Endless Art: Steve Simpson drawing on Irish for inspiration
The world of Irish language books and tv shows for children has changed greatly in recent years. Long gone are the days of Peig/Rí-Rá agus Lulu. Now you can watch South Park and Spongebob Squarepants or learn to read with a selection of visually magnificent children’s books.
Steve Simpson has been illustrating Irish children’s books for over twenty years. A surprising career path for a Manchester native who speaks no Irish.
The distinctive visual artist began in animation, working on Danger Mouse, Duckula, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which brought him to our shores. That led to finding work storytelling through still images – in books.
He has been honing and refining his style since then to become one of the most recognisable illustrators in Ireland.
Steve has worked on all manor of projects from designing postage stamps to coffee shop branding and illustrating children’s books. He relishes both the pressure of commercial advertising work and the slower process of illustrating a book – which can take up to 6 months.
“I don’t think I could live without either, I think I need that balance. I enjoy the pressure of the advertising work but I enjoy the freedom you get from the childrens’ projects.
“It can just be a bit infuriating. You work on something for a three or four months then it disappears off to the printers for another couple of months and you’re finished another book before the last one comes out!
“You get all excited that you’ve finished a book and you can’t really show it to anybody until it turns up on the bookshelves”
Steve has worked on a number of Irish language books and posters for school children. Including Mise agus an Dragún and a series about a little tiger called Dainín, of which he has just finished the latest installment.
“This one is about going to the zoo. This is the third one and they’re quite cool because they’re kind of retro”
They are constructed out of paper shapes and brought into Photoshop, which allows more “happy mistakes” than his usual work process.
“They get disjointed which I kind of like.”
In talking about his distinctive look he feels that it’s only in the last four or five years he’s really defined “a family of styles, that all sit together”.
He admits to constantly refining the look “I’m always playing around with it… messing and tweaking and doing different things. I think you have to – to stay sane.”
But after working in the Irish language children’s book industry has he pick up any ‘cúpla focal’“I have virtually no Irish whatsoever and any Irish I do have I’ve only ever seen it written down. My pronunciation is absolutely atrocious so i would never attempt to do it in public.”
He also refers to it as “a very tricky language”, after “coming from the UK, having not been brought up with it”.
Even after spending some time working in Luxembourg, his French was only “enough to get a couple of pints in at the bar”.
So how does a Brit with little linguistic aptitude find working in the Irish language?
“I’m very fortunate in that the people I work with are happy to provide translations for me. I’ve worked for An Gúm and Futa Fata over over the last 20 years or so and they’ve always been very good at translating the copy for me.”