Spotlight on Leo Hartas

Adventure Island’s awesome illustrator! 
If you’ve read the Adventure Island books, you’ve no doubt admired the brilliant line drawings 
at the start of every chapter. They are all drawn by top illustrator, Leo Hartas. Year Six pupils at 
Holywell Primary School in Cambridgeshire had some great questions for Leo.

Where do you get your ideas for illustrations from? - Jasmine

The illustrations for Adventure Island come from Helen's stories. The first thing I have to do is draw what is happening in the story. How I do that is often my own idea. For example, if it is an action scene, like Jack running from danger, I'll think of a way to make it exciting, such as choosing a low viewpoint and making sure Jack looks scared. When you do drawing yourself, Jasmine, always stop and try to think of everything you put in the picture that can make your main idea strong as it can be.

When I am not doing Adventure Island illustrations I like to draw ideas for myself, and those ideas can come from anywhere. Perhaps I have seen something that inspires me, for example, an old door on a church. I think, "that could work as the doors of a great castle, that's being attacked by a dragon, and the king is in trouble. Now what could he be wearing? There could be goblin, and a dog, and, and...", before I know it I've got too many ideas!

Do you enjoy doing the illustrations for the Adventure Island books? - Annabel

Absolutely! I love drawing them because I would love to have adventures like that myself, though on second thoughts I'm not half as brave as Emily, Jack, Scott and Drift. I also love the sea, islands, blustery weather, fishing boats, little harbours, caves, rocky outcrops, cycling, and just being out doors! Everything you expect in an Adventure Island book.

How long does it take you to draw each picture? - Rebekka

I do the drawings in two parts. A rough pencil drawing which I send to the publisher and Helen to check for mistakes (I do keep them busy!). Once I have the go-ahead I draw the final in ink. From drawing to finished inked drawing about 2-3 hours. It can vary a lot depending on what is in the picture. Some things like lots of people in a picture take longer, or getting a type of car, or building right.

Do you illustrate any other books, and if so, which ones? - Alice and Leah

I have done, I've not counted them up but may be as many as 80, and thousands of individual illustrations. Lots of my books are now out of print, but you may be able to find one of my favourites called the Mimi Mouse series, written by Martin Waddel. Two of my favourites are Haunted Castle and This Old House. They are full of big complicated illustrations and each page took me about a month to draw and paint. When I have time I am working on my big comic strip, Mirabilis, the Year of Wonders. You can find out about it at

Why did you want to become an illustrator? - Sophie

As a child I used to love drawing and painting. It was a great way to make all the ideas in my head real in some way. It was only later that I realised I could do it as a career. I also love books, stories and comics. Illustration can bring all those things together.

Did you do A Level Art? - Daniel

Well, I started it, along with geography, english and something else I can't remember. I was complaining to my Dad that I really wanted to do art all the time, not have to do these other subjects. To my surprise he suggested that I try to get in to the Art Foundation course at Brighton Polytechnic. (Art foundation is a general art course you can do instead of A-levels) I applied, got a place and immediately stopped my A-levels. Foundation Art was fantastic. A lot of hard work but it opened my mind to how broad and fascinating the art world is, and I got to make art all the time.

When did you decide to become an illustrator? - Cecilia

I think I always knew I wanted to be an illustrator, even though when I was a boy I'd never heard of the term. The actual point of making the decision was towards the end of my Foundation Art course when I had to decide what degree to do. There are lots of types of art career, such as fashion, fine art, print making, architechture, etc. I went for illustration.

How long have you been an illustrator? - Bobbie

If you consider illustration as being paid for drawing, then it was after my Art Foundation. I had applied to get into a degree course but was rejected and was forced to take a year out. I did various jobs, building work, working in a green grocers and a car body repair shop. I also tried to get work in illustration by sending a few of my drawings to a magazine called, "White Dwarf". (You may have heard of it. It was different in those days, dealing with all kinds of fantasy games, not just Warhammer). They gave me a few jobs, but I met Dave Morris there, and he was writing a series of choose your own adventure game books called Golden Dragon published by Grenada. He asked if I could illustrate them, and I went on to do four books, and maps for the more famous Fighting Fantasy series.

What made you decide to do line drawings for the Adventure Island books? - Billy

It was the publishers who decided. Line works best for printing on the type of paper that is used in paper backs. 

Do you enjoy being an illustrator? - Brandon

I do, very much. Well 90% of the time, because I'm doing something I enjoy. It does have a few aspects I don't like so much. It can be lonely, but I work from home, so I get to see a lot of my family, more so than people who have to travel everyday to work. It can be annoying doing so much sitting down, in fact sometimes I get so fed up with it, I go for a walk, or cycle or chop logs. 

You're such a great illustrator, why don't you do the pictures on the front covers as well? - Thomas

I think it's a timing thing. In that another artist can be working on the covers at the same time that I am drawing the interior illustrations, so it takes less time to get the books to the printers. Or perhaps the marketing department at the publisher decides that a different artist's work will attract shopper's attentions better. I'm just guessing, really I don't know! Thanks for the compliment! Thank you for all your questions. I hope that you all enjoy drawing yourselves. Do keep working at art. Like learning to write, you can also learn to draw. There are lots of great tutorials on You Tube that can help you improve your drawing from a basic level to very advanced. I often look there myself because I always need to improve.

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