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...