Any questions?

Here are some of Axel's answers to the sort of things he usually gets asked.

How many books have you illustrated?

I have never really counted them... but the other day I tried to remember all the titles off by heart and it comes to over 120, but there must be even more. Sometimes new books are made out of old drawings - I don't know whether they count.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

As I'm not a writer or storyteller my inspiration comes from the text of an author. Usually the pictures come straight to my head when I read the story and put it to paper. Inspiration really comes from all the things I've seen and experienced in my life.

How did you become an illustrator?

I've always liked drawing ever since I was a child. It took me a while to find out that it could be a way to earn a living. I went to art college in England and that was a good opportunity to develop my drawing just by doing it intensively for three years and it gave me the idea that being an illustrator was a proper job.

How do you collaborate with Julia Donaldson?

We work completely separately - we never develop an idea for book together - that's always Julia's job and she is brilliant at it. When she has written a story she thinks that would be right for me, she sends it to the publisher, keeps her fingers crossed and if I like the story I do the illustrations. We very much keep out of each other's field of expertise. It has worked well so far.

Does the story always come first?

Yes. Though once I did some pictures for every month of the year and the Austrian author, Martin Auer, wrote some stories to go with them.

Are you ever going to write your own stories?

I did that only once, about a squirrel father who gets blown out of his nest in a big storm. I used to think about writing my own stories... but I just don't have the ideas. So I've kind of given up.

Where do you work?

I now have a studio space under the roof in my house. My drawing table is/has been ALWAYS too small and too messy. It has been like this for 27 years so I think I just have to accept it.

My drawing desk

What's your favourite colour?

What's your favourite book or character that you've illustrated?

I don't really have one. I like the more crazy, fantastic, fairy-taley ones best.

What's the process of making a picture book?

Let's assume it's a book by Julia Donaldson. She would send the text to the publisher, who would ask me whether I want to do the illustrations. Then I would meet the editor and the art director to talk about what the book would look like, and we'd decide what I should draw on each page… often it ends up a mixture of some big double spreads, some whole or half page images… and little pictures, called vignettes ( - I like to do those best). I would then develop the main characters and also start to make little sketches. They can then be enlarged so everybody can see what will be on the drawings. If everybody including Julia is happy I can start doing the illustrations.

How do you do the illustrations?

I start with a pencil sketch... often I have to do quite a few before I'm happy with it. I can then trace the sketch on a lightbox onto my watercolour paper (Saunders Waterford 300gr HP), again with pencil. I would then draw the outlines in black ink with a dip-pen. Then I'd colour in everything with Ecoline inks using brushes. After that I use Faber Polychromos and Prismacolour crayons on top of that layer of ink. In the end I might have to redraw some of the black lines and use some white gouache for highlights or snowflakes.

A selection of my drawing equipment

What's your favourite thing to draw?

What did you read as a child?

I don't remember having many books myself. I had one that my dad brought from a visit to East Germany. There were some kind of comic stories that I liked especially Petzi, a Danish bear's adventures with his friends. Later I also read Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck paperbacks. I think my mother read fairy tales to me. Later I liked to go to the library. I read some Erich Kästner books and also books that were linked to TV programmes (well, they were books first): like Jim Knopf und Lukas der Lokomotivführer by Michael Ende.

What made you come to the UK?

I had given up on my History of Art studies and didn't know what to do and visited a German friend who did ceramics at Bath Academy of Art. I thought it would be good to spend some time abroad and to try something else. I applied for the Visual Communications course and was accepted. Thanks to the EU (or EEC at the time) membership of the UK it was all very easy and affordable for me so I moved to Corsham. After my studies I spent a little time in Hamburg, but then London seemed the best place to get started as an illustrator - I already had some things published. I remember driving back to Great Britain away from the Tschernobyl catastrophe that had just happened.

Corsham etching, 1983

Corsham sheep

Is it true that there is a Gruffalo hidden in all your books?

Well, I can't give away all my secrets, but yes... since I think, The Snail and the Whale there's a Gruffalo hidden somewhere in each one of my books with Julia Donaldson. Though not in The Ugly Five...