Making a difference as a freelance illustrator and a carer
Freelance writer, Mental Health at Work
Mental Health at Work has partnered with Simply Business to support the UK’s self-employed with their mental health and wellbeing. Together we surveyed more than 700 small business owners to understand their challenges. Now we want to start a conversation and break the stigma surrounding mental health at work.
Today we’re joined by Rikin Parekh a children’s book illustrator, who has recently hit the number one spot on The Booksellers list with The Worst Class in the World in Danger! in collaboration with author Joanna Nadin. We talked to him about being the primary carer for his mother, success after rejection, and why making children laugh is simply awesome.
What does a typical day look like for you, Rikin?
I help my Mum within the morning, get her breakfast ready, lay out her clothes for when she has a shower, and prepare anything else she may need during the day. I then go to work at , come back and do lots of drawing.
Mum is disabled so I am her primary carer, it’s a huge juggling act for me illustrating and caring for her.
Can you finish this sentence? ‘The best and worst thing about beingis…’
You’re able to work when you want, but there’s always a slight worry about where theis going to come in.
It’s an industry all about ‘who you know’ not ‘what you know’
Like many of the arts, illustration can be extremely competitive. How long did it take you to get your big break?
After university, I freelanced in theas a Storyboard Artist/Creature/Concept Artist for about eight years. Work was hard to find as it’s an industry where it’s all about ‘who you know’ not ‘what you know’.
A good few years later I struck gold and got agented by my first Agent. I illustrated a couple of books with them but was subsequently let go because my style wasn’t selling enough, which made sense as I was still very new to children’s books.
How did you deal with that sort of rejection?
I felt sad but it was the right thing, as my portfolio needed to mature and become much stronger. I spent a good six months finessing my portfolio, and was so happy to be picked up by my current agent, the wonderful Claire Cartey of HolroydeCartey and have been on a lovely illustrating streak ever since!
Congratulations are in order, as both you and author Joanna Nadin recently got to number one in The Booksellers chart for children and young adult fiction with book The Worst Class in the World in Danger!. Why is laughter so important for kids?
Quite simply because it’s fun, and whatever’s fun makes us feel good, and laughing is just one of THE best things we can do to achieve this when there are grey clouds, and life is that little bit tough.
I love your work Rikin, and growing up I was completely obsessed with author illustrator Mo Willems. What or who got you fascinated in illustration?
That’s really kind and humbling, thank you! I was, and still am fascinated by a lot of comic book artists, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, John Romita. The old, classic comic book artists who drew Spider-Man and the Marvel characters. I try to collect original comic book art, when financially possible.
It’s so important that we see more people from ethnic backgrounds
World Book Day (WBD) was earlier this year. What does World Book Day mean to you? Any unforgettable costumes spring to mind?
WBD reminds us all to keep reading and enjoying wonderful characters and worlds created by people who love to read, write and draw. I think one unforgettable costume would be when I went to one school dressed as ‘Mr Bump’ – I was working it!
Tom Percival’s books tend to deal with ourin a beautifully simple way, whereas critically acclaimed Oliver Jeffers work explores humanity and the magic of storytelling. Do you think books can make a difference to how children think about themselves and others?
I think they can, but it’s more important that children can see themselves in those books, and that’s why it’s so important that we see more people fromin the world of authors and illustrators.
Your work is filled with vibrant colour, whether it be funny alpacas or the children you illustrate in Fearless Fairytales. Being from Asian descent, is representation and the depiction of that in books important to you?
Representation is really important. When I began illustrating I never really noticed or was aware of many fellow authors or illustrators in either the film/TV world or children’s publishing. And when I did find one or two, I felt really good and felt that yes, I could do this too. I think, for future generations, there has to be more representation, it has to be this way.
World issues like war and environmental challenges are lot to contend with as an adult, let alone a child. Do you think art can help express the way a child could be feeling about the world?
I think art is the perfect way to help expression on all levels. It’s the first things we’re taught, to be creative, to pick up a pencil, brush, to use colour, to build, to express ourselves.
And lastly, did you illustrate your mum’s ‘Mother’s day’ card this year?
Ha! I must have when I was a child! She prefers flowers opposed to cards so we spoil her with flowers or exotic plants. A few years back we took her to Kew and she loved it, being pushed around in her wheelchair!
Thank you so much Rikin for sharing your story with us, it’s been a delight.
Visit Simply Business to find out more about the challenges facing the self-employed and small business owners, along with practical resources to support you.