Last year I was lucky enough to be picked for a special training programme for new authors – 21st Century Authors – run by the National Literacy Trust and delivered by Author Profile. We covered all the stages of planning and delivering a school visit, from preparing the content to tips from an actor on how to stand and deliver. The final part of the programme was an actual school visit – and mine was yesterday, fortuitously on World Book Day, to Wessex Gardens Primary School in Brent Cross, north west London.
Although I’ve led creative workshops in dozens of schools over the years, it’s the first time I have visited one as an author, so I was excited and a little apprehensive – I feel much more comfortable encouraging other people/children’s work than talking about myself. However I looked back through all my notes from the training, found the talk I had prepared, and realised I was actually ready. Best of all, although the publication date is still some way off, I was able to read the children my first picture book as author and illustrator, Pink Lion – a world premiere!
The school, staff and especially the children couldn’t have been more welcoming. I spent the day with Year 1, talking about how I wrote the story with and developed the artwork – and was rewarded by a big spontaneous round of applause after I read the story out loud! Since the children were all dressed up for World Book Day, it was lovely to be told by the Mad Hatter, Robin Hood and several princesses that the book was a hit with them.
The remainder of the day was taken up with workshops – the children created their own stories using a mix of collage and drawing, with some very imaginative scenarios developing as well as gorgeous artwork. I love the idea of the snake being happy about his present – beneath the flap is a tiny, curled up sleeping bear. Nice to see my little flier getting embellished and incorporated into some of the books too!
Huge thanks to NLT and Author Profile for preparing me so well for this event – may it be the first of many.
It’s only a few months now until the launch of Wings!, Paul Stewart’s lovely story about a penguin who wishes he could fly. I illustrated the book, and decided to do it all in collage – very painstaking and slow! But I am pleased with the results. This is one of my favourite spreads, where Penguin finally gets an all-too-brief taste of flying – the landscape is based on The Gower, in south Wales, where I have spent many a happy camping holiday with my family.
Wings! is published in September 2016 with Otter Barry Books.
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.
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…
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.
I’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.
I 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!
I’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.
I loved comics when I was a child, and used to go off to the shop on a Saturday to buy the sadly long-gone ‘Whizzer and Chips’ or ‘Shiver and Shake’. Later I made my own comic books as a teenager, mostly inspired by daily life and my sister, while others included a fantasy inspired by a young couple I had seen in a documentary.
Many, many years later a friend told me she had enjoyed a course at the Royal Drawing School, ‘Drawing the Graphic Novel’ – and something struck a chord so I signed up. I’ve just finished the second of two terms there, and loved it – our homework in week two was to keep a comic diary, and I am still going with that, five months later. Our tutor was Emily Haworth-Booth, who was a very inspiring teacher: I really recommend this class.
Shown above is a story I started to develop in class based on some things I had recorded in the diary. These included a dream about an Environment Agency Fisheries Office who investigated murders in his spare time, and a story my old schoolfriend told me about the police combing the railway embankment behind her home for evidence in a murder case, and finding her escaped tortoise. Earlier in the year I visited the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke on Trent, where I saw a range of Victorian murder figurines – in those days people could buy a set of murder-themed figurines, including murderer, accomplice, victim and crime scene – incredible! So I am planning to work this into the story too…
The final class of term was when everyone presented their work – and the range of stories was fascinating. I’m looking forward to hear more of all the stories as the class have agreed to keep in touch and share work in the future.
I’ve always loved making trails and guides – I first made one for our family back garden when I was a child. But it was a double-treat to be asked, earlier this year, to design one for one of my favourite museums – the V&A.
This amazing treasure-house is somewhere I often go for fun and inspiration anyway, so it was delightful to be able to walk round the collection with a sketchbook and say to myself, “this is actually work.”
The family trail has now been printed and is available for free for any families visiting the V&A – it takes you round highlights of the collection on the ground floor, with suggested activities and some space to draw.