Myths and monsters…

Hugglewugs love holidays
Hugglewugs Love Holidays

Author and illustrator Niamh Sharkey tells Shelley Marsden about the London exhibition which celebrates the Irish Children’s Laureate’s work…

THE current exhibition at London gallery Illustration Cupboard showcases the beautiful work of one of Ireland’s most celebrated illustrators, Niamh Sharkey.

Dublin-based mother-of-three Niamh has also had the post of Irish Children’s Laureate since 2012, a post which ends this week. The exhibition celebrates her time as Laureate Na Nog, as well as the work of her colleagues at Illustrators Ireland.

She told the Irish World: “As a member of Illustrators Ireland, it was my suggestion that we put forward a retrospective of my work, but alongside that, my friends’ work.

Niamh Sharkey
Niamh Sharkey

“Part of my remit as Children’s Laureate was to raise the profile of illustration both at home and abroad, so this was a perfect ending to my time as Laureate, showing my work and that of others in such a lovely London gallery.”

There exists a healthy tradition of Irish picture book makers these days, the likes of PJ Lynch, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick and Sheena Dempsey, a London-based newcomer who is doing extremely well and whose work can also be seen in the London exhibition.

Cinderella and Prince Charming
Cinderella and Prince Charming

Thirty of her striking pieces on show at the gallery, all chosen by Niamh, beginning with early book covers with Mercier Press to pieces from her picture books (Jack and Beanstalk, The Gigantic Turnip, Tales from Old Ireland, Tales of Wisdom and Wonder) and choice illustrations from her UK-publishers Walker Books.

She commented: “What I kind of like is that I’ve included finished artwork but also concept artwork, with little pieces from my Hugglewump books, little watercolours of what the characters were going to be like. That’s the book that ended up turning into the Disney TV animation, so I thought people might be interested in that. Fans of Henry Hugglemonster could buy an original piece, the first idea of him, if they wanted.”

One particularly striking image is of the famous Irish myth Children of Lir, taken from the book Tales from Old Ireland by Malachy Doyle, which the illustrator explains were given a ‘Niamh Sharkey twist’. Having carried out extensive research in the Department of Early Printed Books and Special Collections in the Old Library at Trinity College, and getting inspiration from the colours used in the Book of Kells, she used her research to come up with her own fresh version of the much-loved myths.

Children of Lir
Children of Lir

For Tales from Old Ireland, I travelled round the old mythological sites of Ireland and took influence from designs on, say, the little designs on the Passage Tombs in Newgrange, Co Meath and built them into my own designs”, she explained. “I draw in a very graphic, minimalist way, so I take the essence and the history of what’s going on and capture it in a sort of modern version.”

She confesses her last week as Children’s Laureate is tinged with sadness, though she’ll be working on one particular scheme well after she’s handed over the baton to the next laureate.

For the full article and some more of Niamh’s striking images, see this week’s Irish World newspaper (issue  10 May).

The Niamh Sharkey exhibition runs at the IllustrationCupboard, 22 Bury St, London until this Saturday, May 10. See


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