Category Archives: Illustration

“It needs more roaring”

My new picture book Pink Lion is published next month by Walker Books. This is the story of how it came into being…

Once a week I run an art class for under 5s. It’s a great joy to watch the creativity of young minds and fingers – and a constant source of inspiration to me. This was never more true than the week we made robots. After constructing our shiny cardboard creations, I asked the group what they thought the story might be about today. “A pink lion,” said one boy, without hesitation.

That was the spark that set me pondering, scribbling and scouring museums for stone lions (the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford has a particularly fine one in pink granite). Brainstorming pink things put flamingoes in my mind, and I liked the idea that a pink lion might be adopted by pink birds and live a happy life with jelly for tea every day. For some reason it seemed natural to call him Arnold.

This didn’t offer much drama, however, which is where the growling gang of yellow lions comes in, sending Arnold into a state of confusion about his identity. The story was shaping up, and I made a series of small dummy books with all sorts of endings – in one, Arnold raced round making cold drinks for the lazy lions, in another he went home to find the flamingoes had formed a stunt motorbike troupe.

I took the latest version on a camping trip to Wales, and one wet afternoon when there wasn’t much else to do I read it out to a friend’s little boy. His feedback was concise, and pinpointed the problem with dazzling accuracy – “It needs more roaring”. And that’s when the very nasty crocodile came in, putting flamingoes in peril and letting Arnold discover his inner roar.

The story was coming together – now for the artwork. “Make it look as if it took five minutes” said my editors at Walker Books. It took about two years to make it look as if it took five minutes. I tried every material under the sun – coloured pencil, collage, gouache, ink. None of the pinks felt right, and they seemed to clash with the yellows horribly. One day I was browsing a book about Picasso, and noticed ‘household emulsion’ in the list of materials he used. That’s when it clicked – I bought a sack of tester pots from Homebase, with delightful names like Yellow Submarine and Berry Smoothie. I applied them with the worst brushes I could find, added a scribble of pastel pencil, then pen and Indian Ink for the details – and finally I had something I was happy with.

Now the book is finished, and will be out in the shops in just four weeks. I’ll be visiting bookshops to do some storytelling and signing – and it’s the first time I will have done this without an author. So that I’ve got someone to travel with, I have made myself a pink velvet soft toy version of Arnold – he’s a proper luxury lion with THREE types of pink velvet from his inner ears to his paw pads, and raspberry mohair for his scribble cheeks. I’ve stitched little bags of baking beans into his paws, which gives him just the right amount of weight to be able to sit up on his own. We are looking forward to touring together! Although our family cat is rather jealous.

‘Wings!’ on tour

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To celebrate the launch of ‘Wings!’ by Paul Stewart, with collage illustrations by me (published by Otter Barry Books September 2016), I have been on a mini book tour.

A few weeks ago I made a penguin puppet, carefully matching the colours of Penguin in the book, right down to his flamingo-pink feet. Stop one was The Book Nook in Hove – a terrific local bookshop with cafe attached. Paul settled in the big leather armchair to read the story to an eager and sharp-eyed audience (who spotted lots of details in the pictures), after which I organised a craft activity where children made their own mini-stages with a dancing penguin – just like the opening pages of the story, where Penguin is enjoying the Grand Gathering of All the Birds.

Next we visited The Alligator’s Mouth bookshop in Richmond, Surrey – a lovely and well-stocked little gem. And if you missed both those events, don’t worry – we’ll be appearing again at Tales on Moon Lane in Herne Hill early next year – Monday February 13th, 10.30am. Do join us!  Many thanks to all three bookshops for hosting us.

Wings!

coversWings! is published on September 1 by Otter Barry Books, with words by best-selling author Paul Stewart and pictures by me. It’s the story of a penguin who wishes he could fly, tries all sorts of inventive ways to learn – and eventually, with the help of his friends, discovers his true element (published in Dutch too, by C. de Vries-Brouwers).

Paul Stewart’s warm and funny text was a dream to illustrate – though it was a little daunting working with someone known for collaborating with the multi-talented Chris Riddell. We met up just as I was starting work on the roughs, and I asked Paul what he had in mind for the Grand Gathering of All the Birds, at the start of the book. He said he was happy for me to choose. Soon after, conversation turned to music and we discovered we were both big fans of the End of the Road festival, and I had my answer – the Grand Gathering became a music festival for birds, with Swan on a Gibson semi-acoustic guitar and Eagle on penny whistle while Duck takes care of the circus skills area.

festival

All the pages are hand-made collage, and I’ve included some secret snippets of maps showing some of my favourite places, as well as some lovely mono-printed scraps leftover from a project I did last year with a school in Twickenham.

gower_JPI’ve also sneakily slipped in a few favourite places – when Penguin ‘flies’ with the help of his friends and some string, the background is the golden sands of Oxwich Bay in the Gower, south Wales.

mountainsAnd when he has his moment of despair, it’s against a backdrop of two mountains inspired (somewhat loosely) by Glydr Fawr and Glydr Fach in Snowdonia, north Wales.

swimmingMy favourite page to make was the one where Penguin finally ‘flies’ in the sea. I spent some time sketching the penguins in the glass-walled tank at Marwell Zoo to get a sense of the correct movement.

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Co9C8JFWgAA4dvJI love sewing, so it seemed natural once the book was finished to make Penguin into a puppet. Paul, Penguin and I will be appearing at The Book Nook in Hove on Saturday 24th September – there will be a story reading and a craft activity. Do come! We hope to add more bookshop dates in the autumn.

Writing

charactersI’ve been writing a lot lately – more than drawing, in fact. One of my new projects is developing an idea for a young fiction series. I’m enjoying plotting in a longer form, which is new to me, and it feels like a luxury to have more than 12 double page spreads to fill with action. It’s interesting to feel my way through the process – I can’t help tackling it visually and have created a pile of charts with notes on colourful scraps and taped-on extensions to try and help pull the different elements of the story together. I’m also playing with how the characters might look, and finding a completely non-digital approach quite refreshing…

I found an owl: a sad story

It’s now over a year since I started keeping a comic diary, inspired by homework set on the Graphic Novel course I did last year at the Royal Drawing School, with excellent teaching by comics artist Emily Haworth Booth. I no longer do it every single day, usually a couple of times a week, but it has proved a wonderful space to reflect and record all the hundreds of small things that make up day-to-day life, and otherwise just get forgotten. I’ve got lots of entries inspired by all the funny things the three-year-olds say at my under 5s art group, one about unblocking the sink, and rather a lot involving a pint of beer at the pub. Dipping back into my comic diary from last year brings back so many things that would have been lost forever otherwise, so thankyou Emily for getting me started!

Here’s a sad one from last weekend, featuring a dead owl and a game of dominoes.owl

And then he found Delilah…

Here’s a little taster from the graphic novel I am working on, ‘The Ghost Carp’. It’s a re-telling of Herman Melville’s classic, Moby Dick, but set on the river Wandle, south west London, in the present day. I’ve had a lot of fun writing the text, working in references and quotes from Moby Dick and also things that I have seen, experienced and heard about during 12 years volunteering at Wandle Trust river cleanups. More on this soon…then he found delilah

Bird studies

I’ve got lots of exciting new projects in development for 2016. One is a picture book about a bowerbird and an orangutan – more on this later I hope, but in the meantime here are some character sketches using household paint, watercolour pencil, and good old Quink.birds

Hats, feathers and ink

artkraken1artkraken2I’ve been a fan of Viviane Schwarz’s wonderfully inventive and interactive books for a long time, so when I spotted that she was offering a one-day workshop looking at illustration from a theatrical perspective, I thought it was too good to miss.

Art Kraken is a creative studio run by Viv together with Ellan Parry and Sarah Grange, both of whom have theatre backgrounds – all of which added up to a very inspiring, playful and invigorating day. I won’t go into too much detail about what we did – but it was a huge amount of fun, involved experimentation AND costume changes, and I really recommend booking on the next one if you get a chance.

Wading for ideas

blog_GCI spent yesterday afternoon up to my chest in the river Wandle in the glorious October sunshine, using crowbar and steel toecaps to loosen up mystery objects and remove rubbish from the riverbed. The Wandle Trust holds river cleanups once a month, and I’ve been a regular volunteer for over 12 years (you can see my Wandle Alphabet here).

Casting about for a subject to try making a graphic short (or even long) story about, I decided something set in the river would be perfect. I know every bit of the river so well, and just how it feels to be working in the water, how it smells and sounds. I started thinking about some characters who work in the river, but was lacking a story – until Polly, who works for the WT, told me about The Ghost Carp back in August. Apparently it’s a giant white fish, rarely seen, and it causes a frisson of interest among anglers.

Inspiration struck when I remembered Herman Melville’s epic, Moby Dick – the ghost carp can stand in for the great white whale, transposing the setting from Cape Cod and the wild Atlantic to an urban river (and trout stream no less).

Now the story is coming together, and I’m planning the pages. I took a bit of time out from being in the water yesterday to sketch my fellow cleaner-uppers, to use for reference later. Watch this space!

 

A box of eyes

penguinI’ve been very busy with my scissors lately, working on spreads for a brand new picture book to be published by Otter Barry Books next year. It’s a charming text by Paul Stewart about a penguin who wishes he could fly – with many other bird species included in the story, so great fun to illustrate.

I’m doing the book entirely in collage, so have been racing through the Pritt sticks. My studio is covered in colourful swatches, and I even have a box of eyes of all sizes ready to be used. It’s a medium I really enjoy working in – I’m using all sorts of scraps, some made with paint, others ink, and some are fragments of monoprinted textures left over from my community art project in Twickenham earlier in the year.