The illustrations I make for my children’s books are quite unusual, in that I they combine children’s drawings with realistic detail. This process involves a number of steps and I thought it might be interesting to some people to know how I make them.
First, I gather together all my visual reference, such as photos of a person or object, the child’s drawing and sometimes flat items I can use to stick on to the final picture. I play with various combinations of theses elements in my head, make a couple of quick sketches to finalise my ideas (I don’t keep sketchbooks but work, instead, on scraps of old paper) and then I get started.
The first thing I draw out on my thick watercolour paper (140lbs) is the children’s drawing. For me, this sets the tone as children’s work is invariably full of character, humour and has the most unexpected shapes and details. In my mind, this element of spontaneity and imagination, gives me permission to step out of my sensible self and just have some fun! When making these paintings, I never know what they will turn out like; it’s much more of a creative journey than doing a straight forward landscape or portrait. This means more risk of things going terribly wrong, but that’s when interesting things can happen.
Next, I draw out the realistic elements, for instance an expression, or in ‘Tales by Torchlight: Shoe Zoo’, a bumpy snake-skin boot or the tangled fur of a slipper. At this stage, the picture is a mass of complicated lines, but then out come the paints. The first things I paint are the realistic elements. These represent the memories of Evangelina May, the little girl in the stories, and the joy she finds in the everyday detail in life. For example, in my first book, I try to emphasis the texture and the feel of the shoes she’s handling.
Then comes the really great part! Once the ‘sensible’ detail is down, I can paint in the child’s picture, scrub in some thick paint over areas I don’t like so much, tear up stuff and generally become a child again! This is what makes or breaks the picture and it works best if I don’t think about it too much; spontaneity is key.
Some of my best pictures are in the next book to come out, ‘Tales by Torchlight: Rainbow Day’, including a series of paintings about faces, colour and different emotions. I gave some talks to schools about them and, because I hadn’t shown this style before, I was very nervous, but the children loved them. Kids are fantastic like that – they are so open to new ideas and so honest when it comes to feedback, sometimes too much so!