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….

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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‘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

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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).

 

 

‘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.

 

 

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.

 

We Dream of Blue Whales

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My maps are finally ready to print!

In the Summer of last year, I took part in an artist’s residency across 1300 miles of the North Atlantic in a sailing boat mapping whales for an international maritime conservation database.

The resulting work was the triptych, ‘We Dream of Blue Whales’ which was shown in the exhibition ‘The Whale Road’ alongside work by the three other artists on board. You can read more about this huge adventure on my fine art website, about the journey itself, my work process shortly afterwards, and the final pieces and exhibition… There are tales of drownings, hurricanes, smuggling, ghost ships and the hunt for some very elusive sea monsters and finally about the inspiration behind ‘We Dream of Blue Whales’…

I am very excited to get the prints back from the printers so please feel free to contact me on here if you would like to know more.