Catherine Rayner

31st May 2013 at 01:00
The children's author and illustrator recalls an art teacher who drew out her talents

My favourite teacher, Miss Maughan, was about 30 and pregnant when we met. Though she was petite and always wore dark clothes, she walked round with her arms folded and exuded confidence. I found her a bit intimidating, until I got to know her.

She taught me A-level art and was gently spoken and kind. She was a really nice person, encouraging, thoughtful and supportive. Most of all she was enthusiastic about our work. She would light up and say: "That's beautiful!"

I was useless at maths and science - anything where you needed to have a good memory. The only subject I was any good at was art. I got a B at GCSE and did it for A level, as well as geography, English language and general studies, although I dropped geography midway through the upper sixth.

I'd liked drawing since I was a young girl but had never really thought I could make a career out of it. Miss Maughan was the first person who took my art work seriously and I really started to enjoy it. It mattered to me that somebody thought I was good at something. Miss Maughan nurtured me, found out what I was good at and motivated me to want to keep improving. She treated me like a grown-up and was truly inspiring. It was the first time I'd felt like an adult doing something because I had chosen to do it.

After dropping geography, I had a lot of free lessons, so I used to go to the art room and draw. It was like being at art school. We could go to the room whenever we wanted and sit in the corner, with the radio on, chat and paint. I felt at home in Miss Maughan's classroom.

Miss Maughan was also a talented artist. Whenever she came over to help us with our sketches, I was mesmerised by her drawing. I had never seen anybody draw like that. She always had time to talk to us and help us. Everyone in the class had a different style, which was a credit to her because she allowed people to do what they needed to do. She was so passionate about it that I wanted to work really hard and get an A grade, something I'd never had in any subject.

I got my A and decided I wanted to do a one-year art foundation course, which really pleased Miss Maughan. I did the course at Leeds College of Art and went on to complete a degree in illustration at Edinburgh College of Art. As part of my degree, I wrote and illustrated a children's book, Augustus and his Smile which, to my delight, was then published.

As well as illustrating books, exhibiting my artwork and working on commissions, I give talks at schools about art. I tell students that if they like art they should pursue it and not be worried that it's not an "academic" subject because they really can make a living out of it. Children are pushed to be academic and feel, or can be made to feel, a bit stupid if they are not. I certainly felt like that.

Since leaving university, I have been lucky enough to have 10 more books published. But it might never have happened without the inspiration and encouragement I got from Miss Maugham.

Catherine Rayner is an award-winnning author and illustrator. Her latest book, Abigail, is published in August by Little Tiger Press.

Personal profile

Born: Harrogate, 1982

Education: St Mary's Church of England Controlled Primary School, Boston Spa, West Yorkshire; St Aidan's Church of England High School, North Yorkshire; Leeds College of Art; Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh

Career: Children's author, illustrator.

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