Ross Collins

In Shawlands Primary there were two classes running alongside each other for the same year group. There were lovely teachers at Shawlands and there were dragons. Every year you would hope to God you didn't get one of the dragons. We never did but the other class wasn't so lucky; they got all the horrors.

The first teacher I remember as significant was my P1 and 2 teacher, Mrs Spears. She was lovely and the first person who brought my artistic ability to light. She showed my parents a painting I had done of a tiger holding a cub in its mouth and said: "He should go to art school." In retrospect, if I had just have taken that advice on board, I could have spared myself 12 years of maths and chemistry lessons.

She also provided us with our own private Jackanory by ending every day with the next chapter from the book we were reading. In that way she read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Hobbit and lots of other books. That was brilliant.

My P3 and 4 teacher, Mrs Ross, also picked up on the art thing and told my parents. She said: "He's quite good at art and he knows it." Seemingly, when I had finished drawing, I would go around the class telling the other kids what was wrong with their pictures.

I remember having an epiphany when I suddenly realised that the sky goes all the way down to the ground. And I do remember telling the other kids a blue line across the top of the page was not the way the sky worked. It was around that time as well that I started to draw and write my own comic books and that was encouraged, too.

The school was a more austere environment than it is now, though. In my day it was not decorated with things to make the kids feel more comfortable and happy. They kept it very, very bare.

My art developed a lot more in secondary. Shawlands Academy had a massive art department with a lot of facilities. We did etching, lino printing, lithography and we had our own darkroom. My friend Jane and I were given a store room - it had windows and everything - where we could sit and work away.

We listened to the radio and made cups of tea and felt very grown up. At that time we were made prefects and they had their own common room, but I wasn't interested in being part of a club that would have me as a member.

The head of the department was Ewen MacLellan. He was from the Hebrides and had a lovely accent. Then there was Kenny Morrison, whom all the girls fancied - he was gorgeous - and Frances Diver. They all had personal art projects going on at the same time they were teaching us. Mr MacLellan was always modelling, building and making things, Kenny did some illustration and print work and Frances was re-tiling her hearth at home and making these beautiful ceramic tiles. That gave them a life out of school and showed art wasn't just a job but was something they loved doing.

I still remember things I was taught in secondary school. At art school they want you to develop by yourself, whereas at secondary I remember being told things that blew my tiny mind. At one point I was using a lot of black and Mr MacLellan got fed up. He said: "You don't have to use black. You can use a world of colours instead of black." And he showed me a pastel by Degas, in the Burrell collection, which uses shades of blue to create darkness. That sticks with me; something I was told 23 years ago by a teacher.

Ross Collins was talking to Emma Seith. Visit


Born: Glasgow, 1972 (Would eat anything and resembled a currant bun)

Education: Shawlands Primary and Shawlands Academy in Glasgow. (Fond of drawing, the Six Million Dollar Man and precariously swinging backwards on chairs.) Graduated from the Glasgow School of Art in 1994 with a degree in illustration

Career: Children's author and winner of a Scottish Children's Books Award 2011 for Dear Vampa.