Thursday, December 18, 2008

2009- Woohoo!

Given that we're over a week in, I somehow feel I've lost the right to any fancy new year's talk. However, what's a little rule-bending between friends, eh? Happy 2009 everyone! Another year bites the dust, eh? I hope you each saw 2008 out with all the style and finesse of which I know you're capable... (no wearing of traffic cones, snogging someone inappropriate or need for Tesco's alka seltzer aisle for us- no, siree!)

2009 does seem (most unfortunately, poor thing) to have 'handle with care' stamped all over it. Although, personally, I see no reason that we shouldn't greet it with as much nose-tweaking and cheek-pinching as with any other year. Let's give it a spanking good welcome. After all, pessimism is darned near a self-fullfilling prophecy, isn't it? Besides, in spite of my computer packing up (with a frightening air of finality this time), the internet deciding to go on the blink (again) and my fella stepping in poo (outside of the house, naturally!) all before 1pm on jan 1st, I have a very good feeling about this year.... SO THERE!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Another week, another party... it's a hard life, eh?!

Well, this week has been a big one. It was the Hodder Christmas party. However, if you've read Lynne Chapman's blog (which you most certainly should do) this entry will be nearly identical to her last post... only without the fantastic life drawings from her train trip- I, of course, fell asleep and drooled on myself both there and back... and make no apology for it. In fact, I almost feel like just putting a link to her blog here instead and going off to eat mince pies... Unfortunately for you, I've already eaten every morsel and have an un-pastry-laced gap to fill, so here goes.

I'd like to say I arrived fashionably late, swanning in to sighs of awe from the crowds. Unfortunately, I wasn't really late, I was just wearing so many layers it took me an hour to get out of the cloak room... and the only swan was the origami-ed one of clothing detritus I left behind. Note to self: It's hard to look posh, when your upper extremities are trapped in the swathes of a cagoule. Inside my woolly fiasco and increasingly panicked that this wasn't 'the done thing', my opening appearance resembled that of a girl with her head stuck up the bottom of a giant jelly fish. This wouldn't have been so awful if I hadn't had to repeat the unsuccessful operation numerous times, as the party moved venue.

Slightly flustered, and with hair that performed advanced geometry lessons, I skulked into the main room and swiftly buried myself in well-to-do armpit, as I searched for someone I knew. By now it was heaving, and the air was heavy with every women's perfume known to man.... I'm quickly learning that a bloke in publishing is a very rare creature. If you're a heterosexual, lady in publishing and looking for lurrrrrve, I'd advise taking up a pottery evening class.

Anyway, I located the spiky haired lovely, Lynne, and tried not to crush her with the weight of my relief and joy. She was in conversation with an equally gorgeous Hayley Welsh, whom I immediately felt at home talking to. Hayley’s a soft-spoken, Blackpool lass with gigantic suitcases of talent – I’m betting she’s another name to be watching out for in the future. I found pictures of her work on her website afterwards. It's a mark of how nice she is that I still want to be in the same room as her, as her first book (quite mad and mostly produced in paint on the back of cardboard boxes) is going to be amazing!

The three of us cornered art director, Claire, and proceded to be pelted by mini-food trays (is it just me, or do mini-foods just make people feel large and frumpy?!) Certainly, they’re much harder to eat than first they suggest, as you’re never quite sure of what consistency they might be and thus how much ‘pincer’ pressure to apply…

Claire was talking to Melanie Williamson, amidst some rather boistrous ferny-typed plants that kept gleefully batting everyone on the head at inopportune moments. (it was a bit like being in the jungle... if the jungle rained tiny banoffee pie's and smelled of Armani) Melanie (who’s books are selling like hot cakes ((and probably taste just as good)) ) is one of THE most mental people I've ever met- She’s a bit like a stand-up comic who's main act revolves around children's books. I’d give her 10:10 in any comedy review.

I also met the marvellously handsome, Chris Mould. He was not the middle-aged, balding bloke I'd imagined, but a very dashing northern bloke; who works with a pencil like a be-sworded ninja. He’s been a favourite of mine for a while now. I’m a sucker for a well-drafted line! And discovering he can't carry a tune on the lip of a beer bottle has done little to put me off.

The big news of the night for me though, was meeting the author of my text for the first time; A lady called Mara Bergman. It was a very nervy and long-awaited event.

To me, being a picture book author seems a very strange thing; to think up a text, which you must care so much about and then having to offer it to someone else to depict. Obviously, a picture book should be half about the words and half about the pictures, but I'm not sure if it were the other way around and I was the writer i.e. the first in there with the ideas, whether I wouldn't have a terrible time handing over the reins. It shows an amazing amount of trust and throughout this project, I have felt an almost overwhelming level of expectation not to mistreat that trust.

However, although Mara is an award-winning author and her book, 'Oliver Who Would Not Sleep', is one of the few picture book texts that I genuinely admire, I needn't have worried that she’d be as intimidating in person. She’s one of those people that immediately relaxes you so that want to curl up on her knee when you talk to her. I only wish I'd met her sooner, as it would have helped the work flow so much more easily, knowing what kind of person she was. Meeting her has made me feel so much more energised about this last push to finish the book.

So, tired but feeling warm and fluffy inside, I clicked my heels together and headed off home. Ah, but first I had to face that dreaded cloak room one more time… Bum…

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Adios, November... you will be missed...

Cripes, it's been a wee while again. My internal clock tells me it's 10am two thursdays ago. I'm not going to be happy to see November go, I can tell you. I shall be clinging on to it's fluffy woollen coat tails and mittens (strung on elastic, naturally), yelling, 'COME BACK! I feel like I didn't even get the chance to know you!'

On the plus side, I'm quite justified in thinking about Christmas now. We've reached that Christmas Danger Zone; the one when it first appears a nice, healthy, 'look-forward-to-able' distance away, then you blink and suddenly it's there, slapping you upside the head. I've noticed the odd Christmas song has sidled nonchalently past my lips, disguising itself as an advertising ditty (and let's face it, these days, they are pretty much one and the same...) The pitch of my yowling (yuleling, indeed) gradually increases in hysteria as the days until my deadline shrink away.

I think it worth noting, for the me of a few months ago's sake, that publishing deadlines are not to be considered too lightly. What I mean by this is, although my final deadline isn't until February, I failed to take into account the interim deadlines that would allow the hand-in in February to take place. For example, there is the minor matter of the biggest office holiday of the year right slap bang in the middle of my work time. From now on, I will consider any picture book deadline to be a full month before it actually is. I'm fairly certain that I'll finish in time, but I like the idea of having that last few weeks for feeling smug... or redoing the whole thing!

So, what's news? Well, firstly, I got my proofs back. It wasn't the Edvard Munch, finger-through-nearest-eye socket, horrific experience I'd prepared myself for. My art director, Claire, did sophisticated, understatedly chic stuff with the type and the paper made it all look snazzy. I think the main help of this interim proofing process was it allowed me to think of the project as a book for the first time. Previously, as much as I THOUGHT I was thinking of it as a book, I wasn't actually really even thinking of it as a sequence of images. I think this is quite a common problem for art graduates, going into publishing. It's easy to concentrate on getting one image right, only to forget you've got another 6 gazillion to do. Certainly, it is a common complaint from publishers, that an artist cannot carry off an entire book. Anyway, it was quite a revelation to finally get my head around what it might look like on the shelves.

Secondly, I got a chance to go to my first publishing party. I've been asked to work for Egmont a couple of times. Once on my own project and once on a fiction project. Sadly, due to timing of prior work engagements, neither actually happened, so I was really chuffed and surprised to be invited to their Christmas do. I did feel slightly like an imposter, having to explain to everyone I met that I wasn't actually currently working for them, but everyone was so lovely it didn't seem to matter- I was accepted with open arms and a vol-au-von or twelve.

The gig was held at the London Transport Museum and I have to confess it made for a very surreal night. I'm sure you can imagine the scene, but let me waffle on anyway. The thing about the London Transport Museum is it's filled with... London transport, right in the centre of London which is filled with... London transport. Effectively, the museum is like some sort of Escher/fractal-esque situation. It even has commuters... stuffed for realism! So, in the middle of this heavy traffic jam, traffic lights flashing and buses set ready to collide, there was this huddle of folk in posh frocks, eating truffles on sticks. Very odd indeed. Incredibly enjoyable, nonetheless. I have found that different publishers have different 'feels' to them. The Egmontians seem to have a very 'family' sort of a feel, which is very welcoming.

I got to meet the amazing Shirley Hughes aswell. She's the closest I think I'll ever come to meeting a real-life Agatha Christie character. I can quite imagine her deftly solving the odd, cosy, fireside murder in between drawing kids.

One of the best bits of the night though, was catching up with fellow illustrators, Lynne Chapman and Ellie Sandall. Lynne, I met for the first time just recently, but already feel I've known for years and Ellie was a course mate at Anglia... and quite the star of the night. Her book, 'Birdsong' went down a storm at Frankfurt. As with publishing in general, it's ridiculous for me to tell you to watch out for it when it comes out, as that won't be until 2010, but in a year or so when she's famous, I'll say, 'I told you so!'

My trip to London was topped off nicely by a sighting of local hero, Simon Pegg, walking his pooch, 10 mins away from my house. What a man! What a dog! I thought briefly about kidnapping him and taking him home to live in my cupboard. I know I'm home when I catch a glimpse of the great Mr Pegg.

Other than that, I'd like to put out a book recommedation. I feel this book deserves to be talked about, but I'd never heard of it before a random pick at the library.

I, Nigel Dorking- by Mary-Anne Fahey
I can't recommend this book highly enough. I haven't read a book for this age group in ages that I've enjoyed as much. It's got that perfect blend of painful and laugh out loud honesty and observation. About a young lad coming to terms with his parents break up and life around him... but far more subtle than that!

Right, I had better go get on with making my Christmas card. I thought I was doing well, but I have been told that the child I drew looks like it might just eat other children... not an appealing character trait in children's publishing, cannabalism... Hence, I may go back to re-work an old image... I shall attempt to post my efforts tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Picture Book BBC4 9pm

Just a quickie to remind you all to watch it tonight.

Now, I must go and decide whether the green, furry thing in the bathroom should be kept... I KNOW it's mould, but it's quite cute really....

Monday, November 10, 2008

Jack of no trades

It's a strange and painful revelation that there are people who outstrip my meagre creative output miles and miles over... even before they've had their morning wheet-o's or done their daily ablusions (sp?). Obviously in illustration but in so many areas PLUS illustration.

I am head expodingly, mind-bogglingly, thumb-twiddlingly flummoxed about how to feel towards those people that not only illustrate more profusely and better than me, but also make their own jumpers... out of handspun wool, grow their own vegetables, have four children AND keep pigs! Good grief!!! What time do these people get up at?!

It is not that I don't get certain urges... Gosh, I fancy making a papier mache mask, painting glass and learning to crochet table mats today... but I 'somewhat' lack in focus. And the simple result is that in a Robinson Crusoe-like situation, I'd be as useful as deodrant to a sewer rat.

So, I have come up with a cunning plan to prove my worth to all of humanity. I wish to share my new found exploits with you in a one-time only opportunity (cos, darnit, this creativity stuff is just too blimmin' tiring...) I have decided to INVENT something. Something which will be my offering to the world after I've gone.

Here it is; my remedy to the rising prices of gas and electricity in the home. I call it 'The Hot Botty Pappousse' (patent-pending)

If you look closely, you might be able to see the rubbings out where I've perfected my design... I'd like to thank my mum and dad for allowing me to dream big. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

temporary proofed

I want to say hi to two new 'followers'- that term is just a wee bit sinister isn't it? I promise I haven't contaminated either of them in any way! Alex T and Eric Orchard, I'm really excited to have you both aboard, you ridiculously, ridiculously talented individuals! (See my 'Illustration Site' links to view their work). I also want to put a plea out to everyone else to put the 'follower' gadget on your blog. It does sound a tad cult-like, but it makes it much easier for us to get back to your blog once we've found and enjoyed it the first time.

Well, I'm happy to report that things have been a trifle more Cass-friendly this week. I got three pieces out to be 'temporary proofed' (at least I think that's what it's called. For some reason, publisher's always seem to call when you're in the middle of chomping on an apple the size of Brazil.... and then you spend the whole phonecall trying to strategically swallow. Or, when you've just dashed out of the shower and have to 'aha!' in all the right places, whilst your dripping hair attempts to electrocute you and your towel slips around your ankles... and it's only then you realise you forgot to close the blinds the night before...!) Anyway, what I'm trying to say is, the good people at Hodder have sent my work to the printer so that I can see what it'll look like when it's all jazzed up. I think my art director thinks I need (and it'll give me) confidence... I can't think why she'd think that, can you???? I really hope she's right and that it doesn't just throw some sort of prison break-esque spotlight onto all of my bloopers... (not that there *ahem* ARE any mistakes, of course...)

Is it just me, or have an insane amount of brackets crept into this post? It's worse than Homebase in here and just like the the worst kind of DIY-ers, I haven't the faintest idea how to use them...
Other than that, I hope everyone watched Picture Book on Wednesday on BBC4? Part 1 of 3 is available to watch here. The programme was really enjoyable and very well put together, though I would perhaps have liked it to be a bit more indepth. It is a surprisingly big area to cover in 1 hour slots though and possibly they'll dig deeper now they've covered the history of picture books. However, it is well worth celebrating that the medium is finally being offered this sort of recognition.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Splishy Splashy

I'm going to avoid waiting until I finish work before I post it. I have a sneaky suspicion old age might set in otherwise.
So, here's a piece I started a couple of days ago, based on the theme, 'Things I Like'. If I can get it together in time, it'll be entered into a competition. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Book Worm

The rather fabtastic Louise Arnold, author of 'The Invisible Friend' (which you should really all read- if you haven't already) did a wonderful blog post on her life in books, itemising each book that had made a difference to her and writing about why.

Go to her myspace page and read her blog here- Oi! Not yet! Stay right here and read mine first!
Anyway, I thought it was such a great idea that I'd do my own (I'm also loving the excuse for another one of my lists too- some sort of psychological throwback from writing letters to Father Christmas, I think....

Trouble for Trumpets - Peter Cross

My Dad bought this book for me when I was two and, looking at Cross's lavish images, I knew from then on I wanted to 'do that-' Okay, okay! There was a five-minute madness when I wanted to become a fashion designer... and a barely mentionable insanity when I wanted to go into advertising... but for the most part, I remained faithful to my fantasy to create fictional worlds, just like the great Peter Cross. Looking at this book again and again, still has that effect on me.

Faeries - Brian Froud

This book met me when I was in my early teens. It had a diary-like/sketchbooky format that so appeals to that age and it had the most beautiful artwork, worth keeping secret. This was the book that introduced me to a new love; Dadada-DAHHHHHH! Introducing..... THE PENCIL! It was one of the first books I'd seen that contained black and white drawings and I fell totally and utterly for the purity of these pictures. There were colour plates too, but I wasn't nearly so interested in these. I've had a deep and ongoing 'love affair' with my pencil ever since.

The Phantom Tollbooth - Norton Juster

I remember listening to this on audiotape, sat on a sunny floor and eating tutti-frutti's. This was one of the first audio tapes I ever listened to and one of the most perfect memories I have. There were the Famous Five and Narnia, of course, but this is the first one I remember listening to for the sake of it, with nothing else in the world I needed to do.

Oddly, I'd just discovered how grown up 'being bored' made you feel. It's a strange thing, as people almost never actually feel bored as adults, do they? There you have it though- and this book was all about (and completely was) the antidote to boredom.

I re-read Phantom Tollbooth recently and it's just as good without the tutti-frutti's.

I'm going to continue adding to this list as I think of necessary additions.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

An 'Orrible Week

Well, I originally started this blog post a week ago and called it 'An 'Orrible Day.' I think you can guess what happened. One day of extreme ugliness turned into another and before long I had a grimy and gruesome, carnivalesque collection of the little blighters. I can truthfully say that the highlight of it was the dog walk on Tuesday- yes, I remember it with clarity.

I was taking it slowly, admiring the fetching Autumn coats the trees were wearing, and generally minding my own very non-muddy, clean and dry business. I don't quite remember the moment of certainty creeping up on me but, alas that moment came with great squelching gusto; A moment when the error of my previous actions was henceforth undeniable... The world slowed down.... I gulped loudly... and then I descended gracefully, arse first, into the world's biggest boggle (part bog/part puddle). Yes, Siree. I went down and I darned nearly went under.

It was one of those full body slides that you play back again and again in your mind's eye. It started as a child on a waterslide and finished as an obese hippo squelching sedately into a waterhole and got funnier with each play back. The whole epic journey from forth-standing, world watcher to buttock-sloshing, mud be-decked, sky-gazer gurgled about inside me. The comedy of the matter burbled around my navel, grew in force about my oesophargus and then, when I could no longer take it, spewed forth from my mouth in giant hysterical hiccups. Of course, being a lone female in the middle of a field, in the middle of the mother of all boggles, I tried to stifle my increased mania, stuffing a fist in my mouth to staunch the flow... as if the fact that I was laughing to myself was the embarrassing factor in this picture. I had leaves in my hair, for the love of Pantene!

The dog looked at me in a disgusted, 'You're only s'posed to blow the bl**dy doors off!' manner.

When I'd finished wallowing (literally), I flapped my way home... looking much like I'd scuba-dived in a sewer and interspersing my 'serious' face with great guttural guffaws which generally escaped me when the nearest person was in spitting distance.

Since then;

  • I broke my computer
  • Lost an afternoon's work (non-related to first computer incident- as far as I know- but does back up my feeling that computer 1 and computer 2 are in cahoots and may be plotting to assassinate, or at least mildly inconvenience me...)
  • Re-did the work, only to find it was the one bit that Hodder didn't like...
  • I lost my house keys in the very same boggle-ridden park. This time uniquely increasing my misery by donning complete 'jogging gear' in order to do so. I was locked out of the house for no fewer than 3 and a half hours... and as every one knows, the very best items of clothing to go jogging in... are one's pj's. I'm not sure my dog will ever respect me again.
  • Dog got runs and left chocolate puddles all over living room floor... Quite possibly a protest?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Well, I feel I've accomplished a fair amount this week and yet it's zipped past again and somehow I feel like I haven't done enough! I know that doesn't make much sense. I'm somehow quite frustrated at how long things take... or more to the point, how little time there is left for anything else after.

I've started my third final piece today and as it's only a littlelun, I hope to finish it by Tuesday. This actually puts me ahead of my plans by a little and I'm not sure what results I'm creating, but I'm loving the process.

However, I think the problem is, all the looking ahead... wondering if I'm on schedule to finish a book by February (to me that feels like a tight deadline!), knowing what the next project will be and letting my mind wander to that occasionally. Planning my own potential texts efforts and then looking at publication dates in 2010. It all makes me feel quite impatient. I feel like I've spent so much time thinking about this project and planning for it, it should be finished by now, dagnammit. I'm having trouble not believing it's December too. I keep wanting to send everyone Christmas cards... I'm as bad as Woolworths and Argos for trying to cram Yuletide cheer down people's necks on September 1st.

At the same time, knowing all the things that I have to do up until next August (!) is helping me not waste my time nearly as much as I used to. It looks like a mammoth and exciting list. I think I just have to remind myself to stay in the present a little more.

Here are some of the non- workrelated things I've done this last week and felt chuffed about.

1. found a new favourite cafe and spent some valuable cake-eating time catching up with a dear friend.

2. Learnt how to cast on and started making myself a scarf from squishiest purple wool I could find.

3. Met 3 fabulous new people.

4. Listened to 'Eat, Prey, Love', by Elizabeth Gilbert. Amongst all the new-ageyness that made me cringe was a lot of fun stuff and feel-goodness that I'd recommend. Elizabeth Gilbert reads it herself with a lovely soft accent.

5. Bought some comfy monkey pants!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A fleeting update

Crikey! Time's gone fast! I shan't appologise for having been away, as I'm pretty sure I'll be fairly notable by my absence in the next couple of months and I'd like to save my appology for when I'm REALLY lax! If you haven't spotted me for a month say, I expect you'd probably better prepare for a major grovelling session.

Okay, well, update.

I'm in the middle of my first final piece (it having taken longer than I suspected it would- of course!)

I had thought I was over my jitters about my work. Apparently not. I still found myself hurtling wildly toward it paint brush in jousting position, hand over eyes. Attack! My footfall slowing though with the ever-increasing proximity of duh-duh-daaaaaah... the 'easel of doom'. The resulting meekest of paintbrush taps barely reached its' target. Much mopping and then frantic slewing of said work then occured in order to ecxordise the work of the vaguest hint of a tint. Now I know how Lady Macbeth felt! 'Out damn spot!'

Well, anyway, it might have a way to go, but I'm hoping to have sent it Hodder bound by Friday. There we go, I've uttered the words. Now, it won't be just me I'll be letting down if that doesn't happen!

Other news

I've been selected for the second time for the Cheltenham Illustration Award Show. I think it's on until the 31st of October, so if you find yourself in Gloucestershire with nowt to do, please pop along. I think it's a particular honour this year as my work will be exhibited alongside the rather marvellous Shaun Tan's. I think they had entries from all over the world this year so I'll have to really pull my socks up for next year's entry.

Yesterday, I attended a SCBWI meeting in Manchester. The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators has branches throughout the UK and I urge everyone interested in either area to go try them out.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Whoop! Whoop!

It's becoming one of those rare and ellusive days when things just go right and you feel near untouchable... I mean, I'm not saying I'm going to play russian roulette in motorway traffic any time soon, but it is a nice feeling.

The author has seen my layouts and is apparently very happy. The publisher is pleased with how I've resolved my backgrounds. A couple of small changes and I'm away to do my final pieces. *does a little dance* I'm really excited about it too, which I thought at this stage might be impossible!

Right, I shall work on some thing to hopefully post here later.

In the mean time, have a look at Simon Wild's website. The man is a don with colour and a fiend with the ol' b+w. He's also more productive than a family of chimps with the runs too, so there's always something new and exciting to look at.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Monster Mash

Well, I'm feeling slightly less icky. Huz *splutter* zah!
However, my head still feels slightly full of cushions. Especially when it comes to my work.

I'm still trying to mesh the different elements of my Hodder colour studies together. It seems ridiculous to be having such difficulties as the backgrounds are quite minimalist. I'm not sure now whether there are problems, or I'm just not used to working in such a way.

Anyway, here's another experiment >
I think it's currently looking too computery (technical term, stay with me!) and the lighting is wrong, but as a first attempt, I'm quite pleased.

As an aside, does anyone have a comfort angle? As you may have guessed, I tend to draw a character first off in profile. I find once I've drawn them in profile, I have far less problems tackling them from other angles.

This (and you may also have guessed it) is the 'little boy' character I instantly tend to think of. I'm working with multiple characters at the moment, but he's my sort of default. He greatly resembles my brother as a child- what can I say, we were a fugly family...!

I'd be interested in knowing if other people have 'default' characters and where they think they've come from.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Gosh, this blogging lark is hard to keep up.

Somewhere between working on a project that I can't show and having been a big snotty, monkey, I have lost a good few days on here. Maybe you enjoyed the respite. Maybe you haven't even noticed. Perhaps I've just blown my own cover as well as my dribbly red proboscus...?!

During that time, I have made no work I can air and made no thoughts other than, 'squelchety, squelch! Arooooooooooooooooooooooooog!' (That's the sound of my nose-blowing resonating through brain cells).

Therefore, I shall tell you that the background style of the book seems to be going well, but I'm still sussing out how to draw the foreground inanimate objects. So far, the elements of the picture are going together like an anchovey chutney and bakewell tart... I will try to resolve this little problem today (the demand for anchovey chutney and bakewell tart trifle being shockingly low). However, I will also make a point of trying to get some sort of doodle to add onto this blog. I'd also like to cover another picture book too and put up a link to a fabulous article I found online the other day. I'm holding up my hand now in a firm promise (well, a gesture of affirmative that I shall try to, anyway...) that I will get that sorted this afternoon sometime.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Friday Feeling

I'm having a rather sleepy, snuggly type of day... after a very good, but hugely adrenaline-inducing week of layout tennis with my art director.

I hope (I initially put 'think' but realised it might be tempting fate!) most things are now sorted, but I keep having minor heart attacks regardless. During this project, I fear I may have turned into a less witty, more neurotic Woody Allen...! I 'fear?' Yes, I've almost certainly turned into the wooly one!

I worry that if I look at the book plans again I'll suddenly see major glaring mistakes popping up all over the place... how, without noticing, I've accidentally replaced my main character (a small girl) with a yetti or something equally as inappropriate... or perhaps, I've somehow worked out the whole book back-to-front (not quite sure how that works, but if it DOESN'T, I'm sure I've done it!)

I think I might be experiencing the illustrator's equivalent of that awful dream where you turn up to work...naked... except of course, that most of us illustrators work at home so it's our prerogative to turn up to work naked! Huzzah!*

Right, I'm simultaneously trying to finish designing my backgrounds, do thumbnails for my new story and try and talk round a couple of misbehaving characters for the Hodder book, so I suppose I had better get on.

Apparently, I actually have some readers now, so I hope the both of you have a lovely weekend!

Here's a doodle from one of many ideas I'm pootling away with.

*As a children's book illustrator, I might add that I opt to remain be-clothed at all points. I can only illustrate in pyjamas and fluffy slippers, mind...

Monday, September 29, 2008

It's been a bit of a mixed bag today...

I'm on the edge of my seat waiting for my layouts to come back from the publishers. Not knowing whether changes will have to be made and always wishing that the deadline wouldn't come any closer is having a bit of a dodgy effect on my artwork. 'On the edge of your seat' is not a comfortable position from which to draw... as the old Chinese proverb says...(!)

On the plus side, I've finished a first draft of my second ever picture book text... and I'm really pleased with it. I've absolutely no idea if it's any good (in fact, I'm fairly certain it isn't!) but it has a beginning, a middle and an end. I can describe the plot in one sentence. It has a (kind of, sort of) moral and a climax... and most of all I just really enjoyed writing it.

Being an illustrator, I'm beginning to realise, is a career with a very odd pace to it. It's quite easy to go a week without feeling like you've really achieved anything if you're not careful, lost amongst leaky water colour tubes, enormous wads of putty rubber and mouldy tea cups!

I thought it was just a matter of setting goals and sticking to them, but now I realise that you have to be flexible and move those goals accordingly. If I'm having a pants drawing day, I need to change direction and colour-up a picture or do some writing. Arg! If only I could remember to remind myself of this advice everyday... I'd never regret the loss of a day, or worse still, not even notice that one's gone by! Anyway, for the moment, I feel fairly chuffed with myself so that's all that counts!

By the way, I listen to audio books whilst I work. I've just finished this one and I'd recommend it to anyone and everyone. The story is beautifully written, the narrator's voice is mellow and the whole thing is fantastic to work to. It's the kind of story you're sad to say goodbye to... and not just because you now need to find another to take its' place (gosh darn it!)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Today's produce

The problem of my picture book style is still giving me gip/gyp (sp?) This looks a little old-fashioned for my taste. I'm tempted to harden my characters up with more gutsy pencil strokes and a full on 40 layers of photoshop (why I ever need that many layers, not even I know!) Unfortunately, I then end up with work for an older market again. Rats! I shall keep plugging away...

Picture books of note

You may now be noticing a theme here. The theme of starting an idea in a blog and not really being able to close it. I have kind of tangled ideas of what I want to cover and when I pick up one, they all tend to come. I think at some point I may have to re-organise this whole thing, but it's taken me months to get around to the washing up, so don't hold your breath!

Anyway, I left off the last thread talking about what makes a picture book a picture book and I think I'll try to start this one with what in my opinion makes a picture book a great picture book.
To work in picture books meant not only altering style, but re-thinking format. I'd enjoyed the luxury of creating great vast slabs of illustration in my previous work, but it is rare that picture books are double page spread after double page spread anymore.

To clarify my thoughts on picture books, I've sort of begun a never-ending collection of the good ones. I wanted to look at some of those individual books and share my feelings as to what makes them great.

'Beegu', By Alexis Deacon.

A tale of an alien that doesn't belong.

Beegu's been out for a little while, but I have to admit I haven't yet bought it. This point is of interest in itself. Whilst it's pretty near impossible to argue against the fact that Deacon can draw, I was not initially drawn (no pun intended) to his work. There was something about the muted colours... (I know, pot calling kettle and all that...!) Or, maybe it's not the muted colours, but that he tends to use cooler colours... yes, I like that better- makes me seem less of a hypocrite! Regardless, I first picked up the book, had a quick flick through and put it back.

However, the fact is this, every time I go to a book shop or library I return to Beegu and I think the reasons are these.

1. Whether or not I initially liked the illustration, it is bold and different and that's refreshing in today's UK market. It does stand out on the shelf. Let's face it, we all judge a book by its' cover. However, I'd like this point to stand down for the others- Let's pretend I'm not as shallow as I obviously am and consider the other less cosmetic points more important for once!

2. The story has a universal theme. Everyone has felt they don't belong at some point in their lives and so it's hard not to connect with the book on some level.

3. It's sensitively told. Deacon shows what happens to Beegu, rather than tells us. This is an infinitely more powerful way to tell (a misleading word there, eh?) a story as we can make up our own mind about the situation... and when we do, we are far more likely to bond with it as we've placed a piece of ourselves into it.

4. (3 and 4 sort of connect. 4 being the reason for 3, pretty much) The word vs. picture relationship is phenomenal. Deacon allows the pictures to take centre stage and only uses text to clarify. His words are so restrained, being the bare minimum to allow the story to take place.

This makes the book stand out as (contrary to what you would believe in a picture book section)it makes Beegu one of the few books that you may actually be bothered to read before you buy; the rest being too wordy by far! This gave the book two bites of the apple for me as an accidental reading of the first couple of pages had me hooked.

This word picture relationship allows Beegu to be a 'grower.' Many of the books on sale have texts that tell the exact same story as the illustrations and no more. This always leaves one mode of communication lacking. Either the text is more poorly written than the illustrations portray the events, or the text is great but poorly rendered by the illustrator. If a book has text and illustration telling the exact same story, they must compete and the book almost always 'does itself in' this way. The parent cannot be bothered to read it or the child doesn't have the patience for the parent to read him what he already knows from the pictures. Beegu is what most picture books are not. It is the perfect balance of both, making the complete product stronger as a result and more appealing at each reading.

Every writer or illustrator can learn something about picture book storytelling from Beegu. Next time I visit a book store, I have promised myself I shall buy myself a Beegu of my very own!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Picture books 1.

I'm not sure how well this blog will come out as I'm feeling a little woozy from too much lunch and too little sleep.

The thing I wanted to write about is something I've been thinking a lot about since finishing the course. It's the matter of content in picture books. I may need to do this blog in installments, since I've come to the conclusion the subject matter is a mammoth disguising itself as a mouse.

A little bit of background.

During the course, I remained fairly convinced that I would draw for older kids (I think you'll see what I mean by looking at my website). The only problem being that I loved visual story-telling.
Whilst I'm still raring to get my teeth into front covers and the like, I also wanted to learn the art of narrative and this only really currently exists in picture books.

Picture books are published in the States for readers up to the age of 7 (or in rare cases up to the age of 11). However, in the UK, 3-5 years is your market. So, you see my dilemma. To admit defeat on visual storytelling, or to adapt ones' style for a younger audience? I'm a complete stick-in-the-mud, if you want to be polite, (and a stubborn ass if you don't). There was no way I would give up on visual narrative so adapting my style was the only option left, but what did this mean?

I'm not sure I was even clear on what a picture book was. What was the difference between a picture book and a story book for example? I'd been using the two words interchangably before. What were the essentials to the picture book medium?

For the record, a picture book is a book told primarily by visuals, with text to clarify or to meet the pictures where illustration is impossible. Words and pictures should complement but never repeat eachother's point. A story book is when a text can exist on its' own to give a complete narrative, but with pictures to break it up. The story book is near extinct as it sadly isn't deemed saleable.


Friday, September 26, 2008

A short note before I start my day...

25th September- 1 full colour sketch, 2 character studies and the beginning of a picture book text.

Before I go and drown my museli and down my tea, I'd just like to tell you how excited I am to be writing. I've written only one picture book text before and it made mud look good, but... I do love it! Doing it, I mean! I'm at the stage where the outcome is really irrelevant at the moment, and I'm taking care to treasure that lack of pressure.

Currently, I've been assigned two fantastic texts by my publisher and they're running back to back. Being a new illustrator, they've taken a great leap of faith with me and I'm hugely greatful. I'm learning an awful lot about the process of making a book and the challenge of interpreting and bringing to life another's words. It's been an amazing journey so far, but I think ultimately, however secretly, most illustrators also harbour a deep and dark wish to write and illustrate. It's the holy grail. I'm going to put it all out on the line here (promise not to laugh!) and say that my really huge apple and custard pie-in-the-sky daydream is to one day write a book that Stephen Fry would do the audio for!

At the moment though, I am more than content to sit here typing like a monkey and grinning with glea!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Winning or loo-sing?

This is kind of how my day's been going!

Rule 1 Down the Toilet

Hmm... well, it seems that if this here writing malarkey is going to happen, it's going to be in the mornings. Already then, I am breaking rules.

As you know, I was going to put what I'd worked on that day at the top of a post. If I do so now, the most I can put is, a large bowl of cereal and having 'gotten up'. Though both feats are worth celebrating, I'm not sure a public statement is necessary. Thus, perhaps I shall put what I worked on yesterday instead... Starting from today's work tomorrow (if you see what I mean!) since I'm telling you now, yesterday was a pretty poor show and I only managed 3 character sketches.

To make you forget the tragedy of it all, I'm going to attempt to stick in a photo of my studio here. Its' chaos will serve as Derren Brown mind trick to confuse and blur.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Morning After...

I love that when I started typing, 'The Morning After,' in the little title box, my computer (ever helpful) suggested I might want 'The Moomins' instead- I have it well-trained!

So, let's get this show on the road, as they say.

Since I am currently the only viewer of my blog, I'm going to start out by doing a little something for myself. At the beginning of each post I shall list, Briget Jones style, the work I have consumed each day. This will hopefully help me keep more of a record of my day and more importantly, the work I heartlessly shunt into the corners of my studio and forget about.

I shall start by telling you a little bit about myself... but even before that, I must put in a disclaimer. Sorry.

The punctuation and grammar found in these blogs may not contain any likeness to that found in the outside world.

Right. I finished an MA in Children's Book Illustration at Anglia Ruskin University, in January. I think the three main things I learnt at college were, how to work, how to take and use criticism and how to survive.

There is a lot of debate for potential illustrators in such places as The AOI forum on whether or not to go to college and if yes, which college to go to. What I can tell you is that the days when you are actively taught things seem to be over. I've never learnt print-making or photography, about the golden section (?) or colour theory. What I will say is that my time under the care of the grumpy Martin Salisbury, the gentle John Lawrence and the sweet James Mayhew allowed me to become an illustrator. I simply couldn't have made the transition without them. At a risk of sounding like a cliche, with gentle (and not so gentle!) nudges in the right direction, they helped me find 'me'.

So, unlike a lot of the BA students I've talked to, when I emerged in January I felt ready. Ready to face the 50:50 daily ratio of work and promotion and ready to face possible rejection too.

Rats, it's getting on, I'll come back to this later.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Right, well now I've gone and done it! I'm insistent that this won't be one of those 'two posts and out' typed blogs, but who knows?! A month seems like five minutes to me at the moment. I hope I don't disappoint myself by disappearing into a vortex of paper and random pieces of blu-tac, but we'll see...

In the mean time, welcome to my blog. With the following (here's hoping) posts, I intend to tell you a bit about what I do, keep you up-to-date with my work goings on and I'm sure I shall rant a fair bit too.

I now pronounce this blog open for business. I think I shall celebrate with a rather large slice of cake...