Illustrators have the power to bring books to life.
The harmonious relationship between Roald Dahl’s characters and Quentin Blake’s vivid, visual representations of them is what makes these children’s books so special.
For Gareth Giles, an illustrator based in Ellon, he has been putting his own stamp on local sport, scenery, landmarks and culture through his drawings.
During the last 20 years, Gareth has refined his cartoon style of illustrations while working on various projects and commissions.
He has more than 300 published cartoons in Aberdeen FC’s fanzine and is currently harbouring plans to create his own children’s book filled with fun characters and eye-catching illustrations.
Gareth also juggles his day job at Brewdog on top of parenting his two young children – a four-year-old daughter, Olive, and a nine-month-old son, Asa.
But finding time to escape to his man-cave and work on his drawings is something that Gareth treasures.
“If I have a window of time to spare among the kids and work, that is how I will spend it,” says Gareth.
“I’ve always been creative, but with the meditative side of it, it is really calming. It’s me-time, essentially.”
Gareth says that illustrating is something that he’s always done.
Inventing cartoon characters and coming up with lots of creative ideas form fond memories of his childhood.
“All you needed was a bit of pen and paper,” says Gareth.
“I remember first entering a drawing competition in 1994 with Aberdeen FC’s Dons Young Stars.
“It was a Christmas card drawing event, which I won that year and then came second in the year after.
“I think this was the point where I thought I could do something with illustrating.”
After leaving Ellon Academy, Gareth says that he regrets not going on to take up offers to join Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen or Duncan and Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee for illustrating.
However, drawing has always remained an important part of Gareth’s life.
His first opportunity to showcase his work came from creating gig posters for his metal band two decades ago.
“I’d been in bands since I was in school and after doing gig posters with my own band, I started working with different bands and music venues in the city,” says Gareth.
“Moorings Bar, which is now Krakatoa, asked me to work on a logo, murals and illustrations within the place when it was undergoing a rebrand around 2015.
“That was almost a whole year’s worth of work for them.”
Refining the craft
A large stint of Gareth’s illustrative career has been spent working on Aberdeen FC’s fanzine.
A Dons fan himself, Gareth created cartoons from 2008 until 2021 which featured in issues of the fanzine and some of these drawings have since made it onto the walls of Pittodrie Bar and inside the stadium ticket office.
More recently, Gareth has changed the subjects of his drawings to landscapes and landmarks dotted around the north-east.
Though his creative process remains largely the same, working on projects close to home is something that Gareth has enjoyed doing.
“I start off with a sketch in pencil, then tidy things up in pen and go on to import the drawings into the computer, where I’d usually add colour or texture on Photoshop,” Gareth explains.
“Most of my work is done this way. But with the landscapes, I just wanted to do something different.
“Two of these feature The Prop of Ythsie and Bennachie. I drive past The Prop pretty much every day taking my daughter to kindergarten at Haddow.
“I guess it’s got a personal connection without having thought about it!”
North-east castles such as Craigievar and Slains have also been subjects of Gareth’s work, harking back to his memories of being let loose with paint and crayons as a child.
His signature style
But no matter what project Gareth assigns himself to – whether a commission or just for fun – over the years, he feels that he has developed a signature cartoon style that underpins all of his drawings.
He currently sells a selection of prints on his Etsy page, earning five-star reviews and over 150 sales since launching his online shop last year.
Yet, there’s one project on Gareth’s bucket list that he’d love to get round to in the near future.
“For a long time, I’ve had the idea of doing a kids’ book,” says Gareth.
“I have the storyline – which I’ve written out and worked on for a few years now – I have the character designs in my head, I want to illustrate it as well.
“But I have to make sure I do it before my kids are too old to enjoy it. It’d be great.
“The to-do list keeps getting bigger and better – I’m just waiting for someone to add an eighth day to the calendar!”