Pre-order ‘Hand Drawn Maps’ Now!

 

Back in the days of long hot summers, cold wars and leg warmers, there was a girl who loved to spend her time drawing, painting and making things. She created theatre back drops and put on plays; cut out paper dolls, designing wardrobes for queens and nuns (for some reason…); made tiny illustrated books carefully sewn down the middle with white cotton. She pricked her fingers, splashed paints and drew and drew and drew, absorbed for hours at a time. She used her hands.
She grew up and became an illustrator. The job she had dreamed about when she was little. Painting and drawing and making things for a living. It was the best job in the world and she knew she was lucky, despite the sacrifices made and the poor wages earned.
Time dialled forward. Times changed. Painting and drawing was not what the markets demanded. Do what you do but use a computer. Do it fast. Keep it clean. Vectors and clones and infills and pixels. No longer that rusted tin palette of paints, each colour once perfectly wrapped in silver paper. No more the pleasure of opening that box of coloured pencils and making curls of vermillion or aqua fall floorwards as you sharpen them. Gone, the collecting and prizing of patterned paper from all the edges of the world, cutting them neatly to shape and nudging them perfectly into place on a picture.
The girl stuck her heels in the ground and her chin in the air and said she was having none of it. She continued to make work the slow way – even if that meant she couldn’t turn ’em out quick and stack ’em high. She didn’t need to conquer the world and no use pretending that she would do as good a job on a computer as she could do by hand. Her illustrations were made traditionally, drawn out and painted on paper with an expert eye and using the highest quality materials. She cared about the finish of each one and made sure they were made to last and were beautiful objects in their own right. And she took her time, creating images with individuality and soul that would be hard to replicate in other ways.


And so the story dials right round to now. Finally, I have the advance copies of my latest book ‘Hand Drawn Maps- a guide for creatives’ in my possession. Publishing on June 8th by Thames and Hudson in the U.K. (European and American publishers to be announced…) , it celebrates the art and history of maps and explains the process of drawing a multitude of maps by hand. Each illustration has been made using paint, pencil, ballpoint or ink – materials that can be afforded by everyone and that give pleasure in the playing with. If you manage to get hold of a copy, I hope, like me, you can lose yourself in creating something beautiful by hand. Take your time, add some heart and know that it will last till the time dials round once again.

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Copies can be ordered from Amazon now.

 

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Adjust and Deliver. The story of the front cover for ‘Hand Drawn Maps’.

Adjust and deliver was the catch phrase for completing the front cover for ‘Hand Drawn Maps – a guide for creatives’.  Front covers are never easy to nail and this one was no different.

Cover #1 was the cover I had initially drawn out for the first proposal.  It wasn’t clear whether, as it was a book about drawing, the image would be a line drawing or fully coloured in.  The designer liked my idea of reversing the image with Photoshop so that the original pencil rough became white – its negative –  giving it the look of a chalkboard.

By the time the book was finished, views had changed.  Covers are tricky things as they need to encapsulate the contents of the publication with one single image, be aesthetically pleasing, commercially bold, swimming strongly in a competitive sea of other books.  I needed to revamp the original cover idea to take all these points into account. I was asked to create a couple of thumbnail images as proposals for the cover.  The main design team would discuss and feed back.  These were the thumbnails I came up with.

After some deliberation, the response was that actually the design team quite liked the very first cover with the compass rose that I had drawn.  I was asked to create a full scale pencil rough with an indication of colour.  The cover was to be full colour because it needed to stand out in a competitive market.  It was also very important to include my name as author and the subtitle – ‘a guide for creatives’.  The publisher additionally asked for a busy detailed map in the background.  For this, I chose an axonometric urban map which could feature some of the very random symbols from the interior of the book.  Lighthouses, pagodas, building size beer bottles and hipster coffee cups all started popping up in this fantastic city.

Cover two. The original.

Cover two. The original.

I waited for a response. Cover #3. The sales team were involved. They wanted the cover to sum up the wide scoping subject matter of the book which ranges from picture maps, to word maps, underground metro maps to platform game maps, palmistry and phrenology charts, architectural and mind maps. A border with chapter titles was called for. There was also a question about where the logo should sit. Could I provide another rough?

The cover with the chapter titles and logo added.

The cover with the chapter titles positioning and logo added.

Cover #4.  Another meeting had happened and it was suggested that perhaps the compass should be made smaller to give the background map more room to breathe.  It was decided that the logo could actually go on the back of the book but the subtitle didn’t look very prominent.  The subtitle ‘ A guide for creatives’ was very important in reaching out to potential buyers.  Could I come up with a way of making it more eyecatching? The adjustment was made by adding a banner with the subtitle to the image.

The cover with a smaller compass rose and a banner with the subtitle added.

The cover with a smaller compass rose and a banner with the subtitle added.

Finally, I was given approval but was first asked to provide a colour rough.  In my experience this is a fairly unusual practice.  As I work by hand,  providing a colour rough would be time consuming at a moment when the deadline was already well in sight.  I can only imagine that the design team were more used to working with illustrators who generally used digital tools to colour.  A click of the button can infill space in less than a second. For me, painting the colour rough, even at 25% of the full dimensions, took a few hours.

Colour rough

Colour rough

Cover #5.  The design feedback on the colour rough was that the subtitle still wasn’t visible enough.  Apparently, although Westerners read from left to right, the eye lingers on the bottom right corner.  I could go to full colour but was asked to swap the subtitle to the other side (the bottom right corner) with my name which should be made smaller.

Map cover - mid painting.

Map cover – mid painting.

The adjustment was made. Done, dusted and delivered.  I just had to wait for final approval.  It didn’t come.

The design and sales teams were still not happy.  The subtitle still wasn’t prominent enough.  Could I make it cross the entire banner at the bottom and move my name to a smaller banner crossing the compass points at some place aesthetically convenient? The only way to do this, other than repainting entirely was to add using Photoshop, collaging in the repainted wording over the top of the original.  Painting by hand really doesn’t lend itself to making easy and fast adjustments unfortunately and this was becoming increasingly clear.

Cover #6.  With the print deadline acting like some kind of guillotine the final change was made.  Once more, Photoshop was the only thing that made it possible in time without having to repaint.  I was asked to change the central compass rose from the originally agreed red to a blue.  This made the main book title popout against the contrasting oranges of the compass points.  Again, very much a sales decision based on how well the book would stand out visually on a physical book shop shelf and how well it would stand out as a thumbnail image online in virtual stores like Amazon.

The final artwork.

The final artwork.

This entire process took about a month to complete.  I’m not used to artwork being tweaked quite so often and over such a long drawn out period.  In my experience, usually all teams come together after the rough stage and then to discuss and approve on artwork delivery but here it was clear that there were multiple voices involved in the decisions being made, on multiple occasions and with multiple sales and design boxes that needed to be ticked.  I wonder whether the increasingly anachronistic nature of my working practice – working by hand and taking time – is becoming a hindrance in meeting the demands of a fast paced sales driven publishing economy more than ever before.  It was expected that I could adjust artwork easily and deliver changes immediately, probably with the click of a mouse. Ironic if you take the title of the book into account.  However, although the experience felt fairly stressful for me, I did learn a lot about the process of creating a truly commercial cover for a large publisher specialising in design led books.  I hope the thought and hard work that went into it, really does make ‘Hand Drawn maps’ stand out from the crowd and sell many many copies

I wrote my first book!

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.

Marvin the cat did his best to advise...

Marvin the cat helped with quality control…

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.

My nieces became the inspiration for these two characters....

My nieces were the inspiration for these two characters….

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.

Marvin and fizz.

Marv agrees….

 

 

 

‘You never know what will happen…’

In 2008, there was a devastating recession in the UK.  Money was tight and as a freelancer, work was very thin on the ground.  Contracts were cancelled and I took on second and third jobs to keep the wolf from the door.  I struggled to create sample work that I thought would be commercial, bring in money, give people what they wanted. All resulting in a big fat Nada…
I was worried but friends kept telling me not to give up because, ‘you never know what will happen….’

It was a difficult period but with hindsight, also creatively very productive.  Once I had relaxed into the acceptance of having no work and without the constrictions of deadlines and designer visions, there was time to make art that was entirely my own.  It was a surprise that my heart steered me towards fine art and what I wanted to make had very little to do with children’s picture books.

I was drawing regularly at life classes and at a weekly drawing-in-a-pub meetup group.  Paintings and portraits were created in biro, in acrylic – so little like my usual watercolour illustrations that they looked as if they had been done by someone else.  Only a few have been exhibited and looking back, seem a little clonky, but I learnt so much and was so excited by, I suppose, the idea of transformations, of new choices and other, future possibilities.

It was also the time I became interested in making maps as fine art objects.  I’d illustrated maps for children’s books before…

…but had come across the illustrative map work created by fine artists such as Grayson Perry, Adam Dant and Stephen Walter – for adults, shown in gallery contexts and with something different to say about how we perceive, or indeed map, the world in general.

Inspired, I made my own map of my home town, Brighton, annotated with stories both personal and historical.  Further maps of the history of coffee, the flightpath of a particular Barbestelle bat and the moon followed.  Always I mapped places that fascinated me.  There were no particular rules to follow and I mapped purely for the fun of it.

Out of the blue, a few gallery shows came afterwards; at Onca Gallery and for Correspondence. My most recent mapping adventure took me sailing across the North Atlantic as part of an artist residency tracking whales which also resulted in a gallery show – ‘The Whale Road‘.

It is from there that we come most up to date.  In 2015 I was approached by a fairly well known publisher to see if I was interested in writing a book about hand drawn maps.  I was asked to make a rough list of potential chapters and a few sample pages back in September and after a long, long, long wait (during which I had actually given up on the idea that it would be published), have finally been given the go ahead.  It will be the first book I have both written and illustrated, my first book for adults and my first book about maps.  My first meeting is tomorrow.

I suppose my point is (and also note to self…) that you never know where life will take you and even if it’s tough, good things can eventually (sometimes years later) come from the times when you think you are struggling.  It’s always worth opening yourself up to exploration and playfulness – doing something just for the heck of it even if you don’t expect to make any money from it.  And if another recession hits, or my book illustration work dries up for a while, I’ll try to continue to make new work which comes from the heart.

Perhaps I’ll go back to those paintings and drawings again…. You never know what will happen…

A book in progress and my first Gif…

pond-gif

An illustrator’s work is never done when it comes to marketing herself. And even if you would rather be outside in places that are more green and simple than urban, technology still helps get that work done…

I’m in the middle of illustrating a new book about things that live in gardens; moles, foxes, squirrels, bats and bees.  And frogs of course! I grew up with a mother passionate about nature and wildlife – tadpoles were always found each spring, nettles were collected each summer morning as food for the peacock butterfly caterpillars and stick insects were forever escaping around the house till my dad complained and banned them for good…  I remember as a child standing on the porch in the early morning sunshine with a collection of butterflies sitting on my upstretched palms, shivering their still damp wings, fresh from leaving each chrysalis.  Once dry, they would fly off into the brightness. My mum has passed her love on to me and illustrating stories about animals and plants is always something I enjoy.

Helen Cann

In a world where technology – seen as the direct antithesis to nature – is necessary for marketing any small business, I created my first Gif this morning!  A tiny thing (which perhaps took more time than necessary for the final result) but useful to post on social media and advertise my illustrations.  It’s still a bit glitchy and posting in some places makes it look grainy but seems to work fine on my blog.

At some point, I’ll spend time on something more extravagant, but in the meantime, my little frog with his cheeky wink will have to do…  Sometimes its the small, subtle things that are the most perfect.

 

 

Little Leap Forward comes to the Liverpool Philharmonic

Little leap Forward in the paper shop.

Several years ago now, the internationally acclaimed musician Guo Yue and his wife Clare Farrow collaborated to write their award-winning book, Little Leap Forward (Barefoot Books) which I had the pleasure to illustrate. After many awards, a stage show and an inclusion in the 7 Stories list ‘Diverse Voices’ – the top 50 culturally diverse books in the UK since 1950 –  the authors are celebrating the novel at the Liverpool Philharmonic on March 22nd 2016.

The hour-long performance uses a blend of readings, artefacts and live music to bring the story, based on Yue’s childhood in Beijing at the time of the Cultural Revolution and Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forward’, to life.  Marking the 50th anniversary of the Revolution, it’s the wonderful tale of a little boy, a little bird and a little leap forward in understanding the true meaning of freedom.

The performance has been organised by the Children’s Bookshow and every child who attends the show will receive a copy of  Little Leap Forward.

Tuesday 22nd March 2016 | Time: 10.30am

Running time: Approximately 1 hour
Suitable for children in Years 4, 5 6 and 7
Tickets: Children £5.00 Accompanying teachers FREE

To book tickets, please email liz.bookshow@gmail.com

Address:

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic
Liverpool Philharmonic Hall
Hope Street
Liverpool L1 9BP

For information about theatre facilities, please visit: www.liverpoolphil.com 

 

Call of the Wild

cotw03aci

Scene from ‘The Call of the Wild’

It’s been a while since I last posted – but that’s not to say I haven’t been busy… There’ve been several further books that I’ve been unable to shout about until they were finished (The Call of the Wild – Miles Kelly Publishing) or published (Feathers for Peacock – Wisdom Tales – to be on bookshelves April 2016).

Miles Kelly have graciously let me post about ‘The Call of the Wild’ – an 8 month project that finished finally this Monday.  The classic American novel by Jack London tells the story of Buck, forced to work as a sled dog in the harsh but beautiful snowy wastes of 1890’s Yukon during the gold rush.  He eventually hears the call of the wild and escapes to recognise it in his own heart…

Jack London himself travelled to the Yukon, living in tents and working with dog teams. The novel is full of details of the brutality both men and dogs tolerated and it’s clear much was based on real life experience.

jack london

Jack London and his dogs.

I find it strange that I am attracted to tales set in cold places, of snow and ice, of dogs and sleds.  This will be the fifth book – the others being the ‘Inuk Quartet’ and ‘Fireside Tales’ (Barefoot Books).  The author of the Inuk Quartet, Jorn Riel, also lived and studied in the snow but with the Inuits of Greenland.  I too, had my own dog sled adventure above the Arctic Circle a few years ago, mushing my team of three through the dim starlit midwinter days in the awesome silence of the snow. Perhaps that is the seed of my fascination.

Working on ‘The Call of the Wild’ was pretty challenging.  Many of the images depicted dogs fighting, being starved or beaten which meant researching some difficult subjects.  I use photographic material researched online to help inform my drawing and there were images I found that I wish I hadn’t had to see.  Drawing requires intense observation and I had to stay with those photographs for many hours.

Obviously, the photographs or pictures are reference material; to be adapted and used to create something new. I would never simply copy them – they help me understand for example, how muscles work or which direction dog hair lies.

fighting dogs

Fighting dogs by Frans Snyders. I used this image to help me understand dog anatomy and adapted some of the poses in my own illustration.

Of course I loved the historical research, however.  Like the ‘Inuk Quartet’, ‘Call of the Wild’ took me to places and times I hadn’t known about and I learnt a lot. Details of clothes, of canvas tents, of harnesses and sleds became my world for a good part of the year.

harness1898

dog harness

Fittingly, the project ended in the dark days of the British winter – somehow it has felt like one of the gloomiest winters in years.  I had been working some long hours and began yearning for some blue skied wilderness of my own – perhaps that was the sound of the call of the wild itself. But days spent hunched over a table with a light box, battling bronchitis and listening to the rain blowing off the sea are over now and an early Spring is on its way.

desk

My desk working in the gloom of the Christmas holidays. Loo roll to mop up watercolour paint and my dripping nose…

I’ll look forward to seeing the published book out around August when the cold days will be long gone…  And perhaps it will inspire others to listen for the call of the wild themselves.

 

‘Manger’ gets reviewed for Christmas!

 

Christmas Eve

So the faint jingle of Christmas can be heard over the hilltops and ‘Manger’ is finally coming into it’s own.  It’s been available to buy now since the crisp days of Autumn  and the reviews are whooshing in!  Some are from readers’ blogs, some from poetry enthusiasts and others from publishing and trade magazines.  I’ve included a few comments here…

From Orangemarmaladebooks:
‘The illustrations by UK artist Helen Cann are stunning, composed of rich, deep colors of cobalt and emerald, wheat and crimson. Handsome animals in starlit settings, these are so splendid, you will want them as prints for your walls. Oh my gosh. Just check out her website for more gorgeousness. Even the endpapers are lovely. Just an all-around beautiful book, new this year.’

From: GoodReads.com:
Glorious illustrations in saturated colors compliment a sweet collection of Christmas poems.

‘Cann’s illustrations are lovely with rich colors and fine details. They show the animals clearly and also the wonder of the nativity on each page whether they are fish, fowl or mammal.’

‘ This beautiful book gathers together 15 poems reflecting the animals that might have been present at the birth of Jesus. These masterful poets convey a sense of wonder, awe, and humility that is echoed in Cann’s rich illustrations.’

From Kirkus Reviews:
‘Intriguing collage illustrations using watercolor and mixed-media elements provide an elegant accompaniment to the short, quiet poems. Unusual perspectives show a cat from behind, a cow arching her neck and an owl in midflight seemingly ready to swoop off the page. All the animals gather around the manger in the final illustration, with the comet again shooting across the sky’

From Publishers Weekly:
‘This joyful collection of new and previously printed poems features creatures great and small heralding the arrival of Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve during the one hour, as legend has it, that God granted them the gift of human speech. Each of the brief entries—from Alma Flor Ada, Marilyn Nelson, Alice Schertle, and others—appears on its own spread, nestled alongside one of Cann’s (Brigid’s Cloak) watercolor and mixed-media paintings, whose detailed feathers, scales, and shaggy fur lend a realistic air.’

From Poetry for Children:
‘Beginning with gorgeous endpapers, we journey through fifteen beautiful double-page spreads each featuring a lyrical poem from an animal’s perspective about the arrival of Jesus as a baby in the manger. Beautiful pictures, beautiful poetry, beautiful moments to savor. And it’s not just an artful, contemplative book, it’s also very child-friendly, perfect for sharing with a little one on your lap or with a group of kids sitting around you on the floor.’

Wishing you a merry Christmas and peaceful New Year!

Green Man

Green Man

This most recent project for US children’s book publishers The Book Foundation features The Green Man on the front cover. I wanted to concentrate on the decorative aspects of the image for a change, rather than narrating a particular part of the story.  As an ancient fertility figure I included lots of wildife and natural things in the Green Man’s beard giving me the chance to illustrate plants and animals…

Welcome to Helen Cann Illustration News!

ciartic animals and birds copy
It’s a new year and there are lots of exciting things happening already! Just as the ‘Picture This’ exhibition at the Riverside Gallery in Richmond has finished, another show is starting at JS Peters in Birmingham. It should run for the duration of February and is showing a selection of illustrations from ‘Mother and Daughter’ and ‘Father and Daughter’ Tales and Wintery scenes from the ‘Inuk Quartet’ and ‘ Fireside Stories’…