Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Merry Christmas

Joyful cheer and festive felicitations to all my friends and readers!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Salon du Livre

The SCBWI Conference coincided with the children's book fair Salon du Livre et de la Presse Jeunesse, running from 1st-6th December in the Parisian suburb of Montreuil.

Ground Floor of the Fair
This was my debut at this fair. Though I'm perhaps a bit of a Bologna Veteran now, this was something else altogether. I found it an incredibly rewarding, though exhausting experience. The sheer number of stands at the Fair alone was amazing considering it only covered one area of publishing of a single nation, two large floors and an exhibition hall were tightly packed with every genre of children's literature imaginable. All together there were 292 stands, plus an animation theatre, lecture hall and other smaller associated events. Children's publishing in France is very dynamic!
The Rouergue Stand
French publishers can pull this off because on the one hand there is there a strong graphic tradition in the country that supports sophisticated picture books. But also the Fair, unlike the LBF and Bologna, is not just about professional deals, the books are all on sale to the public. The first day I attended was the 'open' day and was absolutely packed with people of all ages, though I can't say I noticed any significant decrease in numbers on the subsequent professional-only day! Because of this the Salon du Livre is a book festival as much as a trade fair. It was all very lively and inspiring, it was marvelous to see how creators, publishers and public are drawn together in such a vibrant way.

Signing Illustrators
Virtually every stand ran illustrator signing sessions, there were an incredible 1,153 illustrators signing over the 6 days of the fair, many of them in multiple events, some repeatedly at more than one publisher stand. To call them 'signings' though is a misnomer, illustrators were there to create on the spot fully rendered original drawings (and sometimes paintings), embellishing the title pages with artwork as well as signing. Buy the book (sometimes with freebies like posters etc thrown in), talk to the creators, get it signed and illustrated with original art. What an incredibly inspiring way to encourage books and reading!

Most of the artists and all of the books were French, but a few creators from other countries also contributed, including SCBWI members Constanze Von Kitzing (from Germany) and SCBWI's International Illustrator Coordinator Bridget Strevens-Marzo, who ran two signing sessions on the Bayard Jeunesse stand. I know how exhausted she was at the end!
Clotilde Perrin's dedication to my daughter
And of course, there were the books. There were far too many to absorb everything in the two all-too brief days I attended, several I fell in love with and intended to go back to buy later, but didn't get chance. As well as familiar names seen at Bologna I was particularly impressed with Editions Sarbacane, Editions du Rouergue and l'Atelier du Poisson Soluble, all producing very fine and often uniquely innovative and sophisicated titles. In the end I only bought one book - Tout Autour de Moi (All Around Me) by Clotilde Perrin, a beautifully rendered chaotic dream fantasy, from the very busy stand of Rue du Monde. Fabulous work!

copyright: Clotilde Perrin & Rue du Monde

Will I go back to the Fair again? Definitely, given the chance. Next time hopefully a little more prepared!

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Paris Conference From Idea To Book

Recently I was in Paris to run a workshop at the SCBWI France Conference and attend the Salon du Livre Jeunesse (Children's Book Fair) in Montreuil.

It was actually touch and go whether I'd get there at all, as services on both sides of the English Channel were crippled by severe winter weather. My Eurostar train was cancelled, passengers for all journeys were left in a first-come-first served queue that stretched almost outside St.Pancras Station. After a two hour wait I was finally able to get on a later train that crawled across country, only for it to break down at Calais. I eventually reached Paris five hours later than scheduled after midnight, fortunately with a place to rest (thank you Erzsi!).

After these trials the SCBWI Conference From Idea To Book was a tonic. Held at Parson's Paris School of Design, it had a notable leaning towards illustrators. I opened the proceedings by giving one of two evening talks (the other was led by presentation expert Sandra Carey). The theme was portfolios, and was gratifyingly well attended despite the cold weather, everyone was very responsive.

The following day was the main quantum of the conference and hinged around two publishing professionals flown in specially from New York for the event. Patrick Collins (Creative Director) and Noa Wheeler (Editor), both from Henry Holt Publishers. Other presenters were UK-based agent Stephanie Thwaites, and my dear friends agent Erzsi Deak and author-illustrator Doug Cushman.

The two Holt presenters first gave an overview of the stages in the production of picture books from first sketches to finished product, using books illustrated by Doug Cushman, Steve Jenkins, J Rutland, Gennardy Spirin and Ed Young as examples. It was fascinating to compare the different processes of the artists and production issues they presented to the editors. From completely re-formatting one book to incorporate text (Spirin's Life in the Boreal Forest) to reworking colour (Rutland's Alligator Wedding), the evolution of the final product was explained in compelling detail. Doug joined in to talk about his latest title with Holt, Halloween Good Night, a book I helped with in a truly miniscule way, and was honoured to be included in the dedication.

L to R: Doug Cushman, Patrick Collins, Noa Wheeler, Stephanie Thwaites and Erzsi Deak
A panel discussion on the collaborative process finished the morning.

In the afternoon Stephanie Thwaites of Curtis Brown Literary Agency gave a comprehensive talk on the market, with particular emphasis on the development of digital media, e-books and Apps. I seem to be of the minority of illustrators who've so far resisted the temptations of the iphone and ipad so some of this went above my head, but bafflement aside Stephanie's talk was a thought-provoking call-to-arms into catching up with digital media... or risk getting left behind. At least I know what Christmas present I want this year!

Patrick Collins critiquing submission by Constance Von Kitzing
Afterwards I looked in on Patrick's workshop Sketches to Final Art. Prior to the Conference attendees had been asked to choose one of four very different picture book stories and illustrate a spread. Sketches had been submitted to Patrick for comment some time before the conference, then final art was critiqued on the day. Each submission was given the same detailed and thorough feedback from Patrick, it was an excellent project which I may approach art directors in the UK to try.

The final event was First Look, where four of the guest speakers gave immediate and penetrating feedback to sets of 3 illustrations or text excerpts submitted anonymously by attendees. This had first been tried with great success at Bologna just with illustrations, it was interesting to see how story excerpts were incorporated into the framework and the reactions of the panel to the broad range of work.

The one-day-plus-evening Conference was packed from start to finish and was an energising experience for staff, speakers and attendees alike. My deepest thanks to Conference Organiser Dana Carey, SCBWI France Regional Advisor Tioka Tokedira, and International Illustrator Coordinator Bridget Strevens-Marzo.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Sketch Crawl

Yesterday was the first British SCBWI Sketch Crawl event in London.

A group of ardent children's book scribblers descended on the Natural History Museum, and later moved on to the Victoria & Albert Museum. A report will be on the SCBWI Illustrator's blog shortly, but here are all the drawings I came up with.

sketching materials
As the organiser I was prepared for people turning up without drawing equipment, so I lugged a lot more materials than I would normally have needed. Here's what I carried for my own use.

Loaded with tools of the trade I set off during the rush hour on a cold but sunny morning, warming-up with a couple of sketches of tube commuters. Standing room only! These and several other drawings were made with a Pilot Hi-Tec C 0.4 pen, a very handy fine point nib, though not completely water proof. I use it for most of my pocket sketching in black and white, but it tends to bleed a little when wetted, especially when freshly applied, so I largely avoid colour work with it. 

Buildings on Cromwell Road, French & UN flags
While I waited for others to arrive there was time outside the Museum to try out some new ink and a different pen on the buildings across the road - Noodlers ink from the US is waterproof and supposed to be usable in ordinary fountain pens. However I found the flow to pen-nib a little too slow, and by the end of the afternoon the fountain pen nib had clogged up completely.

The event was publicised outside of SCBWI and was open to anyone to join in, not just our members. However as it turned out only members turned up on the day. And so, having assembled the company, we "officially" began the sketch crawl and dispersed within the Natural History Museum. I was particularly interested in the relationship between the exhibits, the visitors and the architecture of the building, so first up was a pencil panorama.

Giant Ground Sloth
The small child on the left was frightened of the giant sloth and had to be whisked off to less intimidating areas by his parents. But not before I'd grabbed the moment on paper. As an illustrator I'm always looking for a visual story!


The birds, the birds! Time to get out the watercolours. 

Griffon Vulture

... and gigantic plastic scorpions. Battling for Survival read the caption. The scorpion? Or the people it loomed over?
Battling for Survival


In the mammals section was this incredible creature, a full scale model of an extinct Moeritherium, one of the earliest known relatives of the elephant. How could I not draw this. Fantastic!

European Bison

Distant Relatives
The Natural History Museum is a very funny place. Visual humour is everywhere, incongruous juxtapositions between what lies on either side of the glass displays. This girl made me smile, she stood for a good few minutes blandly staring into the gaping jaws of the bear while jabbering away on her phone. Distant relations, connected by the moment!

Cafe people

And so to lunch in South Kensington, where I grabbed these two on adjoining tables.

In the afternoon we then headed to the Victoria and Albert Museum. rather than rush into the galleries I was mightily impressed by the shadows and subtle lighting of the entrance hall.
Entrance, Victoria & Albert Museum

I planted myself on a bench and switched materials to a Gillot 303, dip pen and bottle of ink, with a splash of watercolour to finish. My trusty companions!


gilt statue

Again seeking the visitor/exhibit contrast, I finished off our visit hanging out in the sculpture department, looking for more "stories" to record.

But at the end time ran out...
statue gazing

Finally  the event was over. Flushed with the euphoria of creative energy, the participants got together at the end and shared our collective productivity.
Some of the attendees. L to R: Sue Eves, Amber Hsu, Anne-Marie Perks, Claire Tovey, and yours truely.

Evening rush hour and I'm on the train home, but still scribbling!
evening rush-hour on the Circle Line

Almost home
Phew! 18 sketches in a day, busy work.  It was a very satisfying event which we certainly plan to repeat. If any readers are interested in participating let me know, anyone can join in, you don't need to be an SCBWI member, or a professional artist.

The idea for Sketch Crawls was started in the US a few years ago by Enrico Casarosa and soon spread over the world. For SCBWI I've kept the London version a separate event, however more information on the original concept is on the Sketchcrawl website.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Vultures Pick my Bones

I wouldn't say I love them, but I've no problem with vultures, they're a crucial part of the eco-system, their talent for waste disposal is unparalleled, without them we'd be in big trouble. In India the catastrophic decline of the vulture population has led to epidemics and streets filled with rabid feral dogs.

To my knowledge there are no vultures in Queen's Park, not that I've seen anyway, though I have my suspicions about some locals. The closest we get is magpies, not quite on the same level.

It's not the feathered variety of vultures I'm thinking of, but the literary kind. The sort that, when you're gone, take what remains of your reputation, and clean, strip, sell and market your work. I refer of course, to those efficient scavengers the galleries and bookshops.

I've been an incurable fan of antiquarian bookshops since I can remember, the smell of musty volumes on dimly-lit shelves bent with the weight of the printed word, the anticipation of discovering a valuable gem missed by the shop owner, sold for a fraction of it's true worth. The joy of perusing beautifully crafted tomes I could never afford, as well as more commonplace insights into everyday life of yesteryear. Then, as I began working and budget increased, I slowly started to accumulate work by my favourite illustrators - first editions of E. H. Shepherd, Rackham, Dulac, Ardizzone, Peake. As I don't drive and had no interest in sports, collecting books was one of the few areas I'd reward myself, what more fitting way to celebrate my publishing royalties than buying books by my long-gone heroes.

I avoided book dealers when I lived in Japan, I saved my old book hunting for my trips back to London, and kept the books in the UK. There are antiquarian bookshops in Tokyo (especially in the Jimbocho district), but the kind of books I sought (Golden Age Illustrated Children's) are imported and vastly overpriced, while the Japanese climate is never kind on printed paper.

Part of the dry-case collection while in Japan
I eventually shifted my UK collection to Tokyo, but invested in a humidity controlled dry case due to the intensely damp, sultry summers. Such precautions were absolutely necessary. My books have travelled from one side of the world to the other and back again, I've cared for them like my own offspring. 

Now I'm based back in London the lure of the old bookshop beckons once more.

For me, antiquarian bookshops are the ultimate tribute for an illustrator. After you're gone, when all that's left are your old books and a few precious originals in galleries and private collections, to have your work exalted in price and preserved on bookshelves is a wonderful thing.

Perhaps this has always been my ambition as an illustrator. It was the pursuit of old drawings by artists 100 years ago that made me want to be a book illustrator in the first place. For me the greatest indication of success is not a big house, or a fast car, or even winning the lottery, though these may be very pleasant things. Its the arrogant hope that in 100 years time I'll be remembered well enough that my yellowing books remain on some collectors shelf, long after my passing, that someone, somewhere, values my work well enough to sell it for some ludicrous figure on abebooks or whatever antiquarians use in future. That young poverty-striken students go scrabbling around in musty old shops looking for my work in the way I sought my favourite artists.

Well, we can dream can't we? The paradox is that you've got to be dead before this happens. I comfort myself by thinking if I end up obscure and penniless I can at least tell myself "ah yes, but in 50 years I'll be a household name" and drift away with a smile on my face. I'm an optimist you see, you have to be in this business.

This is why, conversely, I never worry about fame. You just get on with the job. Do your best, and tell yourself that someone, someday, will appreciate your efforts, even if you're no longer around. Your day will come, so why worry? Trusting in the eventual triumph of your own genius can be very comforting, it allows you to get on with things rather than worry if people like what you do. The fact is it really doesn't matter as long as you're paying the bills. The miseries only step in when you're not drawing, for if you're not creating something, you're not adding to your stockpile of creativity, your insurance towards immortality!

Some are lucky enough to be living legends, to have their work prized during their lifetimes. In the antiquarian book trade this often pushes up the prices of your back catalogue. What would really make me happy, more than the sale of zillions of copies of my latest work, is finding that some big-selling success makes my first, badly drawn rare book for which I was paid a pathetically small flat fee suddenly becomes hot property on the antiquarian market. When people seek even your immature work, now surely that is when you've really "made" it. Recently I bought an early Arthur Rackham illustrated first edition, Maggie Brown's Two Old Ladies, Two Foolish Fairies and a Tom Cat, published in 1897, years before he became famous and a time when Rackham was just starting to hone his familiar style. Its a rare item and a key milestone in his career, being one of his earliest fairytale works and the first time he was published in colour, but to a layman it's actually not that spectacular as a book, copies of it could easily be hiding overlooked on some old bookshelf. Nevertheless it's rarity pushes it up to the same price range as his later gorgeous gift books like Rip Van Winkle and Peter Pan. The artwork is laced with anticipation of what was to come.

So yes, kindly vultures do pick my bones please, pick them clean and sell them for half the price of a house, though I've no plans of kicking off the old mortal coil yet. Actually, come to think of it I've some artwork and books here which I'd be willing to part with while I'm still alive, surely that's worth a bob or two? And folks if you do have any of my books don't lose them, you never know, they could be a wise investment. Trust me, I'm an optimist.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Flying High

Here are some simple cuts from a regular series for ANA's inflight magazine Wingspan. The feature runs in alternative issues every 2 months on their international flights.

Each image is to illustrate an unusual festival celebrated in different parts of the world. Here are three: Man versus Horse Marathon (UK), Tanabata (Japan), and the Chonburi Water Buffalo race (Thailand).

Apart from being a fun series to work on, these stand-alone simple images give me a chance to experiment with texture.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Fear of the Wolf

Earlier this spring French children's publisher Bayard commissioned me to illustrate a feature for the magazine Les Belle Histoires entitled J'ai peur du loup ! (I Fear the Wolf!). 

This was a short conversational monologue by a small boy at bedtime, who fears wolves in the night. I was asked to illustrate the boys words with a series of very simple vignette images. "J'ai peur du loup, caché dessous..... J'ai peur du loup, trop grand debout..... Il crie beaucoup J'ai peur du loup ! J'ai peur du loup, qui dévore tout" and so on. The illustrations show the child acting out each fearful description of the wolf and his attempts to hide.

All ends well when the boy calls out in a big voice and frightens the imagined lupus away.

Monday, 9 August 2010

new sketches

While I'm soaking up the atmosphere in Tokyo here are some more recent sketchbook doodles....