Commissioning illustrators for picture books – a guide. Part 1.

I am regularly asked by members of the public if I will illustrate books they have written for them. I thought it would be useful if I wrote about the standard professional process a commission entails and I’m using my latest finished project for Lion Hudson, Seasons of Wonder, as an example. Written by Julia Key, a first time author, it describes in gentle rhyme the wonders of the earth throughout the year. I jumped at the chance to take this project on especially as it gave me plenty of opportunities to draw plants, birds and animals.

Contracts and fees.

Prior to starting work, there is usually a back and forth negotiation of contracts: fees, deadlines, copyright, license, art ownership etc. It’s important to get it right so everyone is protected legally –  disputes do happen, especially between those with less experience.

As contracts are very complicated, I’ll leave them for another time (Part 2?) but I think it’s worth stating that hand illustrating a picture book with a standard number of pages (usually around 32) takes many months and professional fees reflect that.

Scripts and design layouts.

So. Right at the beginning, I am given either the script or a design layout showing where the publisher expects to place images and how they fit with the text. The illustrator can see the extent of the workload and what will be required of them. Some publishers are prescriptive in what they want the illustrations to contain. I prefer to be given free rein and compose the images myself, if I’m honest. It’s what I’ve been trained for.

This is what a designer sends to me before I start drawing.

This is what a designer sends to me before I start drawing. You can see that the text has been positioned already.

Thumbnails- tiny drawings of the proposed images.

Then a thumbnail plan is drawn out for the publishers and author to discuss and make changes if necessary. The plan shows how the illustrations work together with the text and how they flow together in the book as a whole. Some picture books have high points of drama and the flow of the book should reflect that with compositions stopping the reader in his tracks at important moments. Seasons of Wonder is a poetry book and initial ideas were fairly decorative with a more regular compositional flow.

My client, Lion Hudson, decided to give the images an international flavour shifting subtly away from the original intent that was firmly based in the English countryside. Lots of research time was needed and I collected a whole library of visual material to help me illustrate the dawn chorus in rural India, geese flying over a town in Greenland or a small Peruvian child planting seeds for example.

Roughs – full size pencil drawings of the proposed artwork.

Using the thumbnails as a guide, rough drawings are made taking into account the designer’s (and in this case, the author’s) wishes. Usually my drawings are fairly accurate and representative of the final artwork although some illustrators provide a literally rough outline without much detail. I use my drawings as the base of my paintings. What you see is what you get. Usually the process of drawing roughs for an entire book takes at least 6 weeks, if not longer, depending on the size of the project.

Pencil drawing rough of brambles and bees.

Pencil drawing rough of brambles and bees.

Any changes?

The roughs are scanned and emailed to the publisher who gives comments and makes reasonable changes where they feel necessary. If the publisher decides that the illustrator is not right for the project or the work is substandard, it’s possible for him to back out at this point, and usually there is a rejection fee involved for the work completed. If the publisher makes radical changes to illustrations that have been tightly briefed already and the illustrator is required to provide a completely new drawing that is unexpected, the fee should be renegotiated for the extra work.

Going to colour.

Once any adjustments have been made, the illustrator can hit the paints. Many illustrators use digital tools to add colour but I choose to work by hand. It gives me much more pleasure than sitting in front of a screen although it does take much longer and is a less flexible medium. Again, depending on the size of the book, this process for me is very labour intensive and will usually take a couple of months to complete a standard 32 page full colour picture book. I use a variety of media from watercolour, to inks, to gouache, pencil and collage- whatever I think works best for the image.

Partially painted illustration.

Partially painted illustration.

Sending for approval.

When I’m done, usually I scan the images and send low resolution pictures to the publisher via email. At this point, small tweaks can be made to the originals – less easy with hand drawn work whereas digital images can be adjusted with the click of a button. There’s generally a clause somewhere in the contract that allows the publisher not to have to pay for artwork they deem substandard but hopefully by this point, it’s not going to happen unless the illustrator has had a total meltdown.

Approved by the publisher!

Once everyone is happy, I pack my illustrations up and send them off. Each image is fragile so I give it a paper cover simply taped to the back meaning that colour won’t rub off so easily or transfer to other pages. I try to remove as many pencil marks and smudges as possible to keep the general package clean.  Some publishers are happy for their illustrators to scan the work themselves and send digital files too.

Artwork with paper covers.

Artwork with paper covers.

Proofs.

Very often, the illustrator is sent a first copy of the book pages before it goes to print. This ensures that the illustrator is happy with how the images have been used (is it upside down for example?) and to check details like colour balance and correct cropping. Decent professional publishers won’t edit or change illustrations without the illustrator’s consent.

img_2416

Ta-dah!

Then it’s just a matter of waiting for a copy of the book to arrive on your doormat!  Seasons of Wonder will be published in September 2017 by Lion Hudson. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to a Spring break!

Buy my prints at the Onca Gallery Christmas Ecoextravaganza!

It’s December, Christmas is jingling fairly insistently now on the far (snow laden?) hills and you have finally got round to thinking you should buy some Christmas presents…. How about one of my prints from the new Onca Gallery print collection, launched at the gallery in Brighton on the 14th at a truly spectacular Christmas Ecoextravaganza?! As it’s the Season, I’m going to sprinkle this with a good ole cliche and say that there’s something to suit all pockets….

A cute present for adults and kids alike, pick out a print from my children’s book illustration portfolio. ‘Birds live in Nests’ is small but perfectly affordably formed and is taken from the work in progress called ‘In My Garden’. The original was painted in watercolour and gouache and includes elements of collage from my vast collection of patterned papers. Like all the prints available at Onca, it’s printed on quality heavyweight paper in archival inks so won’t fade in sunlight.
Birds live in nests
Or before the publication of my book about maps in 2017 (Thames and Hudson) secure a map of the moon print for the astronomical geek in the family?  It’s covered in fascinating lunar fact and fiction notes – for example, did you know that Ting Fang of China first recognised the moon was spherical as early as the first century BC or that English tradition declares that the man in the moon drinks claret (presumably along with the cheese he eats…)? An elegant giclee print of the original drawing in white ink on a slate grey with a black background, it looks great with a black mount and a boxy black frame.

Map of the Moon

Or there’s my best selling map of Brighton print, ideal for someone who lives in or has a connection with the city. Or indeed has a fascination with town planning….  First shown at the ‘Tracks’ show at Onca, like the moon map, it’s covered in handwritten notes. A previous customer recently told me that she has it in her kitchen and still finds new things whenever she looks at it which is lovely to hear. As a suggestion, I framed the original in a white mount and boxy white frame contrasting the classic Victorian inspired cartographical elements with contemporary minimalism.

Framed map of Brighton
There’s also the chance to buy a triptych of prints of ‘We Dream of Blue Whales’ – An unusual present for sailors and lovers of the sea. Dotted with painstakingly detailed illustrations of boats, marine creatures and fabulous sea monsters, the map charts the stories heard on a journey across the North Atlantic searching for whales. It’s an ideal size to fill a feature wall or chimney breast. First shown at Onca in ‘The Whale Road’ show, it definitely would make an eye catching statement piece in any room with a maritime flavour.

We Dream of Blue Whales triptych 72

I’m honoured to be sharing a place in the collection with the work of Peter Driver, Fiver Locker, Kate Walters, Hannah Alice, Kittie Jones, Sarah Gittins, Gary Parselle (The Private Press) and Dopple Press.

It will be launched on Wednesday 14th December 2016 at the Onca Gallery Christmas extravaganza from 5pm. Mulled wine, mince pies and cheesy Christmas music are promised alongside stalls showcasing work by Onca members and supporters such as the very cool Ernest Journal and What You Sow.  The famous Onca Christmas window display is being created by internationally renowned performance artist Clare Whistler and designer Tamsin Currey.  Eco friendly gift wrapping will be available, and if you’re feeling creative there’s a chance to design and make your own – sounds like a good way to have fun and make your gifts properly personal….

Hopefully see you there but if you can’t make it, the work will be available to buy at the gallery till the 23rd December and then as part of a planned online gallery shop at a later date.

Oh – and last but not least, have a very happy Christmas!

 

Christmas extravaganza: 14th December. 5pm onwards.

Email: info@onca.org.uk

Website: www.onca.org.uk

Address: ONCA, 14 St George’s Place, Brighton, BN1 4GB, UK

Telephone: 01273 607101

 

 

 

 

Sometimes your work is more visible than you realise…

Wall Street Journal review

A short post this – I am still juggling copy edits after the mammoth task of writing my book on hand drawn maps with painting the illustrations for a new children’s book about the seasons. Time is tight. ..But I thought I’d write briefly about a book review I recently received and also about how sometimes your work is more visible than you realise…

Last week, I received an email from Eerdmans Books for Children with some reviews of ‘Manger’, a book I illustrated for them in 2014 – there’s definitely no guarantee your publisher will send reviews out on time! And what a lovely surprise to find one from The Wall Street Journal, not only with a picture but very complimentary too. Two years delayed and I hadn’t known about it until now.

The same day, I heard news that one of my favourite map illustrators had agreed to feature in my map book. He knew of my work, liked it and had been using it as an example for his students at a prestigious New York art school. I hadn’t known about that until now either and was surprised and honoured.

I suppose my point is that the invisible threads of communication are netted around the world very richly and you can’t always know who is watching or reading about your work. It’s a call to others and a reminder to myself to keep going when times are tough, when you believe no one is listening and you are simply shouting into the darkness. You just might be wrong.

 

A Pewter Plate Award

Well, I didn’t expect this in the post!

A lovely boxed-up and wrapped-in-tissue-paper surprise arrived for me at the beginning of the week. I am the very proud recipient of a pewter plate award from Highlights Magazine for illustration of the month (September) for ‘Hippos Hippos’… See the post a few months back about it in the article –  illustrating for magazines.

Highlights have been a stalwart feature in the American children’s magazine market since 1946 and have sold over a billion copies. Its motto ‘fun with purpose’ is reflected in the well loved collection of stories, characters, jokes and puzzles appearing every month.  I’ve tried to find out the back story of the pewter plate award but without luck.  Regardless of this, whether it’s a publisher tradition or a new innovation, it takes some effort to honour a different illustrator 12 times a year in this way. Magazine illustrations are inherently ephemera so, although I would expect to be treated professionally, I wouldn’t expect too much from the publisher/illustrator relationship in general. Which is why this is so lovely and has made me feel appreciated even more so.

I have won a number of awards before (for my illustration for books) but it’s also a very rare occasion that I receive something tangible so it will, no doubt, hold pride of place on a bookshelf in the studio!

Pewter plate award

 

 

The City Mouse and the Country Mouse

Another double page spread illustrating a poem – The City Mouse and the Country Mouse – for Ladybug, a ‘literary children’s magazine’, was commissioned during the spring, just as I was crawling out of my winter ‘Call of the Wild’ fug.  Ladybug is designed for children between 3-6 years old as an arts and culture magazine for the very young and as a precurser to Cricket – the original publication founded in the 1970’s as a ‘New Yorker’ for young adults. In addition to original stories and poems, there are lots of articles on the natural and cultural world, as well as songs, games, and activities introducing children to language.

The weather was veering between unseasonably warm sunshine and monsoon rains making the air smell green and the earth tumble forth wild flowers and happy weeds. This commission by Cricket Media illustrating the classic Christina Rossetti poem describing the lives of two mice, was the perfect project for those April times.

Working with Cricket Media was a smooth experience and the commission was very straight forward from the beginning.  The brief simply asked me to ‘illustrate the poem’ – interesting to see the different approach to the previous commission earlier in the year from Highlights Magazine (see previous blog post) which was more heavily art directed.  I was also encouraged to be anthropomorphic – something that isn’t so common at the moment but surprisingly enjoyable on the creative front.   I’ve pasted the rough pencil drawing below which was accepted without changes.

town and country mouse

Then I created the finished painting which was also accepted without changes. It really couldn’t have been easier…

The city mouse and the country mouseThe poem tells of the contentment of the country mouse, the beautiful simplicity of nature and the value of his friends in comparison to the sophisticated, but lonely life of the metropolitan mouse.  It’s a sentimental take on nature, perhaps very Victorian in it’s idealised view of country living, but, regardless, this warm and fuzzy commission was the perfect antedote to the raw brutality of nature and the fighting, emaciated huskies found in ‘Call of the Wild’ in December.

.

Can you hear the Call of the Wild?

September  has come round quickly and finally, finally ‘Call of the Wild’ is officially published by UK based children’s book publisher, Miles Kelly and is calling to you from all good book shops…

Wolf illustration

A rip-roaring adventure, perhaps inspired by the author Jack London’s own experiences in the Klondike gold rush, was first published in 1903 as a series of installments in the Saturday Evening Post. I love the use of composition and white space in the illustration below by Charles Livingstone Bull.

Saturday Evening Post cover.

 

It found its way into book form a month later becoming an immediate success with ten colour tipped illustrations by Charles Livingstone Bull and Philip R. Goodwin and with a colour frontispiece by Charles Edward Hooper.  Since then, it has been translated into 47 languages and made into 3 films.

The novel examines ‘the law of the club and the fang’, echoing Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest – apparently Jack London had been reading this before he started writing.  Only the strong survive and in this book, usually the ‘strong’ are those who are in tune with the wilderness and far from the softness and stupidity of city life. The canine hero, Buck, has to hear the call of the wild and listen to the true heart of the wolf inside.  Eventually he triumphs becoming the leader of the wolf pack at the end.

‘Brown Wolf’, the short story set to finish the Miles Kelly edition, also shares this sentiment.  Brown Wolf chooses the harsh, wild but honest world of the pack dog, ever loyal to his first owner and rejects the easy life of ready food and country walks that he finds himself in.

‘Call of the Wild’ joins Miles Kelly’s collection of mini classics adapted for children: ‘The Jungle Book’, ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’, ‘The Wind in the Willows’ and ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’.  Each book has the feel of a traditional classic but with a contemporary edge – 25 colour plate illustrations, spreads with illustrated borders throughout, illustrated oval chapter openers and finally full notes about the author, illustrator and themes of the book all presented in a beautiful card slipcase.

And each book is called a mini classic for good reason as they are small enough to fit neatly into the size of your hand, despite the weight of their literary credentials.

image

‘Call of the Wild’ can be bought from all good bookshops!

Meet the artists! Artist in Residence for Little Green Pig

I’m excited to be appearing, very briefly(!), as an artist in residence at No Walls Gallery in Brighton on behalf of Little Green Pig as part of their pop-up event- ‘Make it up.’

Make it up.

Little Green Pig is a charity based in Brighton in the UK encouraging literacy and story writing in disadvantaged children. It runs events where kids build confidence writing stories with the help of professional illustrators and authors. Imagine their excitement creating their own picture book by the end of a session…

Time is valuable at the moment as I’m fully involved in writing and illustrating my own book (about maps) so short of helping out for an entire session, I’ll be an illustrator-in-residence for an hour on the ground floor of No Walls Gallery between 1- 2pm on 31st August.

An initial story making workshop (to be held at the gallery downstairs) will be happening on Monday 29th where children will sow the seeds for a story. Each following workshop will take those seeds and grow them into new stories so an entire garden of books will be flourishing by the end of the week.

The free workshops will happen every day from Tuesday 30th August to Saturday 3rd September, 10 am – 12 pm. The children will write a team story and then finish them off individually with help from volunteer story mentors, complete with illustrations by them and an artist. They’ll then go home with their very own book! Suitable for 8 – 12 year olds of all levels with one session available per child. To book a place please email: info@littlegreenpig.org.uk .

Different authors and illustrators will appear each day:

Tuesday 30th Aug – Writer: Laura Wilkinson.  Artist: Inko
Wednesday 31st Aug – Writer: Kate Harrison.   Artist: Helen Cann (me!)
Thursday 1st Sept – Writer: Alex Heminsley.  Artist: Jaime Huxtable
Friday 2nd Sept – Writer: Bridget Whelan.  Artist: tbc
Saturday 3rd Sept – Writer: Ed Hogan.   Artist: Phil Corbett

The professional illustrators will work on creating images for the story in their own styles with the focus fixed on the process and art of creativity rather than perfection. I think this is so important as part of making art (actually in most things…) – often, it’s the idea that something should be perfect that actually quenches true innovation and even prevents creation before anything has emerged. So expect a very happy lack of perfection!

If you are in Brighton, come and visit. I’d love to have a chat…

Post-script: I had a lovely time with Little Green Pig at No Walls Gallery.  Supplied with some excellent coffee and a highly imaginative story created by the kids earlier and brought to life by bestselling author Alexandra Hemminsley (Ig- @hemmograms), I conjured up this very quick illustration of Margot escaping on her amazing flying camel, Alan.

Alanspirational

image

Event: Make it up – a Little Green Pigs pop-up event.

Email: info@littlegreenpig.org.uk

Address: No Walls Gallery. 114 Church Street. Brighton. Bn1 1UD.  UK.

Date and time of my residency:  Wednesday 31st August 2016. 1-2pm.

(other artists will be in residence for the rest of the week).

 

 

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.

 

 

Music in beauty and sorrow…an elegant memoir of life in China

The authors of ‘Little Leap Forward’ have kindly sent me some photos of their performance and reading at Liverpool Philharmonic for The Children’s Bookshow last Tuesday.  As you can see, Little Leap Forward is no longer so little and appears huge, loud and proud projected on to the back panel of the beautiful Art Deco stage there. I’m sure the 1,200 children in the audience loved every minute, especially as they all got to go home with a copy of the book itself.

The Children's Bookshow

Authors, Clare Farrow reading from Little Leap Forward and Guo Yue accompanying her at the Children’s Bookshow.

 

llf and bird in cage

Little Leap Forward and his small yellow bird.

I am very proud of LLF because, as I  might have mentioned once or twice before (!), it was chosen to be included in the ‘Diverse Voices’ list in 2014 – the top 50 culturally diverse books since 1950 in the UK; organised in conjunction with Seven Stories: The UK National Centre for Children’s Books.  It was actually published in 2008 and it’s fantastic to see then, that it still gets reviewed – even now.  I’ve been aware of www.orangemarmaladebooks.com for some time and was very pleased to find ‘Little Leap Forward’ on this lovely site about children’s books (via Twitter of all places!).  The site is a great read with a beautiful selection of incredibly colourful illustrations …

Click below to read the review…

Source: music in beauty and sorrow…an elegant memoir of life in China

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.