It has also been selected as Indie Book of the Month for March by the Booksellers Association, which is a fantastic nod to their first collaboration!
Little Bear's Spring is a lyrical tale of friendship and a celebration of nature and its changing seasons. The story follows a young bear as he wakes from his long winter sleep and, finding himself alone, he goes off in search of someone to play with. Briony's artwork brings a sun-dappled springtime landscape to life with breathtaking beauty! She has kindly given us a peek into her artwork process in this Q&A below.
I’m been a big fan of Elli Woollard’s writing and so when the text was first shown to me and I found out it was her story, I knew it would be amazing. Reading the first few lines I was hooked! There are so many stunning verses - ‘But when the bear picked up the stone from the slope, it felt warm, like a promise, and smooth, like new hope' and it’s so enjoyable to read out loud. I could also picture Little Bear straight away, as he went ‘lippetty-loppetty’ off on his journey. The setting meant I could have lots of fun experimenting with the snow, and play with the sunlight on the wintery landscape, contrasting with the fresh greens of spring at the end. And all the team at Macmillan are absolutely amazing and made the project so wonderful to work on!
First I started creating the Little Bear character. What could be more fun than googling baby bear photos and videos! I also had a little play with some concept artworks, to practise the lighting on the snow. Then I got stuck into roughing out the pages, introducing the other animals and researching the flora and fauna of the rockies, where it is loosely set. I like to make sure the flowers and animals are as accurate to the landscape as I can make them. Once the roughs were approved I started to work on the final artwork. I had so many photos archived of Canadian wild flowers and red cardinal birds. I also had some fun elongating the story with the endpapers, which show the vast difference between winter and spring at the beginning and end of the story.
There aren’t any that didn’t make the cut that I wish had, but the challenge was balancing the horizon line of the mountains and allowing room for the text to sit. Luckily, the snowy landscape created it’s own space for the text in the ground in many spreads!
Without giving the story away, there is a spread of wildflowers that I really enjoyed working on, but I think my favourite is the spread where the hares are racing around a tree. There is a chipmunk hiding in the branches and a female red cardinal bird with her nest.
I found the challenge of creating snowy landscapes really enjoyable. Snow can absorb the colours of sunrise and sunset, and sunny shadows, in lots of really interesting ways. We had a lot of snow as I was starting work on the book, which was the perfect opportunity to take reference photos. Low sun and long shadows, snow drifts, flowers poking though the snow, so I had lots to draw on. I think the transitional spreads were the most challenging - you can’t champion one season over the other just yet, you have to show a bit of both. Some of my favourite spreads to work on are the snowiest, where I was able to play with the sunlight and shadows affecting it’s colours.
You’re so good at adding sub-plots and incidental characters in your illustrations, is there anyone in particular that children can enjoy look out for?
There is a chipmunk who looks directly at the reader here and there, often reflecting the Little Bear’s mood or safety. The red cardinal bird steals a twig from Little Bear for his own nest in one spread. I really enjoyed hiding the smaller critters in the artwork on the sidelines, especially because there are so many animals to choose from in that landscape.
Little Bear’s Spring has been selected as INDIE picture book of the month by the Bookseller's Association - congratulations! Can you give us a heads-up of any events surrounding the book’s launch that you will be involved in?
I am so excited and delighted that Little Bear’s Spring was selected! I am window painting in some fantastic independent bookshops near me. ‘Winstone’s’ in Sidmouth on Saturday 2nd March, and ‘The Bookshop’ in Bridport on Saturday 9th March. If you are in the area please come by and say hello, and I can sign your book if you’d like me to. Look out for Little Bear on the windows of those shops as you walk past! I will be posting pictures of the finished windows on my social media.
Little Bear's Spring, written by Elli Woollard and illustrated by Briony May Smith, designed by Lorna Scobie, is published by Macmillan Children's Books, £11.99 (HB) / £6.99 (PB).