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Our Garden Birds: An Interview with Illustrator and Author Matt Sewell

Bird illustrator Matt Sewell talks about his love for our feathered friends and the process of creating his beautiful new book for Ebury Press.

Written by Amelia Gregory

our garden birds matt sewell
Our Garden Birds by illustrator and bird enthusiast Matt Sewell was published a few months ago with Ebury Press. Collating together his inimitable drawings and quirky writings for cult website Caught by the River, this book is a beautiful paen to our feathered friends. I predict that it will generate many a new twitcher in the back garden and local parks… Matt described to me his love for birds and how he makes his gorgeous artwork.

our garden birds matt sewell
Why are birds so important?
I focused my work on birds a few years ago after I took some time out and went travelling with my girlfriend. I needed to re-address what I was doing and needed to bring the soul back into my work that had got lost by doing too much commercial work and trying to impress the in-crowd. My work has always had a focus on nature but British birds have been cropping up through-out since day one without me really realising. Being a bit of a spotter since a kid they’ve always had a special place in my heart, I have loads of good memories of family and holidays associated with them. I honestly get such a buzz by seeing a new bird or even something really common, seeing a jay can put me in a good mood all day. Also with poring over bird books for years I couldn’t help but humanify and mystify birds that I have never seen. I channelled all this positivity and love into my work and have been having a great journey ever since.

our garden birds matt sewell
What is your favourite bird and why?
Like records, colours and ales my favourite changes by the week. At the mo it is all about goldfinches, the young have fledged and are all hanging out and having fun. I’m seeing groups of about 10 all scuttling about and having a laugh, plus they really remind me of my girls so that always nice.

our garden birds matt sewell
What is your process when you draw?
I’ll have a look through my favourite bird books and maybe have a look at Google Image just to know I’m getting the basic markings in the right place. I think about the bird’s nature and character and decide how he is going to look and get to it. But really when I draw a bird I try to do it as quick as possible so I can capture a character within it.

our garden birds matt sewell
When do you remember them first becoming important to you?
My earliest memory is hiding in my mam and dad’s bed as a jackdaw flew around the room. It had somehow got down the chimney, shit everywhere and then made it’s way up stairs to scare the living daylights out of me and my sister. When I was about 4 or 5 we moved to an old mill that was really a small farm, and I got kind of obsessed with nature from then really. But my first real recollection of birds becoming a big part in my life was when some swallows nested just above our front door. I clearly remember being blown away by them, the power and just sheer magic of them in flight, their song which I could never forget and the muddy nest that they made. Sometimes my dad would set up a step ladder and we’d have a look at the chicks. Very special memories.

our garden birds matt sewell
Why did you decide to write your own quirky descriptions to accompany the illustrations?
The book originated from my Bird of the Week contribution to the Caught By The River blog. I originally just wanted to contribute to CBTR because I loved it so much, such a lovely and inspiring site and originally I was just going to paint a bird that I loved or had spotted that week. So when I painted the Bluetit (my first) I thought I had got a lot of character in him but I didn’t think I had got across all my love for him so I wrote a sentence or two. As the contributions continued my writing grew longer and more confident and the book naturally took form from that.

our garden birds matt sewell
How did you hook up with caught by the river and then with Ebury?
Jeff Barrett from Heavenly Records and CBTR got in touch initially through a mutual friend of ours, Paul Tomlinson. He was after a new logo designing for CBTR and he was really into a logo I had done for a site me and Tomo had set up called The Wooden Branch. Which is basically a site for people who love trees to put up pictures and explanations of their favourite ones from around the world, it’s a lovely idea but didn’t take off… nice logo though if I say so myself. Anyway I worked with Jeff on a few things and then continued with the Bird of the Week contribution to the blog. After a only a few birds Jeff saw the potential of it turning into a book; they had already had a book out called A Collection of Words on Water and there were a few others in the pipeline. Initial interest was good and it was with a big publishers for a year with them farting about with it before they dropped it. Which is when Ebury Press picked it up and the whole process has been a complete joy ever since.

our garden birds matt sewell
What have you been teaching your little girl about birds?
One of her first words was ‘owl‘ which was absolutely amazing. She has known pigeons and made their ‘coo‘ since she was about 10 months. She’s two now and points out robins and blackbirds, I’m not certain but today I’m sure she pointed out a goldfinch and off course I’m going to say she did!

our garden birds matt sewell
What bird would you most like to draw from real life that you have not yet had an opportunity to do so?
I’d love to spot and jot a Lammergeier, they scare the absolute bejesus out of me and have done ever since I saw an illustration of one in a book at school: it was of a Heidi-looking type girl in the Alps getting attacked and carried away by one. They’re one of the most unearthly looking birds out there. When I was in Australia, the one that kept getting away was a Crimson Finch, he looks dope. But really I’d love to spend a bit of time with a Waxwing, those buggers have been avoiding me for years.

our garden birds matt sewell
Our Garden Birds by Matt Sewell is out now on Ebury Press, and you can also get a trio of limited edition wooden birds on the V&A website.


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4 Responses to “Our Garden Birds: An Interview with Illustrator and Author Matt Sewell”

  1. jo says:

    Beautiful : ) x

  2. Emma rose says:

    Lovely article – I still remember that bloody jackdaw flying round the room while we hid in the bed screaming…

  3. You’ve written a wonderful article.I also appreciate the charming beauty of birds, especially robins. I love to watch them flying around and having a good time.

  4. Alison Day says:

    Super illustrations & short story-esque descriptions.

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