A post about T E Shepherd, the gifted artist who is drawing the imagined settings of my novels
I first met T E Shepherd, or Thomas as I know him, through his novels. We were both members of the Alliance of Independent Authors, and for a little while we belonged to the same writers’ group, meeting regularly in Oxford. Only after reading and enjoying his Mr Tumnal novels did I realise he was also a talented illustrator, with a style so distinctive that readers have asked me whether he is related to A A Milne‘s illustrator, E H Shepard. (As you will have guessed from the different spelling, no, he’s not!)
When Thomas started sharing some of his drawings online, in particular a picture of Hawkesbury Upton’s village school, one of the venues for the Haweksbury Upton Literature Festival that I organise each year, I asked him to create a village map to help visitors find their way around the festival, and the result was stunning.
When he started sharing portraits of some of his favourite bookshops, it seemed only natural to ask him whether he might also draw a fictitious bookshop for me – Hector’s House, which is at the heart of my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries. Sophie works in the shop and the proprietor, Hector Munro, is her romantic interest.
Usually Thomas draws from life rather than from his imagination, but for me he was prepared to make an exception, provided I was able to give him a good brief and some photos of the kind of thing I was looking for.
For Hector’s House, I’d already specified certain details in the books, and needed to find a Cotswold cottage that matched that specification – harder than I’d expected! Eventually I sent Thomas a snapshot of Nailsworth Computers (highly recommended for their computer services, by the way – I’ve been a regular customer for years) plus a list of changes that would be needed to complete the transformation. I was astonished when a local friend told me later that this building used to be a bookshop. It was clearly meant to be!
I was so delighted with Thomas’s attention to detail and the thought that went into the drawing that as soon as my second series of novels was established, the Staffroom at St Bride’s School Stories for Grown-ups, that I asked him to draw the school building. This time his starting point was the cover design of the first book in the series, Secrets at St Bride’s, with his own personal flourishes added.
When I started my spin-off series of quick-read novelettes set in the same parish as these two series, Tales from Wendlebury Barrow, I couldn’t resist completing the set by commissioning Thomas to draw the Wendlebury Barrow village green, which features in all three series. Again I found myself driving round the Cotswolds looking for appropriate visuals for him, and ended up sending a selection of different greens from which he took various elements to create a completely new one just right for me stories. He even added Sophie and Hector!
I now have framed prints of all three on my study walls to help me immerse myself in these worlds as I write my stories. I’ve also turned the first two into attractive cards and bookmarks to give away to readers at events, and will be doing the same with the third once we’re allowed to hold in-person events again. I’m also planning to add the appropriate drawing to the interior title page of each book so that all my readers may enjoy them,
As is usual with such things, the copyright remains with the artist, and anyone wishing to order prints from him or to book commissions of their own should contact him via his website: www.teshepherdart.com. He has a different website about his books: http://www.shepline.com/books.
He also sells prints of his other landscape drawings of bookshops and historic buildings, and this year produced for the first time a calendar of his art. There are still a few copies available to buy in his January sale on his website here
I’ll be holding a prize draw for a copy of the calendar for my Readers’ Club in my next newsletter which I’m planning to despatch tomorrow. If you’d like a chance to win one and you’re not already a member, you can join my Readers’ Club here. There’s a different prize draw every month for something fun associated with my books.
But that’s enough about me! Now here’s a chance to get to know more about Thomas and his work via this exclusive interview that he kindly gave me a few days ago.
Exclusive Interview with T E Shepherd, Illustrator & Novelist
Thomas, welcome to my blog – I’m so pleased to be able to introduce my readers to the man behind the drawings! When did you take up drawing and how has your career progressed?
I’ve always drawn, for as long as I remember. Give me a pad of paper and a pack of those cheap felt tip pens from the post office or Happy Shopper on the corner and I am lucky. At college I was never that great at taking notes in lectures because I’d be doodling patterns on my notepad instead. I did art at college, specialising mainly in photography and printmaking which I loved, however since leaving college I of course lost access to the dark room (this was almost a decade before digital cameras) and it’s hard to set yourself doing printmaking. I also left college thinking that my kind of art wasn’t really that good because it wasn’t the weird stuff you find art galleries winning awards! It wasn’t until I was fortunate to be working the day job with the fantastic Rachel Henderson Art that she encouraged me into doing things with my art.
Please describe the media you work in and the processes involved in creating a new drawing.
I work mainly in Indian Ink although I also use coloured pencils. I have been known though to work in photography, printmaking, airbrush, gouache – basically it depends what the picture is that I’m doing!
Why do you particularly enjoy drawing buildings?
The honest answer is that I have historically been terrible at drawing people! The slightly more interesting is that they interest me. It has to be said, I have a bit of thing for cobbles, walls, and doorways. My A-Level art exam piece was a piece created from the subject “Through doorways” in 10 hours, or two back to back days.
For this year you produced a calendar of your favourite drawings of Oxfordshire and the Cotswolds. What makes this region particularly rewarding for you as an artist?
Simple answer really that I live in Oxfordshire on the doorstep to the Cotswolds and that is the geographical area that I have mainly been selling my work, at markets, when markets are allowed to happen. I grew up in East Anglia though and still have strong links there so I could have done the East Anglian. Collection (following on in the footsteps of John Piper I already have three Suffolk churches to my name!). When you include all the bookshops of I’ve drawn it puts my geographic spread is even wider.
What else do you like to draw?
Anything and everything that interests me. I’m a very visual person – even when I’m writing my books it’s the frame by frame cinematic scenes that I’m picturing as I write. And so if I see a view or frame a picture in my gaze I want to capture it, often with a photo (or two, or three…) ahead of drawing them.
Tell us about your passion for bookshops and why you love drawing them.
As mentioned above, I write books. My degree, as well visual arts also involved creative writing, and I’ve written three novels to date: my debut standalone book, and the first two parts of a trilogy about imaginary friends. I love books, and stories – I have a ‘library’ of over 2000 books in the house. If I visit a town and there’s a bookshop, I can’t not go in, and chances are I will buy at least one book, so yes you could say that bookshops are bad and evil places for me to visit… *grins*
I have an on-going project to illustrate myself around the country drawing (mostly) independent bookshops for my celebration of bookshops in my my illustrated The Booklover’s Guide to Bookshops.
What is the most challenging picture you’ve ever drawn and why?
My most challenging picture that I had to draw was my illustration for Tales of the Wendlebury Barrow. Not only was this to be an imaginative piece but it needed to include a traditional village scene of people and to be honest people have never been my strong point. My two big inspirations are the work of Rex Whistler and Edward Ardizzone and I’ve found my style to be somewhere in between. One of the things I love about Ardizzone’s illustration is the way they are very loose simple designs but have all the character and expression. It was a challenge, but one that I believe I pulled off, particularly when the author saw her two lead characters come walking out of the picture towards her.
Previous to that, one my biggest challenges was a pen and ink and colour illustration I did of Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire. I was established in the medium of black and white, so adding colour was a bit of a departure, but one that was really effective and led directly to a commission late last year of a full colour picture of Notley Abbey as a wedding anniversary present.
Which is your favourite of all the pictures you’ve done and why?
If I had to choose just one, it would be my picture of St Andrew’s Church, Covehithe in Suffolk. Covehithe is one of my most favourite of places in the world with some very fond memories for me. There is a poignancy to the place as it probably has no more than 60 more years before the fragile Suffolk coast tips it into the sea. Sadly I don’t have the original any more as it was snaffled up within days of me finishing it but I know that it went to a new home.
I know you take other commissions too – what does this entail and how do people go about commissioning a picture from you?
In short, just get in touch! I work from photographs so geography is no obstruction to having a commission done. What I do need is high resolution photos that I have permission to use. These can be photos either that you have taken or from a professional photographer so long as you have obtained copyright permission for me to work from them. I can’t use photos that you’ve grabbed from Google! My pricing is based on size of the finished work not by number of scenes, so you could have multiple views of your subject in one picture, and you pay for it upon completion of the piece when you are happy with it.
You’re not only an artist but an author too – please tell us a little about your books.
My books are what I would call real-world fantasy or magical realism. My debut novel is set in Iceland and is a story where Norse Mythology meets modern day climate science as our protagonists face The End Of All Worlds. My other two books are the first and second books in my Imaginary Friends trilogy. The first in the series, Mr Tumnal, concerns a man, Louis Tumnal who marries his imaginary friend and has an imaginary child. When he meets his real-life girlfriend things get complicated beyond imagining.
What are you working on at the moment – both in terms of drawing and writing?
I’m currently writing the third book in the trilogy, Forgotten Friends, set 40 years after the events of the first book in a post-technological world (imagine consulting Wikipedia in print in a vast room underground Oxford’s Bodleian Library!) With my drawing, I had a crazy end to last year, finishing my last commission a day before delivering it to my client on Christmas Eve and so I’m taking January off – partly this is because I incurred a drawing-induced injury of trigger finger! But I have been creating art, having acquired a press to get back to etching too, which is something I’m very excited about.
Where can people go to find out more about your illustration and your books?
The best way to find out about my illustration work is on my online shop: www.teshepherdart.com but you can also find me on Instagram and Facebook at @t.e.shepherd.art. My books, can be found at www.shepline.com/books or follow me on Twitter at @shepline.
Biography of T E Shepherd
Derbyshire born, Suffolk bred. Thomas Shepherd now lives in Oxfordshire with his wife Emma and five cats, five chickens, three bunnies, two African land snails and some fish. He’s a landscape artist and novelist. His two main inspirations are the work of Edward Ardizzone and Rex Whistler, and his style is somewhere between the two. As a published author, books are his passion, and he is currently working on a project to create an illustrated guide of bookshops. He works principally in Indian Ink and Polychromos artists’ pencils. He takes commissions, including maps and book illustration.
Find Out More About T E Shepherd
- For more about Thomas’s art, visit: www.teshepherdart.com.
- For more about Thomas’s novels, visit www.shepline.com/books.
- Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/shepline.
- Like his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/t.e.shepherd.art
- Follow him on Instagram at www.instagram.com/t.e.shepherd.art.