Meeting Report: Studio 503 - Guy Parker- Rees, Adam Stower and Guy Passey

Wed 12 May 2010 by Penny_Dann

From Guy Parker-Rees'

Studio 503 is located in a south facing space in that iconic Brighton landmark New England House. It's been going for ten years, and the current residents kindly put together their thoughts and images for us at the last meeting. All three illustrators have won various awards for their work.


Guy Parker-Rees has been at the studio for 7 years after moving from London. He studied Literature and Philosophy at university then he became an art therapist. It was only when he met someone who wrote children’s books that he realised illustrating could be a career. Guy first started illustrating 20 years ago and despite not even knowing what a rough drawing was at the time, sent off a dummy book to two publishers who showed a keen interest in his work. He joined a studio in London and began to learn his new trade. Guy works instinctively and he quickly got into his stride as an illustrator. He showed us examples of his work as a child, kept proudly by his Mum, which showed a startling and amusing link between his current work and his early attempts at drawing. Animals were, and continue to be, a major subject in his work.

"Giraffes Can’t Dance" which was published 10 years ago. Written by Giles Andrae (of Purple Ronnie and Edward Monkton fame) it has established itself as a children's classic. For its anniversary this title has been reissued in a pop up edition and a gift set with a soft toy. There are also lots of foreign editions despite it's rhyming format. Guy doesn't think it's necessarily a problem for rhyming texts to be translated. His training as an English graduate shone through here with his understanding of language and its roots.

By working instinctively, Guy believes in starting with what he modestly called 'bad' drawings and keeps refining the line to produce the finished result. He then works these up in colour using watercolours and Dr Martin inks. When approaching a new book project he starts off with the characters. As he was doing the early sketches for the frog in ‘Down by the Cool of the Pool’ he kept thinking of Ade Edmondson. Then the CD of the book was made and read by... Ade Edmonson!

Inspiration can come from unlikely places. In ‘The Chimpanzees of Happytown’ (illustration at the top of the article), Chutney the chimpanzee initially lives in Drabsville. He worked out the character but was having difficulty with the Drabsville setting - until he saw the moulded packaging that his Freeview box came in, turned it upside down... ta daaaa... Drabsville!

One of the images where B.i.G. members' hearts melted was a very cute drawing of a rabbit and penguin sitting together reading a book on an armchair, based on his sons. He said you have to be in touch with feelings to create stories. Ahhhhhhh.This image became the cover of Guy's latest book 'Playtime with Littlebob and Plum' which is available in all good bookshops and which he would like to plug shamelessly.

Guy demonstrated that application, belief and passion can substitute for a formal art college training and it was wonderful to see how he has constructed a joyful career from such an informal and self directed start.


Next up was Adam Stower who started with showing us his inspirational heroes such as Tomi Ungerer, Maurice Sendak, ‘Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor’ by Mervyn Peake, Asterix + The Normans, Little Nemo in Slumberland. Also Dulac and Heath Robinson whose draughtsmanship can be seen in Adam’s work. He enjoyed drawing as a child and now feels very lucky to be doing what he does. He keeps a sketchbook whenever on holiday and his enviable drawing skill and comittment was much admired. Adam has a natural talent and clearly relishes expressing himself with humour, observation and a lightness of touch belied by the detail and effort he applies to his work. In finding a character he says he starts with the nose as an actor might start to find a character with the shoes or a walk. He then produces elaborate and detailed roughs so the client knows exactly what they are getting.

After his degree at Norwich School of Art, he was snapped up by the Norwich Wildlife Art Agency which he found to be a worthwhile apprenticeship, despite being tied to a rather rigid discipline and narrow confines. He then broke free and started to work for publishers such as Bloomsbury and Templar.

Adam then showed us a series of his book work which he so enjoys doing despite the long hours and tight deadlines. 'Slam' (Templar) was his own, wordless book inspired by movies and was a masterclass in demonstrating his draughtmanship to produce a sense of control and yet life and movement. Precision with abandon. He said he’s a frustrated animator, and we could definitely see this in his work.

He likes to keep various strands of work on the go and so does editorial work which sometimes means has to do an all nighter to meet the deadline. His latest book is called ‘Bottoms Up’ written by Jeanne Willis. In it children ask why they have to wear pants and Adam clearly enjoys the ability to work in an irreverent way that he feels will appeal directly to children unfettered by adult inhibitions.

It was a real privilege to get an insight into the work and method of a true drawing talent, who demonstrates such enthusiasm, modesty and delight in his work.

By the way, never work with children or..... penguins!


Guy followed after the break and entertained us all with his mixture of dry humour and refreshing honesty. Originally from Birmingham, he said he never had a grand plan but always liked drawing as a kid, and ended up coming down to sussex to study illustration at Brighton Polytechnic in 1983. He showed work that he hasn’t looked at for ages and and explained that he hoped to find it therapeutic for his future creativity to reassess examples of this work from the past.

He described a work pattern which many of us identified with. He joined ‘The Organisation’ illustration agency on leaving college in 1987 and using the medium of Caran d’Ache pencils found that his work struck a chord with a popular style of the times, thankfully leading to a lot of commercial commissions. He would often use photographic reference, but was also keen to break free from these constraints. In this regard, Guy demonstrated his interest in finding the truth within himself and his drawing.

Guy Passey various images

In 1991 he did some travelling and rediscovered his enthusiasm for self initiated work, which lead him to create some images with atmospheric emotional rendering. He came back into illustration but found it harder – things had changed. Many of us have had to face the prospect of change in styles in the sometimes fickle world of fashion and Guy was honest enough to share the difficulties that this can produce in attempting to adapt whilst retaining one's own integrity and honesty. He also touched on the ambivalence of both the excitement, and the trepidation he had to face in the light of changing technology with the arrival of the computer.

Guy has kept true to his path and adapted in the face of change. It was really interesting to see the development of his skills and application into a fast moving and demanding commercial world, including responsibility for the total design of some projects. His openness led to a really useful discussion within the room of different approaches and methods of attempting to ride the freelance bronco, with many clearly identifying with the ups and downs of this journey, but inspired by Guys dedication and persistence and talent. He hopes to keep working as an illustrator for many years and feels the best is yet to come!