Knaresborough Illustrator Ray Mutimer opens up
PUBLISHED: 22:01 18 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:02 20 February 2013
Brian Page meets Postman Pat artist Ray Mutimer from Knaresborough
Not quite so recognisable is the man who brought them to life in books and annuals read by millions. 'Illustrators tend to be shy types,' says Ray Mutimer, who worked on the Postman Pat books for 14 years. 'I've certainly always been happy to stay in the background.' He likes his work to speak for itself. And why not, when you are one of the most respected children's story illustrators in the country with a long list of credits including not only Postman Pat but Rupert the Bear and Noddy too.
It's surprising then that this is Ray's first press interview. Sitting in his spacious living room, looking out over Knaresborough town cricket ground, he shows me numerous sketches, illustrations, books and pictures; almost a lifetime's work for a man who has just turned 70 and is now enjoying a release from the pressure of constant deadlines. He shows me some of his earlier work, a series of illustrated readers for teenagers with a motorbike gang at the heart of the stories. 'When I came to do that I realised I had never before drawn a motorbike. I got a pair of Airfix kits and made two bikes. That way I could put them in any position I needed to be able to get the drawing accurate.' This painstaking attention to detail and his proven natural flair have made Ray's name.
In his latest work, a collaboration with Oxford writer Paul Gustafson on a series of books called Eggbert's Adventures, he has created a wonderful series of vibrant illustrations. His illustrations chime perfectly with the writer's rhyming stories.
Eggbert is a jolly, egg-shaped character who has lots of exciting adventures with his friend Shelley at the fair, the zoo and the seaside - constantly outwitting the villainous 'bad eggs' along the way. Ray was happy to take part in this venture although he has had to turn down others in the past who wanted to use his name to capture the attention of publishers.
'It's important to ensure that what you are doing has some quality to it,' he says. 'I love my work but that doesn't mean I'll do everything that's offered, although as a freelance you are always reluctant to turn work away. I suppose I have been lucky in that I have, for the most part, enjoyed the work I have done.' Luck, Ray insists, has played a large part in career.
'I've had a series of lucky breaks,' he says. 'I got into illustration because of luck and I fell in with Postman Pat through another bit of luck.'
Ray trained as a secondary school teacher and was head of art and craft at St Aidan's High School in Harrogate when he got what he calls his first moment of serendipity. He had become enthused by children's books and stories when his son, Lee, was little.
He tried to create his own but succeeded only in gathering a fine collection of publishers' rejection letters. 'Then, one day, someone from Yorkshire Television was at a school where my wife Christine was doing supply teaching.
They had a children's programme called My World, which was similar to Jackanory, where well-known actors read stories with on-screen illustrations. 'They were having problems with artists who were not delivering on time. They would book the studio, book the actor and then the artwork wouldn't turn up. I suppose as I lived locally and was able to deliver it was an ideal answer for them.'
Ray's second lucky break came while he was visiting a publisher in Ipswich. By chance an artists' agent was also there. The two were introduced and that same night Ray got a phone call asking if he could draw Postman Pat. 'I can draw anything,' he boldly announced.
And so a firm and lasting friendship was born between the artist and the loveable red-headed postie. At first he imitated the style of the previous artist. Postman Pat had already been on television for a decade and there had been several books based on the TV series, illustrated by Celia Berridge.
'Gradually, after the first few books, I was able to introduce my own style, a lighter touch, if you like,' says Ray. 'I moulded Pat my way over the years and felt very natural with it. I got to know him very well. 'I knew what all the characters were thinking, what they would do. I treated them like real people.
Yes, Postman Pat got into my head a lot, I identified with him. When I finished a book it would leave me feeling rather sad.' He was happy, however, that his success meant he could leave teaching and become a full-time freelance illustrator.
'I enjoyed teaching,' he says. 'In fact I've been privileged to have had two careers which I have really enjoyed. But after 20 years in teaching and after becoming head of department, the only way to progress would have been to become head of year.
But I enjoyed being a teacher not an administrator. So, I took a deep breath and went freelance.' He has never regretted it. 'Working from home has been a bonus,' he laughs. 'The only commute I do is from the kitchen to the work room.' Although he no longer illustrates the Postman Pat books - the association ended when Pat's creators Josiane and Ivor Wood sold the rights - Ray still feels for his old pal. 'He was definitely my favourite all-time character, I remember him very fondly.' Today, Ray has gone back to his first love: painting.
He bounces around the house, enthusiastically showing me his latest art, a series of works including a tree dragon with a touch of fantasy about it. And there's an eye-catching painting of a 'weather girl' wearing a hat containing a waterfall and a rainbow. 'The paintings almost tell stories,' says Ray. 'They are mellow, a bit whimsical.' Just like their creator. It is only in the car on the way home that I realise who else fits that description. No wonder Ray Mutimer and Postman Pat got on so well together.
Eggbert's Adventures by Paul Gustafson, illustrated by Ray Mutimer, are published by Eggsact Ltd, Oxford, priced 4.99. For further information click on www.eggbertsadventures.com