I have illustrated many books before but a few weeks ago I delivered the first book I have both written and illustrated to the publishers. Not only was writing it a first, but it was also about maps and for adults – another couple of firsts. It was a total unknown for me and what a ride/learning curve/marathon it has been… To say I hit the road with only a very basic map to my final destination would be an understatement.
The deadline was an incredibly tight one – so tight that when I planned it out I knew there would be no weekends off or much of a social life for a couple of months. I would need to write 500 words a day and complete 5 illustrations by hand every week. Almost one picture every 24 hours. Usually I’d expect a couple of days for an illustration….
I wasn’t totally sure it was doable but the only way to find out was to get pedalling and see.
It turned out that I loved writing although I had never really done any professionally before. I’d wake up and while I was still in bed, over toast and coffee, I’d start. The 500 word per day limit seemed daunting but actually I found I was writing more and having to heavily edit and cut back. My tendency was to go for wordiness and the struggle was to remember this was a fun ‘how to’ book about hand drawn cartography and not a scholarly treatise. I also had to find the balance between writing about me and my personal experience and writing for the reader. A tricky one realising how loud your ego can shout.
The research was heavy because the plan was to include writings about both historical and contemporary maps. My PC was jammed with a row of open sites and my reading list similarly stuffed with links. Pinterest became overloaded with a library of images I’d obsessively collected, finally divided into chapter headings after the sprawl got too much. The book will eventually run to a couple of hundred pages but I can’t imagine what it must be like to write a novel or anything academic requiring way more research. I learnt so much though and it felt like a crash course in cartography.
Creating the illustrations was fun and meant I got to be particularly playful in my work. I’d planned out the design of the book initially so that each page looked different from the others with a variety of media. I got to incorporate the methods I used in my fine art practice and hand lettering (drawing in pen and ink) with the more painterly side of watercolour and gouache that you see in my picture book illustrations.
It started to become a very personal book; Friends and family became inspiration for any representations of people; maps were based on places I had visited like New York, Reykjavik and Tokyo.
Regularly working 10 hour days, I stopped when the light dimmed or my eyes started complaining. But somehow, because it was so enjoyable, that lovely combination of resentment, boredom and exhaustion never really came knocking.
And now I have delivered the final package to the publishers with a weird selection of envelopes of mock-ups for the photographer, covered drawings, paintings, digital scans and instructions written to an embarrassing level of control freakery. The say I have over the book may be small and my copious planning is perhaps slightly redundant, but this is all part of the learning curve. In the end, I am purely creating work (rather than a Nobel-Prize-winning life-time’s worth of research) for a client who has his own remit and understanding of his market. Both my words and images may be changed to fit into this and it’s good, if hard, to be accepting of that.
We will just have to see what comes of it all, won’t we? However the final publication looks, the adrenaline fuelled insomniac scribbling, hours spent painting that just flew by and wonder-filled map discoveries will have been totally worth it. It’s been some adventure.
And next time, if there is a chance to both write and illustrate another book, I’ll be able to take a more detailed map with me for sure. In the meantime, a celebration is definitely in order.