David Elliot was born in Ashburton, in the South Island of New Zealand. He has a Diploma of Fine Arts and trained as a schoolteacher. His previous jobs include: gatekeeper at Edinburgh Zoo (which he describes as the 'pivotal experience' which led him to a career in illustration); dishwasher in Antarctica; and interior designer, designing pubs in Australia. David now lives and works in Port Chalmers, near Dunedin.
David has illustrated a wide range of children's books, including poetry, short stories, novels and picture books, working with both New Zealand publishers (most notably, Random House) and also for U.S. publisher Philomel (Penguin) in New York. In addition to his writing and illustrating, David also teaches art part-time to adults and he is actively engaged in the New Zealand Book Council's Writers in Schools scheme. David has won many national book awards, including being the inaugural recipient (2011) of the Mallinson Rendel Illustrators Award. This Award is presented every two years, in association with the Arts Foundation, to a children's book illustrator with published work of a high standard.
Internationally, David has illustrated numerous books in the well-known Redwall series and two further books in the Castaways series, both by U.K. author Brian Jacques. He was cover and interior artist for The Great Tree of Avalon series, by T.A. Barron. In 2006 David provided illustrations for Time journalist Jeffrey Kluger's first book for children, Nacky Patcher and the Curse of the Dry Land Boats, published in 2007. In 2011 David provided illustrations for John Flanagan's Rangers Apprentice series.
Closer to home, David has written and illustrated five picture books, including the 'Sydney penguin' books (Sydney and the Seamonster and Sydney and the Whalebird) and Pigtails the Pirate, which won the 2003 New Zealand Post Children's Picture Book Award. David has illustrated for many other New Zealand children's authors, including Jack Lasenby (Aunt Effie series), Pauline Cartwright, Joy Cowley and Arts Foundation Icon artist Janet Frame, illustrating Frame's only book for children. Most recently, David has illustrated the work of internationally acclaimed writer and Arts Foundation Icon Margaret Mahy, including the The Word Witch (2010) and this year's New Zealand Post Children's Book of the Year Award winner, The Moon and Farmer McPhee (2011).
David has exhibited widely throughout New Zealand. Since 2005 has also had a close association with the Ashburton Gallery, where his work is housed and regularly exhibited. The Making of the Word Witch, an exhibition curated by Ashburton Gallery's Kathryn Mitchell, toured both the North and South Islands in 2011. This exhibition provides a window into the imaginative worlds of both David and Margaret Mahy, as they worked towards publication of The Word Witch.
The surreal poetry of Lewis Carroll has long attracted David's interest and he was delighted to be part of the University of Otago's Printer in Residence Programme in 2006, working with other artists on a Private Press edition of The Hunting of the Snark. Just 101 copies of this poem, re-illustrated by David, were produced and all were sold before they were even printed!
More recently, David completed illustrations for John Flanagan's bestselling Ranger's Apprentice series. David's latest picture book Henry's Map published by Philomel Books (USA) was selected by School Library Journal (USA) for it's Best Books 2013 list.
In 2014 David received the Margaret Mahy Award for lifetime contribution to Children's literature in New Zealand and in 2017 Daivd won the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year award as well as the Russell Clark Award for Illustration at the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults for Snark.