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Owen Davey’s “Mad About Monkeys” – Book Review & Interview

// Business, Interviews, Reviews (Book)

Mad-About-Monkeys-Non-Fiction-Book-Owen-Davey-Flying-Eye_1600_cHere we are with yet another book from publishing powerhouse Flying Eye Books. This time they have brought us the simply divine artwork of Owen Davey with a book about his love for all things monkey. Mad About Monkeys is an infographic book for children all about the mannerisms and habitats of our closely related brethren in the animal kingdom. Owen Davey’s work is the combination of incredibly elegant shapes and lines created in Photoshop and the intelligent use of textures to produce some of the most delicious work being created as demonstrated by his recent shortlisting for AOI’s Professional of the Year award.

Readers of this magazine may know Owen’s work from the highly popular app Two Dots or perhaps the beautifully-crafted Benecol advert (see below) by Mother London and Vector Meldrew. In any case, this highly prolific illustrator is certainly one to watch, having worked with companies such as the BBC, Time Out, The Guardian and The New York Times to mention but a few.

Mad About Monkeys represents Owen’s seventh book for the children’s market, wonderfully showing his ability to make simplified shapes look organic and full of life. Distinctly grown-up in visual appeal, this book would serve wonders on any bookcase or coffee table. It was my pleasure to be able to talk things monkeys, illustration and app culture with the delightful Mr. Davey.

Mad-About-Monkeys-Owen-Davey-Illustration-Combo_1000As a child monkeys were my favourite animals so I would have loved this book. Why did you choose to make an infographic book all about monkeys?

Well, it was a joint decision between Flying Eye Books and me. I’d done a project on a non-fiction book about monkeys and apes at uni and had also created a more recent monkey illustration for a pitch for Flying Eye that didn’t pan out, so it all kinda slotted together nicely. I’ve always found them fascinating. Monkeys are so similar to humans in many ways and they’ve got such amazing characters. They’re just fun.

The book is filled with facts, how much research went into the pre-production of this book?

Oh a lot. This took me ages. I pawed through books, scientific papers and the internet, trying to find out as much as I could. And then after I had an epicly massive document of information I had to go through and trim it down to the stuff that I found most fascinating and captivating. Then I had to go through that and see what was best for kids. It was a long process and there were quite a few back and forths with the editor as well.


As a child how important were books to you?

I loved them. As a kid I remember answering that question of ‘What do you want to do when you grow up’ with ‘I want to write and draw for books’. It’s a wonderful medium to explore because words and images usually have the same weight. What other medium has this balance?

As an adult are you drawn more to factual books or narrative-driven fiction?

Probably more narrative. I still mainly read kids books and teen fiction though. I regularly reread all the Harry Potters or listen to them on audiotape. Most of the factual stuff I explore is actually more audiobooks. I’ve become a little obsessed with Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History recently (probably not a good one for kids though .. a lot of history is pretty gruesome).

Your work is bold and graphic, with brilliant use of textures. Has this always been the way you created work or did it come to you gradually?

It’s been a progression really. I’ve become more and more obsessed with geometry over time and the idea of simplifying and designing my illustrations. I used to just look at stuff and draw it. Almost like a less detailed still life or something. Now I try to strip it back a bit. Find circles where there are near circle shapes. Or make something a straight edge if it’s almost a straight edge. Illustrators like Charley Harper are wonderful at this … you kind of get to see the world through their eyes and you can see the decisions they’ve made within the process. For me, that’s where illustration gets fun.


Could you give me a brief run-though of how you create your work?

I research the hell out of whatever I’m doing. I explore the most prominent themes. I work out a concept. I start doing little compositional thumbnails. Sometimes I’ll then rework up these thumbnails as larger sketches and actually in this book I drew all the monkeys in pencil before scanning that in and then working digitally directly on top of the sketches. Sometimes I just do this straight from the thumbnails. It can help keep stuff organic which is cool, especially when you work digitally.

You’re fantastically prolific and can boast working with many of the biggest names in the publishing industry – how do you feel about your work and career at this time?

Yeah I’m happy with it. I get to work with some amazing people on some amazing projects and I make my living from the thing that I love. There’s still plenty of stuff I want to achieve, but for the length of time I’ve been doing this I definitely can’t complain. I’m proud to find a home within the industry.

You also worked on the massively successful Two Dots app, creating the visuals for the game with the lovely chaps at Playdots, Inc. How did they approach you about working with them?

They just contacted my agents and asked if I would be interested in doing a pitch for them. I was insanely busy at the time and so had to say no, but they were really persistent and extended the deadline. So I had a go at some ideas and although none of them were really used in the end project, they really liked the style and the way I’d handled the brief, so they got me onboard for the actual product. I’ve been working on it ever since. It’s an ongoing project at the moment and great fun. They’re ace clients

TwoDots-Title-Burst-Skull-Cactus-Planet-Shell-Leaf-Key-Fish-Seaweed-Compass-Lamp-Mask-Illustration-Owen-DaveyHow did working on the app differ from your usual work?

Apps have their own parameters and own constraints, as well as advantages. So you lose the tactile quality of printed materials, but suddenly you have something that can move, change and be interacted with. It was fun to explore that side of things.

Are there any further plans for Mad About Monkeys?

Not at the moment, no. But we are working on a follow up with Flying Eye Books which will be equally as interesting and exciting I hope. I’m at the research stage at the moment, and finding out a lot.

Do you have ideas for more children’s books?

Oh hundreds yeah. I work on many commercial projects and apps and things as well though so most of them are just patiently waiting on the back-burner.

What can we expect from you in the future?

A lot more illustration and a lot more books hopefully

You can buy Mad About Monkeys as well as all other books from Flying Eye Books on their website. You can see more of Owen Davey’s work at

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