Jim Kay's first love was for art and for natural history, in particular for botany and entomology, and its relationship with the environment. He attended the University of Westminster based at the Harrow Campus, the vantage point for the best views of London in the smog which was used by Victorian painters.
For two years he worked at Tate Britain, in the Archives, working with the personal papers of artists such as Paul Nash and Stanley Spencer.
However it was his work at Kew Gardens, as the Assistant Curator for the Illustrations Collection at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, which brought him into contact with the rich archives from Indian art collections, illustrated manuscripts, herbals and the records from the whole golden era of British exploration across the world. This included the discovery of different climates and habitats, new plants, new ways of using them, newly-discovered insects and most importantly how these phenomena were documented by the explorers and artists from the past, in particular the work of the Indian artists employed by botanists to produce beautiful paintings of Indian flora.
As well as working on curatorial duties, he provided images and research for publishers and television companies when there were programmes being made about such discoveries. Absorbed from this rich background are ideas, imagery and a growing interest in the ways in which the natural world has been affected by the actions of man. From discovery to ornate documentation, from naïve plundering to eventual mis-use, he is interested in the relationship between humans and their environment.
In 2008 he produced a one-man exhibition in Richmond on the theme of producing ideas for children's books. He is interested in the idea of stories which combine history with the environment, and of producing books which promote an interest and awareness in the protection of woodlands and forests. He has a gift for storytelling and from the age of six he was performing on stage, and achieved his Licentiate in Teaching Speech and Drama at the age of twenty-one.
He's been illustrating books for children and young adults since then, and in 2012 he won the Kate Greenaway Medal for his work in A Monster Calls written by Patrick Ness. He's currently working on the illustrations for the Harry Potter books.