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Friday 15 May 2020

From the blog: The Importance of Being Productive

Daniel Gray-Barnett, last year’s winner of the CBCA Award for New Illustration, reflects on how the current pandemic creates expectations but also affects work flow and creativity. Join Daniel as he shares some exciting new projects arising from enforced stay-at-home requirements and also acknowledges the importance of some down-time.

One consequence of Covid-19 I’ve noticed has been the pressure to be productive. Many people (myself included) are using this time to learn new skills, work on personal projects or hobbies and cross things off their to-do lists.

Understandably, there has been an increasing demand for online content and lessons, and along with it also comes the opportunity to take a more active role in teaching that I otherwise would have. Teaching is something that I’ve wanted to do for some time now and I’m excited to think about what skills and aspects of illustration and storytelling I would love to share with students.

One activity I’m working on is developing a workshop series where the students form picture book teams, each taking turns in the roles of author and illustrator. The aim would be to replicate the process of creating picture book stories together. It would be great for the students to see the differences in how people can interpret a text visually and also emphasise how the author and illustrators work on the book quite separately from each other. Fingers crossed, it could even lead to some future storytelling partnerships - maybe the next Mem Fox & Julie Vivas, or Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton?

Apart from the workshop planning, I’ve been working on a couple of picture book projects. Now that things are quieter during lockdown, I’ve had more time to focus on working on these books. I’m currently editing the text on my second picture book with Scribble, which has struggled a little from the pressure of ‘second book syndrome’, but I’m confident will reach a good place in the next few months. I’m also planning to start work on writing the sequel to Grandma Z this month.

A work in progress for a new project
- meet Alexander and his mother
Illustration-wise, I’ve been working on illustrations for a book for a small UK publisher about a young kangaroo family. The main character, Alexander, is a very neat and organised joey, who takes issue with his chaotic mother and her tendencies to hoard all manner of things inside her pouch. It’s a great story about family dynamics and finding independence. It’s also been a good chance for me to experiment with different mediums and techniques. I’ve been exploring with traditional mediums including coloured inks, pastels and pencils rather than relying on the computer to colour the pieces digitally as I have in the past. So far, the results have been pretty successful and I’m really pleased to have found another way to approach illustrations for my next picture books.

It sounds like I’ve been overly productive, but to be honest, there have been days when I can’t even bring myself to be creative with the thought of what’s going on. Other days, drawing and painting are the only things that help soothe and relax my mind. I think it’s equally valid to be as unproductive as you need to be - taking time out for yourself to catch up on sleep, video chat with loved ones, binge on a Netflix series.

Trying to work during lockdown is a reminder that for me, being unproductive is an important part of my capacity to be creative and productive. For every workshop or illustration project I’m working on, there’s also a day spent learning how to make pizza dough or finally getting through my pile of books next to the bed. There’s a lot more to our time than our work and getting things done. Being unproductive can be an important part of practising self-care and our work might be all the better for it.

Daniel Gray-Barnett

Author and Illustrator
T: @dgraybarnett


  1. Daniel it sounds like you are exploring new ways to illustrate and write. Hope the illustrations for Alexander go well. The development of children's workshops that guide them through the illustrating and writing process sounds very exciting and who knows what future creators may be inspired through this experience.

  2. This may end up being the great 'takeaway' from our experience during COVID-19...that it is okay to be unproductive (I like that word)and just chill.
    PS: do you get to pick what is in the pouch, or is that already determined by the text??? Such Fun.

  3. I love the picture book teams idea for your work with students!