granddad announced he was just ‘popping into the shed to get the mower.’ I thought he said he was just ‘popping into the shed to get Noah.’ I was crushingly disappointed when I realised that my granddad did not have a centuries-old biblical figure living in his garden shed. But they say you should never meet your heroes, so maybe it was a lucky escape.

Who or what is your biggest influence?

All those early picture books I absorbed at an early age probably had a big influence on my artistic aspirations.

My granddad was always very encouraging of my drawing. He used to do watercolours and sketching and he would take me out with him on painting trips. We’d set up folding chairs and paint old buildings and boats on the Norfolk broads. He taught me about things like perspective and vanishing points. A story he’s fond of telling is that when I was about 8 he saw me drawing and tree and was impressed by my technique. He asked me, “who taught you to do that?”

I replied, “you did.”

I like that story as well; it makes us both look good.

Are there any contemporary picture books you wish you’d written or illustrated?

Anything by Shaun Tan.

Aside from the wonderful world of picture books, which genres or authors do you like to read?

Anything and everything. I always have something on the go. Fiction mostly. At the moment I’m reading a novel by Jed Rubenfeld in which Sigmund Freud goes around solving mysteries.

Briefly describe your typical working day

Sam Zuppardi

There is no typical working day! I work part-time and also study so there are lots of different kinds of working days depending on what I’m doing. My working day as an illustrator ebbs and flows. Some days I give less time to it, other times I clear the decks and the whole day is all about illustrating. That said, I’m starting a new job next month so if you ask me again in a few months the answer might be completely different.

How do you get out of a creative rut?

I usually think about something else, or do something else. A creative rut usually occurs when I’m thinking too hard about what I’m doing so freeing things up helps – doodling without worrying about the end result is useful.

What is your top tip for budding authors or illustrators?

Do a lot of drawing. Don’t be too precious about what you draw or write; just churn it out. Even if it’s poor. You don’t have to share it with anyone but it keeps you creating and that is the most important thing – to keep creating. Don’t try and create the most perfect or the best or most original anything because it’s easy to get paralysed with that weight of expectation pressing down on you. Just create. And, when you can fully remove yourself from any weight of expectation, and really be playful with your creativity, that’s when your best, most perfect, most original ideas materialise.

Can you give us an insight into what you’re currently working on?

Right now I am making a picture book about a little boy who worries, which will be published in 2016. I’ve just finished pictures for Nobody’s Perfect, a picture book written by David Elliott, which will be out in the UK in March next year, and the illustrations for the final part of a trilogy of middle grade books The Misadventures of Edgar and Allan Poe by Gordon McAlpine, which will be out in the US in April next year.

Finally, tell us a random or surprising fact about yourself 

I have no middle name. Shocking, I know.