I managed to squeeze in a school visit to Bredhurst Primary in Gillingham at the beginning of October but now with current restrictions these events have become rare.
I was aware of the need to make the visit Covid-compliant. Due to class bubbles a whole-school assembly was out of the question so instead I produced a mini version of my talk in video form (see below) in order to give some insight into my practice. It had the happy consequence of my being greeted by children on the day who seemed to know me already.
The card for the workshops was pre-packaged and then only handed out by the teaching staff. During the workshops, I did my usual thing, but at a distance, teachers did all the close up checking and helping. I made more of the demo part of the session where I turn a pop-up mechanism into a finished 3D spread using the children’s story ideas. And I made sure everyone had all the information they needed to finish the group pop-up books after I had moved on to the next class.
The school felt surprisingly normal but they had clearly put in many important measures to keep everyone safe – no sharing of equipment (I had to keep reminding myself not to borrow scissors or gluesticks), staggered playtimes and hand sanitiser everywhere. I also had to exit the building and make my way around the outside of the school to get from class to class.
It’s not clear when things will go back to normal but it’s been an opportunity to explore new ways of interacting with schools. Things like Zoom, for example, seem to work well and will be a useful addition going forward, especially for schools further afield. However, it can never replace the wonderful feeling of interacting live with the children that I experienced at Bredhurst and all the other schools I’ve visited in the past.
Very happy to play a small part in this initiative along with 400+ wonderful illustrators.
Igniting Writing, Wokingham Library’s teen creative writing club, is running a brand new creative writing contest called ‘Illustration Inspiration’! The aim of the contest is to inspire young writers out there to combine words and images and create your own amazing story.
The contest is based around a gallery on Flickr, where over 400 talented illustrators have kindly shared a piece of their artwork for writers entering the contest to use. All you need to do is pick out three pieces of art from the gallery and write a story that links them together – it’s a great chance for you to write a story with art from professional illustrators!
I was asked to deliver a session on multitasking to a group of illustrators at the SCBWI conference in Winchester last week-end. Jack-of- all-Trades: How to Have Multiple Careers as an Illustrator looked at choosing the right activities to complement and benefit your core practice as an illustrator of children’s picture books, getting the balance right and recognizing the boundaries? I also ran a hands-on activity where illustrators flexed their creative muscles in a mini workshop combining pop-up design and illustration.
I think multitasking is inevitable when you’re a self-employed creative, especially when dealing with the day-to-day running of your business. However, is it a good idea to diversify creatively, to expand your activities in different directions or even to add to your skill set. It does encourage thinking outside the box, leads to cross pollination of ideas over different disciplines and helps create new income streams. However, does diversifying stretch you too thin and can the problems outweigh the benefits?
For me, what started out as a plan to be an illustrator, turned into an ambition to illustrate and write books. This was followed by the desire to add paper engineering to the mix as well author visits and family workshops.
Something that was quite simple to begin with, turned into a practice that has encompassed schools visits, talks and workshops on how to create your own pop-up books, editorial illustration, card design, pop-up picture books, public art trails and other collaborations with artists, not to mention co-creating a number of children’s theatre productions. This is further complicated by the fact that it’s all done as a joint business with an artist wife with a great deal of crossover between both practices.
I think problems arise when one strand takes over and dominates to the detriment of everything else. It can be very easy to lose sight of your initial goals and to forget what’s really important. It’s also possible to become so immersed in a project that you fail to measure what you’re actually getting out of it – it’s not always a good thing to let your passion get the better of you.
I think it’s always helpful to have an idea of what you hope achieve from your activities and what proportion of your time you want to spend on each thing. If one area becomes neglected, it’s time to address that. Always place your projects in order of priority and importance. With each one, you need to balance the equation: does the time, work and money spent equal the income received plus other benefits. Think about soft benefits – recognition, exposure, does it lead to other opportunities, are you gaining valuable experience?
With collaborations, sometimes you need to tread carefully. Before you start illustrating (or writing) your best friend’s story, think about whether a publisher is likely to accept the whole package. If not, would you be happy with that and is it worth losing a friendship over? With any collaboration, be clear what it is you want from it and what should happen in any given scenario – then get it all down in writing and signed by all concerned.
In my opinion most long-term collaborations have a finite lifespan; the key is to know when it’s time to stop. The ones that continue past their sell-by-date risk creating negativity and spoiling any residual benefit that continued contact and friendship generate.
Dream collaborations do happen – those rare situations where two or more people speak more highly of each other than they do of themselves in an atmosphere of mutual respect, loyalty and transparency. Egos and glory-hunting take a back seat in an arrangement where no one’s bigger that the whole picture. These are the ones you should definitely embrace.
If you like beards and pop-up books and have young children, then this is the workshop for you.
Make your own beard-themed pop-up creation in my next hands-on, half-term workshop at the Florence Nightingale Museum. For my return visit to this lovely venue located within St Thomas‘ Hospital, I’m taking my inspiration from ‘The Age of the Beard’ exhibition currently on show there to deliver three 1-hour family sessions encompassing 3D paper skills, design and illustration.
Learn how to make pop-ups with moving parts and how to assemble a finished book.
The workshops are suitable for 5+ with parents and carers. Adults will be encouraged to take part but don’t worry, no experience necessary and results are guaranteed. Materials will be provided, you just bring the creativity!
The workshops are free but normal entry fee to the museum applies. Booking is recommended.
As part of CO Awareness week last November, I was one of six illustrators asked to re-interpret drawings of the invisible CO monster by a group of young children. We were given the freedom to eloborate but without radically departing from the basic design – it had to be recognisable as the image it was based on.
Apart from five year old Theo’s drawing, the only other information I was given by the client (Propellernet) was that apparently ‘the monster’s right ear makes him go invisible, and his left ear makes him visible again’.
Interpreting the drawing required a little bit of guesswork – some parts were obvious and some, not so much. I think Theo started the body in the usual way – I could see 3 white snowman-type circles – before adding more ghostly, gassy, swirly ‘invisible’ shapes. There’s two feet at the very bottom which I made more flowing. I quite liked the idea of incorporating all Theo’s markings into the design as well. I wasn’t sure what the blue lines near the bottom were, maybe they were there to give the idea of the gas as a flame.
I could clearly see a mouth which could be turned into a definite feature but I wasn’t quite sure what the red lines on either side were – fumes? I added them anyway as extra arm / tentacle things. The hair/gas at the top seemed fairly clear to me but I wasn’t sure if the black thing sticking on the right-hand side was an arm. Is it an arm?
There’s a video of all the children on Youtube – part of the campaign against the invisible killer. Some facts about our awareness of Carbon Monoxide and it’s dangers can be found on the stats. sheet above. Do your research and get informed – it could save your life.
For those who couldn’t make it to my recent workshop at Imagine Festival of the Arts in Sutton, here’s a video tutorial for the pop-up time machine. It comes in two parts: how to draw the time machine and how to make the pop-up.
The theme of the festival was HG Wells – he lived in Sutton at one stage – and I based the time machine on the one in the 1960 film. I did take a few liberties: the time machine in the film doesn’t actually move location but instead the surroundings change as the date changes. I designed the pop-up to make the time machine look like it’s moving through time and space to give a more dramatic effect.
The basic abstract design is nice in itself and can be used to create all sorts of designs.
Happy Hallloween! Here’s a video of Spooky Ride, my first ever pop-up book, published by Tango Books way back in 2001. Spooky ride was the start of a long and fruitful relationship with Tango Books that still continues. The paper engineer for the project was the very patient Matt Johnstone whom I bombarded with questions at the time. It wasn’t until pop-up book 2 that I took on that role myself, picking it up as I went along.
I’d seen a funfair ghost train in Finsbury Park and wondered how that could translate into 3D book. The final book has one continuous train track running through holes in the pages, out the back of the book, round to the front and back in again – so you can read it over and over and over and over… My brief was to base the illustration style a little on ‘Funnybones’, keep the colours pure and make it scary! – well, sort of, it’s a children’s book.
Given my work on two children’s theatre productions presented by Half Moon over the last 3 years it seems fitting that the current venue for my touring exhibition is also a theatre. Park Theatre in Finsbury park has kindly agreed to host the show for the month of December to coincide with their production of Rapunzel.
The other connection for me is that the pop-up books seem quite theatrical in their own way. Just like stage sets, all is not what it seems, the illusion can be broken by deconstructing the constructions or going behind the scenes.
The work on show are examples of flat illustrations from the books or those pop-up spreads that can be easily merged.
The artwork is produced using a combination of traditional and digital media. Most start as pen and ink outline drawings which are then scanned and further developed in photoshop where the colour is also added. Because of this, the final artwork exists in digital form only.
What you see in the exhibition are signed and numbered archival prints, produced at the London Print Studio on 290gsm A2 Ilford Gallerie Pearl paper in editions of 25 using Epson Ultrachrome pigment inks.
The exhibition runs until 10 January 2016 and can be found in the theatre’s stalls and mezzanine corridors. All the prints are for sale.
What I like about Illustration Friday is that it gives me the chance to revisit some of my past work. This week’s word is ‘Treasure’. The picture shows, what else, artwork from pop-up picture book no.2, Pirate Treasure Hunt, published by Tango Books.