Spring flowers.

The sun has finally come out, the primroses and windflowers are scattering palely across the green and my cherry tree is blossoming flamboyantly in the back garden. Work always gets put into perspective when the spring flowers arrive.
It’s been a busy month with multiple small projects: from educational commissions, to an outsized image of a wolf for an outsize book cover, to a couple of self promotional map projects of Barcelona and Lapland, to creating sample illustrations for a proposed book in time for London Book Fair. Hardly time to feel the spring warmth kiss my face and smell the first cut grass of the year.

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I adore painting plants and the recent blooming extravaganza has made me think how often they’re included in my illustrations. Perhaps, as the daughter of a botanist and botanical artist, that’s not surprising. It’s a truism that there will always be flowers in my mother’s house.

I realised that I cut the flowers in my illustrations from many different metaphorical gardens. First there’s the straight watercolour, more of a realistic botanical approach. I generally look at photographic reference material and keep colours naturalistic. I know from watching my mum work that using photos isn’t ideal but access to the real thing isn’t always possible. The following image shows details from a logo I did recently for a florist. It’s not gone live yet so I can’t show you the illustration in its entirety.

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Then there’s the more stylised approach. I often use designs from other times or cultures to inspire more graphic flowery renditions. The flowers in ‘Feathers for Peacock’, for example were informed by the punchy style of 1970’s patterns. They have a blocky feel and there are circle shapes and tear drops and squares with rounded corners. The clean spaces really lend themselves to using collage. I think we might have had something reminiscent on the old wallpaper in the kitchen as I was growing up…

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Here are some more details of stylised flowers, this time inspired by Mexican embroidery. I spent a lot of time researching Central American textiles and was blown away by the beautiful colours and compositions. These illustrations come from a cover of a forthcoming children’s magazine, due out in May.

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Sometimes I take a real-life plant but subtly adapt it by simplifying shapes and colours so it has an air of reality but is stylised… In this illustration, I researched pondside plants, all flowering around the same time, and used them as a base for those in the picture. This is from ‘In my Garden’.

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And then there’s the combination of the two approaches. Nobody said you had to stick to one style, did they? Why not combine a more naturalistic look, based on genuine botany alongside a created imaginary plant world? Here’s an image commisioned for Cricket Media’s Ladybug Magazine published last year. The buttercups on the right are naturalistic in comparison to the collaged blue flowers in the centre that are entirely imaginary.

(N.B. I like drawing frogs as much as I like drawing flowers…).country mouse with textcleaned up

And in this endpaper, also from ‘In my Garden’, I used painted stylised flowers alongside collaged stylised flowers cut from origami paper alongside more naturalistic depictions of animals, birds and butterflies.

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I think drawing and painting flowers will always be a love of mine and just like real flowers, they will clamber and climb and push their faces to find the light in my illustrations regardless of whether I choose them to be there or not.

And just like my mother, I hope there will always be flowers in my house.

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Mapping Ditchling.

Ditchling is a pretty village, warm with half-timbered character, hugged by the Sussex Downs.  It has a long connection with the Arts and Crafts movement and was the home to printmaker Eric Gill in the early 20th century. I was very honoured to be asked to run a hand drawn mapping workshop at the award winning Ditchling Museum of  Art + Craft last weekend.

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As part of my workshop, I take my students outside to walk the territory of the location they are mapping (as far as is possible and weather permitting). How else can you understand where you are, unless you experience it personally? So, as preparation, I decided to walk the territory myself and hand draw my own map of Ditchling.

My initial sketches were rough. It’s hard to map on foot, especially in the rain. But what’s important is that the mapmaker marks the features he finds important, either by sketch, note or photograph. It doesn’t need to be perfect.

Back at the studio I hit more formal references, comparing my rough sketches with other paper and digital maps of Ditchling, including both OS and Google Satellite maps.  It’s always interesting to see where my maps differ from the others, and indeed, how they differ between themselves. It just goes to show that there is no such thing as the Truth.

Using all of the references, including my own, the map was drawn up using a gridding technique. It’s always at this stage that I, as the mapmaker, decide what features should appear in the map. The map is a personal understanding of a place, after all.

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For me, it was the black and white cottages and the jolly post office at the crossroads, the flinty church dating back to Saxon times with its rows of solemn trees and dark ancient yews. It was the Anne of Cleves House, slightly dishevelled; a ghost peering forlornly through the diamond paned windows. (She likes to keep doors open apparently.) It was the Bull Inn squatting confidently next to the car park and the rival White Horse, blustering it out manfully up the road. It was the Old Meeting House sitting amongst the haphazard gravestones of Quakers waiting for redemption, silent from centuries of peaceful prayer. And it was the Georgian brick house on the high street, once belonging to Eric Gill.

Who knew what sad and terrible things happened there…

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The Museum of Art + Craft was created to house some of Gill’s work and we were based in the studio there.  Although there was certainly no sinister atmosphere at all in either museum or village, his work and name seemed to be everywhere and I felt his presence permeated the place.  I still appreciate the simple beauty of his lettering and can’t quite connect the clean honesty of his work with his crimes. I wanted to echo something of his style in my map, nevertheless, and chose to do it by making the road system dark and picking out the lettering in white, as I had seen in some of his prints. But there, the similarity ends.

Cut to the workshop and each student had a different experience of Ditchling as we walked it’s green dampness. One took notes of bus stops and telephone boxes, of the shapes of fences and boundary lines, whilst another marked the signs of spring in the clumps of snowdrops and wild daffodils. Each eventually made a map of the Ditchling they alone had understood, felt and seen. Each map was stamped with their own personality. Very far from the industrialised digital maps that the Arts and Craft Movement would have railed against if it had existed today.

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And so now, there exists 7 new maps of Ditchling, particular to an individual mapmaker and to a particular time. Although Eric Gill would have approved of a process founded on working by hand, I hope it was not his ghost who looked over us. I hope it was that other ghost, in the Anne of Cleves House,  perhaps slightly heartened that we had unlocked doors to get outside and walk the village. And heartened that we were firmly keeping the door open, not shut, on the craft of hand drawn mapmaking.

Taro, the Fisherman – illustrating for the education market.

This post is a short one about a short, small project that gave me a lot of pleasure to do. What was surprising was that it was a book for the education market, ie: part of a graded reading scheme, working for which I often find fairly challenging.

I was approached by Scholastic at the beginning of August to see if I was free to create artwork for a reading book called ‘The Tale of the Fisherman’.  It’s a well known traditional Japanese folk tale about a fisherman called Taro Urashima who saves a sea turtle.

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The turtle transforms into the Princess of the Sea …

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… and takes Taro to her sea palace under the waters in a giant bubble.

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Taro is given many wishes; he wishes for gold of course but eventually chooses his home and family over an ocean of riches.

It’s a beautiful story and for the most part, I was given free rein over the illustrations. The main instruction was to ‘make them look Japanese’… I found this approach very refreshing as it allowed me to work in a more personal and natural way – using composition, character and technique as I would usually. Very often for educational projects, I am given a super strict brief detailed down to what should be where in each picture. This is understandable as the main role of the illustration is to help children read and understand the words on the page. Creating drama, beauty or narrative pace isn’t a priority.

Sometimes the layout has already been drawn out for me page by page by the designer and effectively, I am just being asked to replicate these drawings. It’s a challenge in such cases to find a way to work in my own style, where composition and look are very personal. What excites me in illustration, is the play between flat and decorative areas, stylised pages and interesting viewpoints – not creating a conventional photographic scene. When sketches have been provided at the start of a project,  I have to somehow adapt to another person’s visual imagination, even if I know the outcome will look nothing like my usual work. And in this situation, it’s good to understand that the publisher sees the pictures as servants to the words with the ultimate outcome of teaching a child to read.

‘The Tale of the Fisherman’ proved to be very different with text and pictures given equal weight. Perhaps the suggested hint of a ‘Japanese style’ was educational in itself. After quite a few happy weeks swimming in the warm seas of Japanese woodcut inspiration, I hope I created a book that not only teaches using both word and image but is beautiful too.

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A BIG talk about illustration (and life).

The following is adapted from a 10 minute talk I gave to Brighton Illustrators Group (BIG) in July alongside 5 other illustrators and designers. I was asked to talk about something inspirational or what inspired me. BIG was established 22 years ago and exists to support and advise illustrators living and working in the Brighton area. It aims to promote the work of member illustrators, share professional advice and create a space to network. It’s a brilliant Brighton institution so it was an honour to be asked to speak. 

I’ve been illustrating for over 10 years now and work almost exclusively by hand in the field of children’s books and map making plus I have a developing hand lettering practice too. I occasionally use photoshop to clean up or remedy mistakes but in general have made a choice not to work digitally as a whole. I just prefer ‘slow illustration’ – the physicality of painting and drawing, getting messy, the jeopardy of making raw marks that might not be easily erased with the click of a button. And the mental discipline of planning and committing to colour before you put it on paper; you certainly need to be confident in your mark and colour choices.  And I like the feeling of having a physical object at the end of a project. Something tactile that changes subtly depending on the angle and lighting of your viewpoint.

This way of working isn’t fashionable, and doesn’t make it easier or faster but I’d prefer to make a living working by hand rather than a lifetime spent in front of a screen.

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A double page spread from ‘Seasons of Wonder’ by Julia Key.

Building draughtsmanship confidence has meant practising regularly. I go to life drawing sessions…

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… and also meet ups, drawing in pubs – observing and documenting the punters and barmen where stillness is no prerequisite and your subject can move at any moment. This has trained me to capture likenesses quickly and without self consciousness in a public place. I chose the next illustration to say how important it is to focus on your strengths and understand how they can be adapted for your business.

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I often post drawings on social media and, supported by my images on Twitter, I was contacted by a designer working for the prop department at the BBC. They needed some life drawings and also someone to act as a hand double for a costume drama. One of the actors played an artist and footage was needed of her hand sketching – which was where I came into it. My ability to draw portraits quickly in crowded places (in pubs or on set) was very useful. Privately, this commission became known as ‘The BBC Hand Job’….
This image was one of the results – a portrait of Anna Chancellor, well known for playing the character of ‘Duckface’ in the film ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ starring here in the drama ‘Mapp and Lucia’.

Since then, I have been asked to provide more drawings for the BBC’s adaptation of ‘Howard’s End’ which will be aired later in the year.

Another way to use drawing is lettering. I love typography of all kinds, especially if it’s been done by hand. The personality of the artist can be caught in the tiny imperfections and quirks of each letter, unfiltered by a font package. It really doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect.

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This envelope was made as part of a mail shot campaign sending promotional work to children’s book publishers. I’ve done this a few years running now – every envelope is different, takes some time and there’s not much room for error. But  I learn something new from each one and it allows me to be creative while doing a fairly mundane task. It’s important to keep broadening my skills and working out ways to make my strengths an advantage.  I’ve just finished creating another prop – a map – this time for a high profile Hollywood film. Unfortunately I’m not able to talk about it yet but it screens in the Summer of 2018. Notably, the designer specifically wanted something hand lettered and had looked at the lettering on my website before briefing.

Which leads me to the ultimate in hand lettering – signwriting. As I said, I try to keep adding to my skill set and recently went on a course in traditional signwriting in London. Although not strictly illustration, an understanding of graphic design is necessary. You need a good eye, a steady hand and it’s a very physical job. But it’s the physicality I love – the smell of the paint, the feel of brush on surface, the satisfaction of creating a beautiful straight line or perfect curve by the downward swoop of an arm. And again it provides a hint of risk, in that you can’t just nuke it with Photoshop if it goes wrong.

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These are some circus style letters I painted on mdf as practice.

I recently created a window installation using hand painted and lettered signs for an exhibition. On the strength of the window display, I was contacted by the brand manager of a well known chain of restaurants asking to quote for some similar signs. Nothing came of it in the end but it’s serves as an example of how working to your strengths and thinking outside the box has the potential to lead to multiple diverse streams of work.

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I find challenges inspiring. When I first left university, I got a job in an antique print shop. I was a disaster and lasted about 3 weeks before I got sacked. But I came away totally inspired by early 17th century road maps – beautifully hand drawn and engraved with personality and soul. Fast forward some years later and during the last recession, I had a period of unemployment. I started to make my own maps to fill the time. They were never printed – just a vehicle for self expression which I saw as fine art and started to show in galleries. Each map was filled with notes about the place and sometimes line illustrations. They were all done by hand, sometimes directly onto the surface in ink.

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This map is part of a triptych I made as a result of going on an artist’s residency on a ship. I sailed for the best part of a month as part of the crew 1300 miles across the North Atlantic documenting whale sightings. This was certainly challenging for me because I thought I was going to die. Genuinely.

However, the challenge sparked creative ideas.  I couldn’t draw much due to the motion of the ship so I collected overheard stories and travellers’ tales. They became the basis for the maps alongside notes and drawings on how whales have been seen historically and how they have been mythologised and hunted.

As a result of my fine art mapping practice, I was commissioned to write a book on how to draw hand drawn maps, published in June by Thames and Hudson. The challenge here was whether I could both write and illustrate a 17,000 word book for adults within an super tight timeframe of 4 months. I loved every minute – especially the writing – but it did mean no social life over that time. At all. I had to write 500 words a day, every day, and complete an illustration every day and a half.  So much for ‘slow’ illustration.

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In summing up, I think it’s important to understand and cherish your strongest skills. Even if fashion dictates something else.  I believe in thinking outside the box in how you put those skills to use.  Learning and adding to your skill set, focussing on your strengths, is vital.  Accept challenges too and get out of your comfort zone, realising that they can be truly inspirational. Doing all these things can demonstrably lead to new work.

But most important of all, figure out what it is that gives you joy and is creatively stimulating in your work. Then find as many different ways as possible to keep doing it. It’s as simple as that.

I guess that counts for life in general.

 

 

Writing Signs. A course in hand painted lettering.

It was through a discussion with friends of mine that I realised I’d be pretty useless in the event of an apocalypse. Illustrators are not at the top of the list when it comes to survivalist skills………Which is how I ended up on a traditional sign writing course. Definitely a useful skill. Definitely.  The world is always gonna need signs.
OK perhaps I’m being slightly facetious. A beautifully painted sign in heritage colour enamel is not going to be at the top of your thoughts in a life and death situation and there are certainly other reasons to learn traditional sign writing. Put simply, it’s a beautiful and skilful trade and I wanted to learn how to do it. Signs have always fascinated me and there are few things other than a lovely typeface and an eloquent design created by hand that can make your heart sing more. I work with letters often and thought I could increase my skill set, especially after a friend of mine had been on the same course and I’d seen how much her lettering and chalk boards had started to fly.
Nick Garrett was our tutor at The London Signsmiths. A third generation sign writer, he was passionate about the craft, had a deep understanding of the cultural significance of signs and an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of typefaces. By simply adding a serif or elongating or curling or thickening a line, you could watch him unfold the history of letters from the Romans onwards.
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We started drawing out sans serif letters. Nice and straight and clean. Concentrating on keeping parallel strokes even, understanding the correct angles for diagonals and playing with heights of cross lines. I found it deeply satisfying and meditative.

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Paint skills followed. Practice working with the long sign writers’ brushes, a palette and the mahl stick which acts as a hand rest. This was far more challenging for me because I was unused to the brush and awkward hand angle. The way the paint was applied was also different – in its distribution within the brush and how it could be brushdragged to create pin sharp straight lines or brushtwisted to make sharp killer corners.

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Oh those corners…. Totally necessary to master for the serifs of Roman lettering. Practice, practice, practice. Again and again until the mechanics come easy. How many years does it take till you truly master them?

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Other forms of lettering were offered up. The fluidity of Script, the brashness but surprising complexity of Dom Casual, beloved of the retail sale, and the almost magical fades and shades found in the vintage bazaar and the fairground. Each form was explained and demonstrated and by the end of the week, could be practiced by students.

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I wish I had worked on something larger for my last project – a challenge to create a traditional sign using multiple lettering styles in a pleasing design. I often use lettering in my personal work and I’m used to working small so I could have learnt more, I think, by stretching to some wider dimensions. But perhaps that will come with time and I’ve already got some MDF cut out waiting for me.

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The not yet finished sign for Jimbob, the Cheesemonger. I made him up but he really should exist…

So how will the course affect my work as it is now?  Every year, I send out a mail shot to publishers in hand lettered envelopes.  For these and my maps, I have never aimed to create a perfect letter and appreciate the quirks and irregularities of something that looks hand made and has some personality.

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I also used to regularly paint chalk boards for the Dukes at Komedia cinema in Brighton which was mainly briefed to be a hand rendered version of a film poster of some kind where the lettering was a straightforward copy of the original.

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I think I now have a much better understanding of letter shapes, painting process and how to make space work well for me and it will truly be interesting to see, having completed the course, if my lettering changes and improves.

And should there be an apocalypse any time soon, I’m pretty sure the world will still need some (beautifully painted) signs. Definitely.

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Feathers for Peacock Wins Awards (and a gold seal) …

It’s been a while since Feathers for Peacock was published, and even longer since I actually finished the artwork but I’m excited to announce that it’s an award winner of the Best Book Awards 2016 (for Children’s Picture Books; Hardcover Fiction) and is a finalist in the Foreword INDIES Award for Picture Books Early Readers.

The ‘Best Book’ Awards say the following:

‘Award-winning author Jacqueline Jules blends folktale motifs from around the world to offer an original explanation for why the peacock has such beautiful feathers….Helen Cann’s stunning illustrations give young readers fun opportunities to identify the colors and plant life of spring. Feathers for Peacock is a gently humorous tale of generosity and friendship.’

Which is nice.

Announced at the American Book Fest in Los Angeles in November, there were 2,000 entries from mainstream and independent publishers that were narrowed down to 400 winners and finalists in 100 categories. The panel of industry judges have ‘extensive editorial, PR, marketing, and design expertise’ so it’s great to be honoured by them. And there’s even a golden seal. I have always wanted one of them…

The Foreword INDIES awards are for books chosen from over 2,250 entries in the U.S. and represent some of the best from the non-Big 5 publishers there. I have often worked with small publishers like Wisdom Tales and I always appreciate their passion for high quality books with heart, rather than corporate thinking and simple profit.  As the Foreword Review site puts it ‘…independent presses and authors are publishing some of the most innovative, creative, and beautiful books’ in the world and these awards honour the best of them. It’s a real pleasure to be included in the list.

The results will be announced in June so who knows, but whatever, I’m looking forward to seeing where Peacock flies to next on his independent wings…. And if I’m very lucky may be there’ll be another gold seal to add to my collection…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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.

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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!

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.

 

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….