So Lo, what attracted you initially to this project?
I liked the idea that the story was about grey existing as a colour in its own right. There are lots of books about other colours, but grey seldom gets a mention. I was drawn to the lyrical nature of the text. Louise Grieg’s quiet and gentle story appealed to me, as it presented scope for a bold and graphic approach to the imagery.
Yes, originally the book was conceived as a straight forward picture book. But then Egmont, the publisher, were keen to include die-cuts to introduce another layer to the illustrations.
One difficulty was to create die-cuts that were integral to the text, rather than incidental. However, the main challenge was what happens as a result of making a hole in a page. The thing about die-cuts is that they have a knock on effect. The hole that’s made in one side of a page effects three other pages, and thus determines to a large extent such fundamentals as location of specific colours, composition and positioning of text.
I wanted the die-cuts to read two-ways, in order to add an element of surprise and as another layer to the story. For example with the first two spreads, the shape of the blue bird becomes the hole for the mouse to peep out of. This die-cut solution actually happened almost by accident. The challenge was to then find enough ‘happy accidents’ for the rest of the die-cuts on the remaining spreads. What is surprisingly hard to achieve, can look very simple … if you get it right.
It usually starts with a few scribbles on some throw-away A3 copy paper. I tend to cover several sides with scribbly thoughts and thumbnails. I can’t wait to start working in colour, so as soon as there is the grain of an idea or an image, I will go the computer and create a file at the correct image size. By naming and saving it, I feel I’ve started the process and that all I have to do is save it again, but next time, with an image on it. I guess that’s the hard part.
I use only Photoshop and work on a large Wacom tablet. The great thing about this process is that it feels very natural and less like working at a computer. It’s not the same, but it’s very much more like working at a drawing board. I like it because I can draw with my whole arm, not just from the wrist, so I can be quite gestural. Once I have an image crudely working in colour, I will zoom in on it and refine the shapes and detail, moving elements about and tidying things up.
For this book, I foolishly decided to hand draw elaborate patterned background textures as a device to run through the entire story. I underestimated the length of time these would take, so a large proportion of the work did involve drawing endless little swirls …
I’m usually hyper critical of my own work and tend to wince when I see the results in print. One thing that pleased me about this book was how nicely it’s been produced, on crisp uncoated paper with nice inky flat colours. If I had to choose a favourite spread, it would probably be the penultimate one, the one with the black birds on grey twigs and the falling autumn leaves.
I grew up surrounded by art and was dragged around galleries and churches from a young age. I had no choice in the matter and found myself heavily influenced by great artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Klee, Léger… the list goes on.
My mother was an illustrator and watching her draw was awe inspiring. I absolutely adored Tintin and Superman comics - basically anything with pictures. I grew up with The Beatles and Yellow Submarine, so I guess there’s an element of that in my work too. Later, I discovered an affinity with the more graphic approach to illustration and could spend hours pouring through Graphis annuals from the 50’s and 60’s and old copies of the New Yorker magazine, falling in love with artists such as Saul Steinberg and Paul Rand.
That’s a tough question. I think all colours are equal, but any colour can look rubbish if it’s in the wrong company. I don’t think I’m grey though!