It’s a wrap! Well, the year isn’t quite out, but our annual Christmas wrapping paper designs have hit the post room and are landing on publishers’ desks as we type. This year we are super grateful for stunning designs from Lo Cole, Ira Grishanova, Alice McKinley and Moera. Feast your festive eyes on them!
While here in the UK, Macmillan Children's Books have published A Treasury of Ballet Stories by Caryl Hart. Discover the world of ballet with this lovely collection of four beloved classical ballets, brought to life with magical illustrations by Briony.
Olia was commissioned as one of seven artists to illustrate The Harry Potter Wizarding Almanac, by Bloomsbury. A compendium of facts about the wizarding world, it's full of lists, charts, maps, beloved characters and iconic locations from the books.
Olia's rich illustrations capture details such as packing for Hogwarts, the magical entries into the wizarding world, Weasley's Wizard Wheezes explosive shopfront, Harry's Christmas presents over the years and Hagrid's eclectic pets.
Staffan Gnosspelius took us through his process in creating his wordless picture book Bear, published earlier this year with Seven Stories.
Why did you decided to create a wordless picture book?
This project started in my sketchbook. I started drawing this bear with a cone on his head. The decision to make it into a wordless picture book came much later. In the beginning there was no storyline, just a collection of images of this bear and the hare that tried to help him. Once the storyline started to emerge it didn’t feel right to start using words. Words was never an option really. It would have changed the idea too much. Given it a different flavour.
Why etching? How did you get into this method of illustration?
Etching is old school. It takes time, but it has this vintage look. And it’s hard. Lines that are etched into the copper plate. Black lines. Black scars in the etching plate. Foulbite. This is when the acid eats into places on the plate that wasn’t intended to be etched. I have a lot of foulbites in my etchings. I like them. I like them so much that I use the back of old plates the I find in the printmaking studio, so that the starting point is already messy and full of scars from the previous owner.
Where did the inspiration for BEAR come from?
The inspiration came from a dark place. I used this project to deal with some heavy aspects in my life at that time. At the time I was struggling to understand and help someone very close to me who was dealing with depression and alcoholism. In the beginning there was no thought of a book or publication. It was just me drawing to get things off my chest or out of my head.
How many etchings did you create in the end?
I think it’s about 160 or thereabouts. But I can’t remember which sketchbook that I wrote it down in...
Did you have an etching that was particularly difficult?
I've been doing collages and drawings for this project alongside all the printmaking. Not only in my sketchbooks
but also on larger sheets of paper. Sometimes they developed into a print, but most of the time they are left as drawings. There was one image I didn't want to make into an etching: The hare has been holding on while being dragged along after the bear. Then the bear turns around and shouts at him. This image is just the drawing because I didn't want to have more than one copy of this part of the story.
Are there any images that changed significantly while working on the book?
Actually, the cover was the only image that went back and forth with the publishers...you can see some versions below.
Do you have any illustrators or artists that inspire you?
At Artichoke printworkshop, where I do my etchings, the standard of artwork created there is pretty high. There are two artists who's work I really admire and respect. One is Jake Garfield, who creates massive woodcuts, full of details, patterns and humour. The other artist is Marcelle Hanselaar who's work is pretty nitty gritty and not for the fainthearted.
Lastly, tell us about your upcoming exhibition
This upcoming exhibition at Printroom Studios is a great chance to see the substantial body of work that went into bear. The setting is spectacular: a contemporary gallery space set in a converted cattle-barn in Suffolk. The artwork has been hung in the order of the story, so you can experience the book in a different dimension. There are also some etchings that were not published in bear that are on display.
This show, which is the first time Printroom Studios has shown work from a graphic novel, will complement the one day literary Flip Side Festival on the 23rd September:
16th September - 1st October
11 am - 5 pm on Saturdays and Sundays
To hear more about Staffan's work, check out his website where there is also a video showing you Staffan's studio and creating a print while he talks about his book.
Congratulations to Camilla who has a new picture book publishing this September. My Grandma’s Magic Recipes: Winter Warmth, written by Ella Phillips (Simon & Schuster UK) is the first of four seasonal celebrations of food, family and the magic of cooking together. Camilla’s vibrant artwork beautifully complements Ella’s warm rhyming text and the resulting book is a heart-warming story and recipe book that packs a plant-powered punch! Now, where are those gingerbread biscuits…
The hugely popular The Beast and the Bethany series by Jack Meggitt-Phillips is getting a re-vamp with Isabelle's artwork, just in time for the fourth book Child of the Beast to hit the shelves. Published with Farshore.
Júlia Sarda, Myriam Dahman and Nicolas Digard
We’re excited to see the paperback edition of Leina and the Lord of the Toadstools written by Myriam and Nicolas and illustrated by Júlia publish this month with Orchard Books. The Bookseller highlighted this stunning picture book as a One to Watch, calling it an ‘atmospheric fairytale’ and ‘magical and mysterious…with a delicious threat of danger.’ Perfect for Autumnal reading!
Júlia Sardà and Camilla Sucre
We’re delighted that two of our illustrators, Júlia and Camilla, are part of Children’s Laureate Joseph Coelho’s Ten Word Tiny Tales (Walker Books) story anthology. Is it possible to spin a tale using just ten words? Well, with this compendium of inspiration, it most certainly is! The perfect gift for all those ready to unleash their imaginations.
Rachael Dean and Sònia Albert
Rachael has a second fiction cover out this month, a charming new edition of the beloved classic Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. And she isn't the only one who has been revamping the Oxford Children's Classic range, Sònia was also commissioned to bring a new, stylish look to the well-known Arthur Conan Doyle's story: The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Bob vs The Trousers of Doom by Andy Jones is the unmissable follow-up to to Bob vs The Selfie Zombies, out now with Picadilly Press. This futuristic adventure with robot gorillas and an evil supercomputer is is brought to life with Robin's illustrations.
It's been a busy month for Robin, who has also illustrated The Wonder Team and the Forgotten Footballers by Leah Williamson, captain of the Euros-winning women’s England team. Written with author Jordan Glover, this is another time-travelling adventure, except this time we're heading into the past to a time where women's football has been banned!
We sat down with Alice to chat all about frogs - or rather chat about her latest picture book, This Rock Is Mine!published with Alison Green Books.
Just some of the frogs...
Early cover concepts
First stop: getting the characters down. I have found that sometimes you have to ask some weird questions when working in children's publishing. And “should the frogs be naked?” was one of them. In the end, we decided that a frog wearing a scarf but nothing on their bottom half might be a bit weird, so clothes it was! It was so much fun creating their unique personalities, right down to the lily pads on their swim shorts.
Next step, roughing out the book! There is a lot of problem solving that goes into making a book. So I often do super quick thumbnails as they can be a great way of figuring out what layout and composition work best before drawing them out as a proper rough.
Below you can see the same image, but with different layouts, so I could figure out what would give the most dynamic impact and suspense before the following page turn. In the end we did non of these. But we did do a zoomed out view so we could see the full body of the heron. (I think it was so kids would have a better idea of what the shadow was.)
Then, once the decision had been made, I did a more detailed rough that I could use as reference for the final art. As you can see it’s still pretty rough, but at least I knew where to put the deckchair!
Once approved, I worked up a digital colour rough, just to make sure the hues, saturations and values of the image were all working. (Bet you’re thinking that deck chair is looking preeeetty good now yeah?).
Finally it's time to start the final art! I got my watercolours out and I coloured in that deckchair. I also consumed an entire packet of biscuits, listened to the entirety of Circe in audio-book form whilst eye balling some paper and I probably forgot to blink for 2 days too. Pretty sure illustration is why I wear glasses…
Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the process behind This Rock Is Mine! as much as I enjoyed illustrating it. And if you ever find your self being attacked by a heron, just remember to take your deckchair with you. Because it took me ages to draw it! Bye!
Who doesn’t love a book about squabbling frogs!? Described as 'fabulously funny' this delightful picture book This Rock Is Mine! by author Kaye Umansky is out now with Alison Green Books.
Alice's illustrations bring warmth and humour to this brilliant rhyming story about two frogs who simply DO NOT want to share their rock. Can they overcome a common foe and become friends? You'll have to buy a copy to find out...
We love these colourful and bold new scenes from our newest signing Moera!
Congratulations to our author Jo Simmons whose second teen novel, The Reluctant Vampire Queen Bites Back, publishes with Hot Key Books this month. The stakes are high for Mo Merrydew, Reluctant Vampire Queen of Great Britain, in this laugh-out-loud second book in the Reluctant Vampire Queen series – perfect for fans of Geek Girl and Buffy.
Coming soon…. DORIS! More next month!
We caught up with Cindy to chat about her latest picture book, The Gardening Dog (Macmillan Children’s Books, £7.99).
Planting the story seeds
Most of my story ideas are reflections of daily life. When I started developing this new story idea, I had just moved into a new apartment with a huge balcony. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I stayed home most of the time and decided to make good use of the space. I began growing plants and being obsessed with gardening. Every morning before work, I would walk around my little garden, sometimes spending the whole afternoon sketching the beautiful plants. I enjoyed creating images related to botanical topics, and my sketchbook was filled with foliage and little animals engaged in gardening.
Alongside the gardening theme, I also started developing the character of the dog. I began by sketching different breeds of dogs and explored various dog characters working in different places. Although most of them didn't make it as the main character in the final story, I kept some of them as side characters.
After considering a few story ideas, I chose one dog character from the initial sketches and decided to create a story about her as a 'gardening dog'. While brainstorming the main idea of the story, I initially wanted to address environmental issues. But, after discussions with the editors, we decided to focus on the gardening aspect and the lovely relationship between the little dog and a little boy.
The process of writing the story was challenging yet lots of fun, and it was fascinating to see how it gradually evolved into the final version. Both my agent, Helen, and the editors, Grace and Emily, provided valuable insights to help develop the story. For example, I initially wrote the story from the perspective of the little boy, but we found that it worked better when the voice was changed back to the gardening dog. We also had many discussions about the main message of the story, which evolved from being about nature to the idea that if you wait patiently, something wonderful will happen.
Letting the characters bloom
Among all the processes involved in creating this story, I enjoy the character development the most. Since I hadn't drawn many dogs before, I made several sketches of dogs in different poses before working on the layouts.
As I didn't have a dog of my own, I used YouTube videos of dogs as references for my sketches. Once I had a better understanding of their movements, I focused on the details and appearance of the main characters. With helpful suggestions from the art director, Lorna, I changed the initial see-through hat of the character to a brown cowboy hat and added more colours to the character's body.
For the other main character, the little boy Lewis, I experimented with several possible appearances and outfits. While working on it, I imagined how a shy and artistic boy would look, and it was a lot of fun to explore different versions of him. The most challenging aspect was deciding on the colors of his clothing because there were already multiple shades of green throughout the book. It was important for the main characters to be easily recognizable on every page, so I finally settled on a light blue overall for Lewis because it would be eye-catching against the green background.
Weeding, watering and planning my story
Before working on the actual layouts, I like to brainstorm possible composition ideas and interesting elements in my sketchbook. I initially designed the appearance of Lewis and his mother's house, the paintings they would hang on their walls, and any plant-related items that would work well in the final versions of the drafts.
The development of the first title page in this book was both challenging and interesting. Usually, the illustration on this page conveys the overall message of the whole book and serves as a learning page before the story begins. My original idea was to create an image of the gardening dog hugging plants or holding blooming flowers. However, after discussing with the art director, she suggested focusing on the story's message about "waiting." I decided not to limit the illustration to the story alone and added some creative ideas. Eventually, I thought it would be great to depict the gardening dog looking through a telescope, implying the message that she was "expecting something wonderful to happen" and leading us to the next page. Instead of having her hold plants, I changed the composition into the scene that she was standing on a huge flower!
I personally love the final version of this picture, as it reminds me that there are always wonderful things waiting for us in the future.
Allowing the colour to blossom
Due to the story's topic, there were many greenish colours used in this project. Green has always been one of my favourite colours, so I had a lot of fun working with the colours throughout the book.
The first challenge was creating a variety of green tones throughout the pages. Initially, I preferred the cooler green tones, but I realised they looked quite similar on each page. So later I added more yellowish green or lighter green shades in different scenes.
Another issue that concerned me was how to ensure a cohesive color palette between the backgrounds and the two main characters. Since the colours of the gardening dog and Lewis were contrasting, there weren't too many options.
I decided to draw the background and characters separately to make it easier to test the colours. This helped expedite the process when making adjustments.
To be honest, I mostly followed my instincts when working with the colours. This approach was riskier because it sometimes required me to redraw the same page multiple times. However, I enjoyed the experimental process.
The first page I worked on in this book was the image of the characters gathering together (shown above). Initially, I planned to use a light green background as a contrast to the characters, but I found it didn't work well. It occurred to me that leaving the background white would create breathing space in the image. So, in the end, I decided to add only a few lines to show the grass in the background, and it turned out much better than my first attempt.
Planting things to spot within the story
One interesting aspect of picture books is that the illustrations can convey additional messages that the text doesn't mention. So, while working on the illustrations, I enjoyed creating some hidden sub-plots in the story.
While working on the nature scenes, I thought it would be lovely to include additional little characters in the garden. Rather than simply having them appear on every page, I created a storyline for them throughout the book.
For example, if you look closely, you'll notice a pink caterpillar with a hat in the previous pages. As time passes, the caterpillar starts forming a chrysalis outside the window. In the end, we see the caterpillar transform into a beautiful butterfly, gathering nectar in Lewis and Daisy's garden. The hat always makes the caterpillar easy to spot.
Another fun addition to the book is the birds. They are always around Lewis and Daisy throughout the story, and I wanted to establish a connection between them and the main characters.
So, we can see the birds gradually getting to know each other while the two characters meet in the garden of the rescue center. One bird prepares a bunch of flowers as a first-meeting gift and invites another little bird to see the beautiful plant pots Daisy has grown.
Later in the story, they become a sweet bird family and have a lovely birdhouse created by Lewis in the garden. Even during winter, they are invited to celebrate Christmas in the house.
Although these sub-plots may not be the main focus of the story, I believe they bring joy to kids who don't know how to read yet. They can simply "read" the pictures and still have a lot of fun!
A Garden Visitor – did you spot him?
It’s a privilege’ for an author or illustrator to include personal memories and pets in the story.
While working on the book, I often thought of my childhood. I was very shy and found it hard to relax in unfamiliar environments. I was greatly encouraged when I read a story about a shy kid finding a way to show his inner world to others. So, I thought it would be nice to create a story with two main characters who share introverted personalities. As the story unfolds, their courage grows, and a heartwarming message is delivered directly to each other's hearts.
Being a cat person, it's a must for me to include cats in every story. Even though this particular story is about dogs, I still added some cute cats. One spotlight cat in the book is the Bookshop Cat - who was the main character in another of my book. He and Violet visit the dog town in this story, and he can be seen in various scenes doing his favourite thing — reading! Another important cat depicted in the illustrations is my own cat, Bao. I adopted her while working on this book. One interesting fact about her is that she is shown as being very helpful, which is not always the case in real life!
We are so excited this special book is out now with Walker Books. The Repair Shop Craft Book is written by the team behind The Repair Shop TV show and beautifully illustrated by Sònia.
A great gift for all craft-lovers, it’s jam-packed with activities for kids and features over 30 classic crafts, all illustrated by Sònia in step-by-step instructions. One for the summer holidays!
Once again, Robin and Katie Kear have teamed up to illustrate The Attack of the Robot Librarians, the action-packed follow up to last years The Underpants of Chaos. Written by Sam Copeland and Jenny Pearson and published with Puffin.
Roxana De Rond
With all the hot weather we've been having lately, Roxana's new artwork truly captures those idyllic days in the park filled with family gatherings. Roxana is available for picture book and fiction work, contact email@example.com for commissions.
Illustrating Peter Bently’s story, Skunk! Skedaddle! with the team at Andersen Press was a dream job, I am super proud of this book. Let me tell you about my process and experience of working on it.
I love drawing movement. It’s a rewarding challenge to grasp motion in a single image. The author Peter has packed this story with movement, as people are continually ‘skedaddling’ away from poor Sally the skunk.
Before securing this job, I was asked to create some sample artwork, which included designing Sally’s character and an internal page in full colour. I was a keen bean so I gave my best effort and was over the moon when they offered me the job.