The working mind and drawing hand of Oliver Jeffers

It takes a lot to hold the attention of a Millennial, and yet Oliver Jeffers captivated an entire hall for a full 52 minutes. We laughed, we cried (mainly from laughing more), and quickly realised that there’s a lot more to Oliver Jeffers’ pencil than first meets the paper.

By Gabby Lord

© Sebastian Weiß / Monotype

© Sebastian Weiß / Monotype


An illustrator by trade but not necessarily on purpose, Oliver “fell into” picture books while originally pursuing a Fine Arts career. It certainly appears he fell on his feet, with multiple NY Times Bestsellers under his belt and a body of work showcasing his abundant curiosity and endless imagination.

Above all, Oliver is a storyteller and grew up in Belfast listening to “grannies in the kitchen and uncles in the pub”. Perhaps a case of wanderlust, he now lives in New York City continuing to apply the lessons he started learning at that young and impressionable age.

Some of these lessons include:

  • Stories are about timing, structure and always have three things: A beginning, a middle and end. It sounds so obvious that it’s often the first thing to be overlooked.
  • Words can either contrast or complement each other. There is power when using them, especially when sparingly.
  • Confidence is an absolute miracle worker. Act the part, because everyone else is also full of shit. If you don’t believe your own bullshit than nobody else will.

While this is all practical advice, the magic of Oliver’s talk was delivered through his humour, playfulness and ability to make the audience think about serious subjects in an entertaining way. The Northern Ireland accent definitely contributed to his charismatic stage presence, however the main reason Oliver’s talk was unanimously enjoyed, is that he didn’t put on a speech and he didn’t put on a show. What he did, was put on a story.



Extra Oliver for your Jeffers:



Oliver Jeffers

Artist, Illustrator (New York)

Oliver Jeffers makes art. From figurative painting and installation to illustration and picture-book making, Oliver Jeffers’ work takes many forms. His distinctive paintings have been exhibited in multiple cities, including Lazarides Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery in London, the Brooklyn Museum and Spring Break Fair (Armory Week) in New York, and Gestalten Space in Berlin. Oliver’s picture books — including The Incredible Book Eating Boy,  This Moose Belongs to Me, The Day Crayons Quit  and its sequel The Day The Crayons Came Home ( both #1 NYTimes Bestsellers)  and Once Upon an Alphabet — have been translated into over 30 languages. Working in collaboration with Studio AKA, Oliver’s second book Lost and Found was developed into an animated short film that has received over sixty awards, including a BAFTA for Best Animated Short Film. Picture book awards include the The New York Times Best Illustrated Books, Smarties Award, Irish Book of the Year, The Red House Book Award, British Book Design Award, and The Blue Peter Book of the Year. Oliver won a NY Emmy in 2010 for his collaborative work with the artist and director Mac Premo. In 2013 Oliver co-directed with Mac Premo the video for Ordinary Love by U2, and more recently made art for, and helped art direct, U2’s Innocence and Experience World Tour. Photo: Malcom Brown