By Shelley Marsden
John O’Leary’s not a Londoner, but he says he’s been there long enough to be one. Originally from Dublin and a graduate of the National College of Art & Design before studying printmaking at theAccademia di Belle Arti di Urbino in Italy, the popular children’s author, illustrator and paper engineer lives in Finsbury Park, and has called London home since 1985.
He began his career in graphic design but soon moved into illustration, and from there into paper books and paper engineering, hence why the majority of John’s books are in the form of incredible pop-up creations.
John’s first book, Ten on a Train, was published by Frances Lincoln in 1995 and since then he has produced ten titles for novelty book publisher, Tango Books.
Some of John’s intricate, colourful work is on view at the Islington Museum until June 6, where kids and grown-ups alike can drop by and see how he develops stories, characters and pop-up designs in an exhibition which includes finished art, roughs, line drawings and mock-ups.
“The work on show there is digital”, says John, “done by traditional means in pen and ink, then scanned into the computer, fitted together and coloured, so there’s no physical artwork on show, but I wanted to show the illustrations, so they’re high-quality digital prints of the artwork framed on walls as examples of my work.
“The other important thing was to get glass cabinets to display the books as various examples of works-in-progress, where possible, side by side with the finished product. It’s geared a lot towards kids so they can see what’s behind the making of the books and hopefully get excited about creating themselves.”
As an illustrator John began doing widely different work, anything from greetings cards to editorial magazine illustrations, but believes he slowly gravitated towards children’s books because the nature of the work he does, lends itself to them.
Then he decided it would be quite nice to write his own books and illustrate them. The pop-ups followed, and that’s what he remains best-known for now. They are so striking, it’s not hard to see why.
Pop-Up Books: The Work of Author and Illustrator John O’Leary is at Islington Museum (closed Wed and Sun), 245 St John Street, London EC1V 4NB until June 6. For more, see www.islington.gov.uk/heritage and www.oleary-irsara.com/john.htm.