Ronshin asked me to create two characters for their baby brand, koala siblings called Amelia and Benny from a very happy family. They had very specific and clear ideas about these two characters already so I had a strong starting point to work from. I often do research online (mostly Pinterest) to gather reference images for my illustrations. I started out drawing koalas and then gradually transformed them to have more human-like characteristics.
The client also briefed me to work on several different facial expressions for both characters, and to draw them in various scenarios or situations. Going through these processes really brought Amelia and Benny to life and helped me in understanding their characters better.
On the blog today we asked Hanako Clulow to chat to us about a recent branding project for the Ronshin Group, a Chinese publisher specialising in novelty and high-end educational titles for children. Hanako was commissioned to create two characters based on their logo for a range of merchandising to promote their brand.
I often find the colour stage the trickiest and originally went with more traditional colours for Amelia’s clothing. I tend to overthink and can lean towards being more conservative in my colour choices. After some feedback from the client, we adjusted the colour to brighter ones which worked really well and definitely made the characters feel much more contemporary.
It's been a great collaborative process and Ronshin has produced some fantastic merchandising from my illustrations of Amelia and Benny. They have been brought to life in several different ways ranging from 3D figures, to cushions and even a thermos! It's been lovely to see my characters made into these products and my kids have loved receiving and using all the merchandise!
Take a peek inside award-winning author-illustrator Melissa Castrillón’s sketchbook as she tells us a bit more about her working process on her latest book Can You Keep A Secret? which has been chosen as the Children’s Indie Book of the Month for March and tells the story of a little girl called Winnie who discovers some magical, mythical creatures…
Below are some early sketchbook pages for Can You Keep A Secret?
Next up colour. For me colour is what brings the whole thing to life and it sometimes comes quite easily but on other occasions it can take a while to nail down the perfect palette.
The book itself is printed in spot colours, similar to a mass produced screen print technique, where each of the five colours are printed separately. This provides a really vibrant finish and also allows each colour to blend when layered, to produce secondary colours. It’s an amazing way of doing a book! And I feel so lucky to have my book printed in this way, it’s really old school and the finished book is so vivid.
And here’s the finished book, hope you enjoy it!
Thanks to editor Alison, art director Zoe and the team at Scholastic.
Can you talk us through your process for creating the illustrations for the book?
My process usually begins with a decent amount of panic, but once I get started on some loose character sketches, I feel much more confident. I'm normally drawing tiny thumbnails first, but this time I scribbled some loose ideas directly onto the layout prints with the text already in place, I then gradually added more details, refining my sketches:
Once the roughs were approved, I made some very detailed coloured studies for every spread, because it was vital to work out how the colour would flow throughout the book. After the approval I could move to final art using watercolor and gouache with coloured pencil on top, just concentrating on the painting process, which was really relaxing and fun. I then scanned the artwork and used Photoshop to clean up unwanted bits, to to do some color tweaking, and to add details, like the eyes, white lines or tiny patterns.
Many artists work fully digitally nowadays, why do you prefer to draw traditionally?
I love the unpredictability of some art materials and the variety of textures you get from watercolors, gouache or pencil. I haven’t figured out yet how to achieve the same effects digitally within a reasonable period of time. Also I’m terribly overwhelmed by the endless possibilities that digital painting programs give you. Or maybe I’m just too obsessed with granulating paint, waxy pencils and vintage nibs!
It looks like you had a lot of fun with all the characters. How do you go about creating them all and giving them personalities?
Drawing characters is my favorite thing! For this book I didn’t have to worry about consistency, as every poem features another main character. It meant I could come up with lots of different girls and boys focusing on representing diversity, something I’m really passionate about. I often go through children’s catalogues (vintage and new) to find inspiration and I create little imaginary background stories for the characters to get a feeling for how they would move and what they might wear. But in the end it’s all quite intuitive.
Do you have a favourite spread or particular rhyme that you liked?
I particularly love the the first rhyme 'What are Little Girls Made Of?'. I've always been irritated by the sugar and spice ingredients for the girls in the original rhyme, Jeanne transformed this into 'hearts and brain' and the boys are made of 'much the same', which sets the tone for the entire book so brilliantly. I also really like the spread with Diddle Diddle Dumpling, simply because I got to draw monsters!
Did any of the spreads change significantly throughout the process?
The first spread in the book changed a lot, it was a tricky one, because it doesn’t have a real narrative and it has to set the tone for the rest of the book.
It was so lovely to work on this with Nia Roberts from Nosy Crow, she has a keen eye for colour.
And final question, who are you inspired by?
Oh, there are so many incredible illustrators that I’m inspired by, if I would name them all, my list would be unbearably long. If I limit myself to a few, I adore Edward Gorey for his inky lines and his dark sense of humor, Miroslav Sasek for his sense of colour and composition, Richard Scarry and Maurice Sendak for their unique characters and Júlia Sardà for all that.
Thank you Isabelle! If you want to see more artwork from the book please visit Isabelle's portfolio.
Good news my submission are open - FINALLY. Bad news I’m really, really, REALLY picky. I probably only take on one new author every six-nine months. I want to be able to give all my authors enough of my time and for their books to all feel distinct and different across my small list.
First things first, I’m pinning this bit up front – as it’s always amazing how many people don’t read to the bottom.
Things I’m NOT looking for at present:
PICTURE BOOK TEXTS
BOOKS FOR ADULTS (I am a children’s book specialist)
So what am I looking for and how would I best describe my taste?
I have a small clutch of authors, so the books I represent all have to feel different enough to sit alongside each other in our agency stable.
I represent Laura Ellen Anderson (Amelia Fang) Dominque Valente (Starfell) Angela Woolfe (Roxy & Jones) amongst others, so my taste is definitely commercial with an element of quirk.
Having worked in house in publishing (as a commissioning editor) and then as a foreign rights scout I’m always thinking about who the reader is, how I will pitch the book to a publisher, why the story matters and how will it stand out in a crowded market.
I love epic, inventive yet seemingly effortless worldbuilding – whether in MG or YA. I’m drawn to big concept with quirk and originality – whether that’s in the voice, the world, or the way the story is told.
I already represent a fair amount of magical, middle grade fantasy so any submissions in that vein have to feel fresh, unique and surprising, to really stand out for me.
I’m always open to graphic novel proposals and author/illustrated fiction. Or ideas from illustrators who want to expand their writing – if I think there’s something original in the idea and I love the style of art, I’m happy to help illustrators find and develop that story.
I am actively looking to open doors in publishing to more BAME and BIPOC authors and under-represented voices. We need more diversity and diverse voices in all books and I pledge to do better.
So here's my current MSWL:
Please read my submissions guidelines here about how to submit your work. And I look forward to hearing from you!
We are thrilled to announce two new artists to the Pickled ink portfolio! Welcome Sònia Albert and Gosia Herba, we are excited to have so much talent joining us and two very distinct styles.
Sònia is an illustrator from Mataró, a Mediterranean city near Barcelona. After several years working in a comic studio she moved to the UK to attend the Children’s Book Illustration MA course at Cambridge School of Art, graduating in 2020. Her artwork was shortlisted for the Sebastian Walker Prize awarded at the graduates private view show every year.
Sònia works predominantly in traditional pencil, colouring her drawings in digitally and combining them with print-making textures. Her atmospheric illustrations have an expressive line, endearing characters and a strong sense of place.
Also a keen writer, Sònia has several illustrated graphic novel and picture book ideas that she is currently developing. Her clients include Bromera and Algar edicions.
For queries regarding Sònia's work or her availability please contact Amy Kitcherside at email@example.com
Gosia specialized in jewellery-making at the National School of Fine Arts in Poland. She went on to study Art History at university, focusing on the history of illustration which informed her choice to become an illustrator. For over a decade she has worked with advertising, editorial and publishing clients all over the world but recently her interests have shifted towards children's books. Her first picture book, Elephant on the Moon, was written by her husband, Mikołaj Pasiński, and published by Centrala in 2016.
Gosia’s illustrations feature stylish characters and a bold, often limited, colour palette. She has a playful sense of design which brings joy to her work, yet she also creates images which are contemplative and still, encouraging you to linger on them and get lost in the moment.
Her clients include: Quarto Group, Google, The Washington Post, Penguin Random House, Monocle, and Vanity Fair.
For queries regarding Gosia's work or her availability please contact Charlie Bowden at firstname.lastname@example.org
Where did the idea for Newton come from?
I was chatting to my Mum about her dog Millie who had recently escaped and gone on her very own adventure. Thankfully, she finally came home, but when she did, she was covered in burrs, ticks, and goodness knows what. We sort of joked about what she must have gone through and it came from there. Maybe Millie had more than one life, like a cat? Either way, she was one lucky dog!
When did work on Newton start and can you talk to us a bit about the process of finding a publisher for your first debut? Was the process how you expected it to be and what have you learned?
I started work on Newton whilst I was doing the MA in Children’s Books at Anglia Ruskin in 2017 and I exhibited it as part of the degree show. I knew it needed some work but the bare bones were there. A lot of publishers came to the degree show and Newton got a lot of interest. I was VERY lucky that Newton got that much attention, because it meant that I got to choose which publisher I wanted to work with. This is a luxury that is pretty rare in publishing as far as I’m aware! And I’m still in disbelief, as I was fully prepared to come away from the show having no interest at all! I learnt that a story with some final art, and the seed of an idea can be enough for a publisher to take interest. I think they like to be able to collaborate with you on a project too, so don’t like anything too final when you first submit your artwork and ideas.
Could you take us through your process. How do you work - is it traditional or digital or a mixture of both?
For Newton I drew everything out in pencil crayon and then went over it in watercolour to give it a bit more vibrancy and depth. Then I scanned it all in, and tidied any bits up, adding more shading and lighting on Photoshop. I’d like to get back into relying less on Photoshop though, as drawing with crayons and watercolour feels like I’m flying! Love it.
How has the book evoked and changed since its first concept?
Newton has changed immensely from when I started it! I filled 9 sketchbooks, had a pile of A3 pages of artwork experiments and hours and hours of time spent on Photoshop before I got my story to a place where I was ok with it. I drew my basset hound over and over again in so many different poses until he became simplified and I had a good idea of his character. I did the same with the cat too! As for the story, I must have re-drawn the story about 8 times to get the page turns and layout right.
Then the story went through a further 5 or so versions when I developed it with S&S too! Newton had swum with sharks, been chased by bees, ran from an avalanche, sky dived, sang in front of an audience, ran on a horse race track, been electrocuted by a rogue robot, pooped in a policeman’s hat, you name it. He’d done it! But we chipped away at it until it became about him exploring a nature reserve full of dangerous animals, rather than just a collection of random dangerous activities. I then did even more versions of the book figuring out which order to put the scenes in and whether they’d be double page spreads or single pages. Basically it’s changed A LOT!
Have you included any little sub plots within your artwork?
There are a few bits to spot throughout the book… one of my favourite things is a swamp monster that appears 3 times in total in the book. Not sure why I decided to put this guy in there but it entertained me at the time!
Was there a spread that you found particularly challenging?
The bear spread was probably the hardest one to figure out… It must have gone through about 3 different colour palettes before I found one I was happy with.
What has been your favourite thing about this whole process?
My favourite thing was that I got to look at dog reference all day! Also I must have drawn Newton in about 20 different pooping poses, and it cracked me up! Poo humour always gets me. Maybe one day I’ll grow up. But probably not.
Now it’s out there, if there anything you would change if you were working on Newton now?
I kind of wish I had put in more little extra story lines or things to spot on every page. Like a little frog or ladybird or something. But there’s plenty of that in my next book!
Do you have a favourite spread?
My favourite spread is the museum spread! I’m really happy with the colour palette and looseness of the art on the left hand page. Plus the museum was modelled on the Natural History Museum in London, and I had great fun coming up with the ideas for the animal pillars. I’m also pretty proud of the scorpion page. Those little guys are just so angry!
Who are you inspired by?
I’m inspired by a lot of animators and concept artists from the 60s. The concept art for 101 Dalmatians is just pure magic!
What would be your ultimate project to work on if you could do anything?
I would love to do something super stripped back with tons of white space. Totally character lead and just hints of backgrounds. I really love that a white background can be anything. It was be an ocean, a park, a bedroom or outter space. Love that it leaves the reader to use their imagination. But I think you have to have a great character and story and simplicity of style to pull it off. Definitely something I’d like to try and explore… Either that or something to do with robots. That would be bad-ass.
What would you like to do next?
I have so many silly picturebook ideas I would love write! But I’d also like to try my hand at writing a young fiction too! That won’t be for some time though.
Finally, do you have any tips for illustrators starting out?
My advice is to keep drawing! People always talk about how important it is to find our own visual signature, and I always thought that finding your ‘style’ was really hard. But I realised that you find your visual signature in the same way you find your handwriting. Just keep drawing (from life) and it will come naturally. Embrace the mark making and the quirks that make your work naturally yours.
Thanks Alice! Alice's second author-illustrated picture book with Simon & Schuster comes out in March 2021, with a two further books planned after that so lots of silly adventures ahead! In the meantime you can check out some fiction covers Alice has been working on over in her portfolio.
The Huffalots is a book about love and grumpiness, and the ups and downs of sibling relationships. My children would like me to make it clear that the grumpy Huffalots are not based on them (but I maybe took a little inspiration from the ebb and flow of their sibling rivalry. The grumpy mother on the other hand is entirely made up!)
Does it take you a long time to write a text, once you’ve had the idea? Do you have any special writing rituals you can share with us?
The main bulk of this particular text came fairly quickly once I had had the idea. However I try to develop lots of ideas and many go absolutely nowhere, so The Huffalots was a lucky four leafed clover amongst many less inspiring three leafed versions.
Once I've had an idea, I’m a fan of sitting in coffee shops to work out the details and sketch out characters and scenes. I take a lot of time trying to figure out where the page turns should be. I like the reveal of a page turn and I always try to consider how to use them effectively when I'm planning a story.
Once I’ve had the rough drawings approved, I paint the illustrations with watercolours, coloured pencils and aquarelle pastels. I sometimes tweak some colours in photoshop but generally I like the inconsistencies that traditional artwork will always have. The paint and colours will always fluctuate a bit and I really like this about using traditional materials. For example here are two of of the original paintings for The Huffalots.
Were there any tricky problems you had to overcome, with the text or illustrations? How did you solve them?
I think every project has a few sticking points. Deciding on the colour palette is difficult for me but I find that discussing it with Beccy, my brilliant art director, is often really helpful when I get stuck.
For example the spread where the children are at the park was tricky because the image kept feeling too green overall (below) and it was difficult to try to balance that. Often these issues will arise at the beginning of the artwork phase and once its worked out for one spread, its much easier to resolve for the rest.
Another sticking point was the text for the final spread. I liked the words, “So whether Huffalot or Lovealot, they each know they’re loved a lot” but I found the preceding part of the sentence really difficult. I went through so many different versions with my lovely editor, Sue, before we found precisely the right wording. I think the limited number of words in picture books means you have to be very selective with your choice of language. One of the joys of this project was that I got to invent some of the words. I’ve always loved making up words, which I think stems from my inability to spell and my childhood love of Roald Dahl.
Do you have a favourite spread?
Hmmm, I think I’d say I like the kitchen spread because I really enjoy putting details into the backgrounds of my illustrations. For example I have cards on the fireplace of a cat and a mouse which I like to think represent the children when they’re fighting. I then also add bits from my own life like the girl is holding a dinosaur biting puppet.
My youngest daughter had one of these and she would endlessly run around with it trying to bite me. As I previously mentioned, the girl in The Huffalots is not based on my youngest daughter …honestly.
I also often have little additional stories in my images for example on the first spread I have a lego man on the bedside table but at the end he’s swimming in a glass of water. I enjoy putting in these details because I feel like they add to creating a greater sense of family life.
It's of course a tricky time to have a book published - during lockdown. Are there any virtual events we can look out for?
It is absolutely a tricky time for many people. I hope people are finding ways to cope and ways to stay positive, but there is no doubt it is a difficult time.
I’ve done a reading of The Huffalots for Seven Stories which will be coming out on 8th May and I will also put some downloadable activities on my Instagram…once I’ve worked out how to do that. Thankfully I have two children around who will be able to teach me.
Finally, what’s the first thing you’ll do when we’re out of lockdown?
I will be giving my Mum and Dad a hug.
It actually ended up being quite a smooth progress and I didn’t have to change much before jumping into final colours. I drew the majority of dog characters with watercolour outlines, creating delightful, fluid lines with varying colour tones. As you'll see from some of the images below, there's usually many colour palette swatches around my paper. These detail my experiments and history of exploring good colour matches. I've also tried out different materials to go alongside the watercolours. For example, crayon is good for creating texture where I want a rough surface and collage can be useful for covering up mistakes that can’t be fixed!. I enjoy this process immensely (and time is always an issue), so I love diving straight into colour work after sketches before even deciding on a colour palette and working it out as I go. I am keen to work loosely and am happy to leave marks and amendments from changes made along the way. However, sometimes these changes don’t make it into the final image. This image, for instance, I created twice because the first colour attempt failed, especially the grey tone that was applied to the house:
I also changed the dark brown of the roof to a softer green and left the dark colours until last. When working with watercolours, I find layering from light to dark always works best. After this image I became braver applying colours to shape the shadows and once dry I would then move on to layering different colours over the top. To emphasise perspective, I stuck to brighter colours in the foreground to contrast with softer, subtle colours in the background. Overall, It was all about layering and understanding how the paint would build up.
Many artists work digitally nowadays, why do you prefer to paint traditionally?
I have been drawing traditionally since I was 5 years old so I am experienced in drawing by hand. It also allows me to express my feelings more effectively. I enjoy the accidental results that occasionally surprise me and it keeps me motivated to create more.
What was your favourite part of the process?
I love working through those problems I encounter during the art-making process and the challenge to find solutions. When successful I feel I have learned a lot and improved my technique. I'm always learning.
Was there a spread that you found particularly challenging?
These two scenes (below) were particularly challenging because of the effort involved to keep them consistent in terms of composition, size and elements. The varied lighting from day to night was one of the main concerns which dictated the way I worked.
The method of actually painting these two images were very different. In the top image I started from one corner and gradually filled the page. The bottom one I applied warm colours to create the atmosphere I wanted as the first step and then drew on top of it to complete the scene. First with orange yellow for the first layer, it then changes from blue to green and red to orange and so on. This is the uniqueness of watercolours. I later encountered a problem - the protagonist’s mother in the evening scene ended up totally blended into the background as her apron was yellow! Because I paint traditionally, I couldn't just change yellow to red. Fortunately, we could fix this digitally and it's one of the very few changes to the artwork made on the computer.
Finally, why dogs?
I lived in a seaside town in England where dogs were probably more common than residents. Inspired by the town life, I wanted to create a series of dog illustrations. From there, I gradually fell in love with them. I kept myself busy creating artworks everyday and by the end of that month, I had over 30 artworks - and so a dog town has been created!
Welcome to Pickled ink Olia Muza! We are happy to announce that we have a talented new artist joining us, you can view her full portfolio here.
Olia was born in Uman, Ukraine. After studying graphic design, she decided to try her hand at illustration. In doing so she discovered her passion for illustrating stories and hasn't looked back since.
We were immediately struck by Olia's atmospheric work and incredible attention to detail. She creates a wonderful sense of place and characters that are expressive and completely unique. Olia is already working on some striking covers and we can't wait to share them with you.
For queries regarding Olia's work or her availability please contact Amy Kitcherside at email@example.com
We are delighted to welcome our newest artist to the Pickled ink portfolio, Yuzhen Cai!
We were immediately drawn to Yuzhen's bold, colourful illustrations. With a striking limited palette and miminal detail, Yuzhen is able to capture a whole range of emotion in her characters, from the humorous to the endearing.
Trained in academic drawing and painting before moving to London, Yuzhen is a graduate from the BA Illustration course at Camberwell College of Arts, where she received a first class honours degree. She is also about to embark on an exciting research Masters at the distinguished Royal College of Art, with the intention of informing her own storytelling and illustration work.
For queries regarding Yuzhen's work or her availability please contact Amy Kitcherside at firstname.lastname@example.org.