THIS weekend, among the various events for Lift Off!, Wiltshire Creative’s bank holiday extravaganza, is a workshop by illustrious children’s illustrator Cliff Wright. Cliff’s aim is to produce a community art piece – an elongated dragon, where participants can add their designs among the creature’s scales that Cliff has created.

When I caught up with Cliff, he told me how he had been into drawing from an early age. One of his earliest memories is of his teacher ringing his parents just after he’d started school, telling them that, ‘I think your son is going to be an artist.’ After doing a degree in Graphic Design and Illustration – where his tutors included Raymond Briggs – Cliff decided to focus on children’s books. His first, When the World Sleeps, was runner-up for the prestigious Mother Goose award.

From here, the commissions came in. In that curious way, the collaboration between children’s writer and artist is often a separate one. Cliff explained how he’d usually be sent the text and then set to work on the pictures without discussion with the author. Then the late 1990s, Cliff got the call to illustrate the second book in a new children’s series by JK Rowling.

Cliff was sent an early copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, with the passages highlighted they wanted him to illustrate. It was a fairly open brief – there’s curiously little in the way of character description in the books, Cliff explained, bar Harry’s trademark spectacles and scar. On the back of the book, he became the first person to attempt to draw Hogwarts (not shambolically turreted enough was JK Rowling’s comment).

It with was book three, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, that the series really took off. Cliff’s celebrated cover was part of this – the famous picture of Harry riding a hippogriff with a full moon behind. A hippogriff is a classic mythical creature – half eagle, half horse – but one that was curiously rarely drawn in medieval bestiaries. Cliff ended up spending time observing the two relevant creatures to create his work. It was a great illustration, but one that, sadly, Rowling’s publisher managed to lose.

These days, Cliff has also turned his hand to teaching. The ability to draw, he explained, is all based around the ability to see. Once children are over about seven or eight, they begin to label things too quickly, rather than looking at them properly. It’s something that continues into adulthood, but, Cliff believes, we can all unlearn to reveal our writing side. When that happens, like the Harry Potter books, the result is a little bit of magic.

Cliff Wright’s Illustration Workshop is at Salisbury Library on August 25, 12-4pm.