Edinburgh Zoo draws on top illustrator’s experience

SHE was propelled into publishing fame after sketches she made of a tiger at Edinburgh Zoo while a student at art college became a bestselling children’s book.

SHE was propelled into publishing fame after sketches she made of a tiger at Edinburgh Zoo while a student at art college became a bestselling children’s book.

Now, more than a decade later, award-winning illustrator and writer Catherine Rayner is back in the zoo as the Royal Zoological Society for Scotland’s Illustrator in Residence.

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Rayner, whose second book, Harris Finds His Feet, won the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2009, will be working both at the zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig.

The illustrator, who graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 2004 and lives in the capital with her husband and four-year-old son, created the drawings for her first book, Augustus And His Smile, as part of her degree show after taking inspiration from an Amur tiger called Yuri, who lived at Edinburgh Zoo at the time. The book is due to be re-released in a tenth anniversary edition later this year.

“Twelve years ago, when I started doing the first drawings for Augustus, I couldn’t get access to pictures of moving animals as the internet was in its infancy, so the zoo was my only resource,” said Rayner. “I’m very excited to be involved in a residency here as I have spent so much time here over the years.”

As part of her residency, she will create a series of drawings which will go on show in an exhibition at the zoo, as well as workshops and activity programmes to help children learn to draw animals in the zoo’s collection.

She is also to host an event there to launch her latest book, about a lion called Arlo, based on the zoo’s male lion, Jayndra. The book is due to go on sale in early 2017.

Rayner has received a number of awards for her work, including the UKLA Children’s Book Award for Iris And Isaac and Picture Book of the Year in the Netherlands for Solomon Crocodile.

Rayner said she is working on drawings of six animals, ­including ant eaters, pandas, lions and tapirs, for a set of cards to go on sale in the zoo’s gift shop.

She added: “I have been out and about at the zoo, spending a lot of time drawing the animals. The problem is I want to draw all of them – I start off with one for a particular project and then spot another out of the corner of my eye.”

Kathy Sorley, “Thinker in Residence” at the zoo and head of its residencies programme, said: “One of our missions is to connect with children at an early age and help them develop a love of nature and Catherine Rayner does that better than most through her lovely stories and gorgeous illustrations.”

“I didn’t want to contact her via her publisher as often messages like that do not get through, so instead I left my card with the zoo’s shop and asked them to get in touch with her. She got back to me immediately. For us, it’s exciting that Catherine is local to Edinburgh, that she is real, homespun talent and has already had great synergy with the RZSS.”

Sorley contacted Rayner after seeing her illustrations of animals on a set of cards sold in a stationery shop in Edinburgh.

The zoo’s residencies programme includes former RBS executive Cameron McPhail, who was ­appointed as its resident cartoonist this year, and ­Bryony Knox, who is resident silver­smith.