Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Season's Greetings !

To all my friends and readers, whatever faith, background or heritage.  Wishing everyone a festive, relaxing and very Merry Christmas!

Monday, 23 November 2015

Why are children's book deadlines like buses?

They always run over time and then three arrive at once. 

What is it with my local buses? Yesterday the bus into town was 15 minutes late, then I waited nearly an hour with my daughter in the rain for a homebound bus back again. Why can't they keep to timetables? What is it that holds them up? 

From Michael Rosen's Nasty (Barn Owl Books edition, UK)

Well I shouldn't complain too much, I'm hardly one to point the finger at other people running late. This year has been demanding, illustrating books can take up a very large chunk of time, and I've been very, very late with all my projects, hence my limited online activity for much of this year. 

I wish I could anticipate production time for books more accurately, it's so much easier when you only have one or two images to create, e.g. for editorial (magazines) or other non-book work. I wouldn't say I prefer 'other' illustration over books, they're two entirely different types of work, but editorial is a lot more straightforward and easier to calculate schedules for. You read the commission, bash out some idea sketches which the editor quickly evaluates (in the case of Tokyo's Wingspan magazine it's within a matter of hours), do the artwork, and it's done! An editorial drawing might take just a couple of days including sketches, or at the most a week to turn around. 
Idea sketches for a recent editorial feature in Wingspan magazine, about an environmental exhibition featuring the biggest paper ball in the world. 
The finished illustration

Scheduling books however is much more difficult to calculate. 

For a start my technique and style of working is very different for books, the artwork for which is usually non-digital, in ink and watercolour. Books pull you into the 'world' of the text, you have to absorb the tone of the writing, to plan and compose the pages with a coherent narrative, to tell the story visually over succeeding spreads with strong characters and compelling compositions. It takes a great deal of contemplation and experiment to get into the skin of the text. Picture books usually have at least 20 images, often more, and always evolve and develop between concept to final book, whether self-penned or illustrating a commissioned text. At every stage of a book's production there are tweaks, re-writes/re-draws, adjustments and revisions, especially in the case of non-fiction where research is such a crucial aspect of the process. Books are complicated things with a whole manner of challenges that can potentially upset your carefully laid plans, even before you get to final drawing and painting the artwork. Despite the assumptions of a recent TV programme, you can't turn a book around in a day.

Early pencil sketch for Yozora o Miage-yo. A great deal changed between this and the final book.

All this planning and tweaking is okey if you just plan one commission at a time, but if you've more than one project in the pipeline the pressure is on. You might find a relatively small unanticipated delay with book 1 causes a major re-scheduling of book 2, and complete postponement for book 3, if the publishers can't wait you find yourself in a mad dash to meet multiple deadlines all landing at the same time. It's exactly comparable to how the ripple effects of minor delays cause major traffic jams, or buses to arrive late and bunched together.

This has been the case for me this year, which has been filled with two non-fiction picture books involving a lot of research and revision, one, Will's Words being a history of Shakespeare and the original Globe theatre, written by Jane Sutcliffe, and the other Yozora o Miage-yo (Let's Look at the Night Sky), written by Yuriko Matsumoto, on the subject of star-gazing. 

It's finished! Completed artwork for Yozora o Miage-yo

These were exciting but very involved projects, requiring much more time than initially anticipated. Both will see publication in 2016 - Will's Words by Charlesbridge publishers in the USA, and Yozora by Fukuinkan Shoten in Japan. 

There are certain ways you can speed things up - spend less time in front of a computer screen, work to more stringent daily routines etc., there are ways to limit distractions and cut down procrastination. But finding the correct balance is important, it's all very well working into the early hours, but with longer commissions what you gain from over-working on one day you tend to lose the next day due to fatigue. Sleep and exercise is important for efficiency, and for illustrators working from home studios both can suffer if you're not careful. Additionally as a widowed single parent I'm entirely responsible for the needs of my daughter, get her off to school in the morning, feeding, clothing and spending time with her, so burning the candle late at night is only an occasional option.
These books were absolutely fascinating to work on. I love being absorbed by non-fiction, the research, the challenges of getting it right and so on. With the artwork for these titles now completed though things will get a lot easier hereafter (touch wood!) -  I've other delayed book commissions waiting in the wings, and they are fun fiction projects - so not quite so much research required!

To all my long-suffering publishers and editors, my deepest apologies.

Now, onwards!

Sunday, 25 October 2015


My, it's been a long time since I posted to my blog, you may have thought in fact I'd given up on the blog entirely. Well no, not given up at all - but I made a decision to put things on ice for a while. There are a few reasons for this, one of the biggest being a very heavy workload this year, so I've cut back on a lot of social media until things get a little easier. 

So what have I been up to then? Here's a brief update on activities. 

First and foremost, a cover reveal! 

My next picture book collaboration with Jane Sutcliffe is currently awaiting release in the US in March 2016. Will's Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk, is published to coincide with the anniversary of Shakespeare's death in 1616, and takes the reader through the streets of Jacobean London to the Globe theatre. Dropped into the narrative are numerous words and phrases from his plays that are widely used in everyday speech today. I'm greatly excited about this book, research and production of the artwork consumed much of my workload during the first half of this year. This will be my second collaboration with Jane, (our previous book together Stone Giant: Michelangelo's David and How He Came to Be was released in 2013).

Currently I'm working on a picture book for Japanese publisher Fukuinkan Shoten, Yozora o Miageyo, with words by Yuriko Matsumura, which follows a child's discovery of the stars of the night sky, culminating in a country trip to see the Perseids meteor shower. This too is due for release in 2016 in Japan. Here's a sneak snapshot of some work-in-progress.

Other book projects thereafter are currently under wrap - all will be revealed in due time! 

Finally, I was recently honoured to be interviewed by writer Kathy Temean for her excellent blog Writing and Illustrating. This is a very full interview with plenty of images, so if you haven't seen it already do please have a look!

Saturday, 6 June 2015

More work for Wingspan

While I'm on a hiatus due to deadlines, here's some more work for Wingspan magazine....

Aroma Dating parties in London

Bathing in beer at the Starkenberger Beer Spa, Austria
A Silent Disco is shut down by the mayor of Salzburg for being too loud.

Yes, that's a self-portrait behind the turntables... well I couldn't resist.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Recent work for Wingspan Magazine

Here's some more of my regular monthly cut illustrations for Wingspan, ANA's inflight magazine on their international flights.

A story about a wild boar in Australia that went on a rampage after swigging 18 cans of beer.

Nepal's Bird man Gautam Sapkota, world record holder for his ability to mimic 151 species of bird

Dracula's Castle goes on sale
In Dresden a moose became stuck in an office building for six hours

More to come!

I've been shamefully behind with my blog this year, chiefly because I've been pretty well overwhelmed by some very involved book deadlines, things have been extremely hectic! It's not over yet, things are still very busy, but I'll post again when things get easier.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Crinkle, Crackle, Crack Released Today!

My latest picture book is launched today!

Released by Holiday House Publishers on 15th January, Crinkle, Crackle, CRACK, It's Spring!, is available in bookshops and online across North America, and in other countries via online bookstores.

The story is written by Marion Dane Bauer, regular followers may remember our previous picture book collaboration Halloween Forest in 2012. This time the theme is the change of seasons.

In the middle of a cold, late winter night a child is awoken by strange noises outside. In the garden stands a bear, who takes the child in a mysterious journey through woods covered in melting snow.

Other animals join them as they go, a rabbit, a squirrel, a beaver, and a newly hatched bird, while the strange cracking sounds grow louder.

Eventually they discover a giant egg, which bursts to reveal - Spring!

A Japanese language edition is due for release in February from Bronze Shuppan.

Crinkle, Crackle, CRACK, It's Spring!
Words by Marion Dane Bauer
Illustrated by John Shelley
Holiday House Books for Children, 32 pages
ISBN: 9780823429523

Friday, 2 January 2015