I spent a long time doing biro sketches of children last year. You can see some of them here. (Scroll down a little as I’ve added a couple of other sketches since then.)

Anyway, I just painted this little toddler tennis star and was wondering about a background for him. I decided to sketch the flowers in his garden in biro (ball point, if you call it that), and then simply locked the unused pixels on the flower layer and brushed various colours over the linework to make a background without it being intrusive.

I had my doubts at first, despite liking it, but then changed it to mono to check the tonal range of the whole piece, and it’s not bad. In a picture book, it would need some darker darks somewhere.

I’ll put both colour and mono versions here so you can see for yourself what you think of ‘coloured’ biro backgrounds of this sort! The mono version would probably work quite well for a chapter book illustrated in black and white. I think I always assumed they were done in shades of grey but recently saw some artist finals for a chapter book and they were in colour, although eventually printed in mono. I live and learn!

tennis toddler with flowers

tennis toddler with flowers 2

 

 

Having spent some time reducing (diminishing?) my children’s story to under 1,000 words from its original 1,200, I wanted to run it past my granddaughter. I pulled up the newly shortened version and suddenly realised it would make little sense, so I obviously had to immediately pull up the original.

Why would this be? Well, it has no pictures yet. And the main way to cut length is to eliminate everything that could be shown in the illustrations. This meant, for instance, that if the spider is forging a new web, you can say One… two… three… four… And have spot illustrations to show where he fixed the four strands. Without the illustrations it is both nonsense and boring. There were so many instances where I left room for the illustrator to show the story so that I wouldn’t need to tell it that I had no choice but to ditch the new version and read the old one.

I think this one hit home with her. Perhaps its best use, therefore, is in a short story volume where only a few pictures are used and it can stay in its original form. Haha. How many unknown authors get to publish an anthology of great stories?? So I will push on with the new version and send it out.

This kind of ‘this or that?’ scenario does ring a bell with illustration too. How many times have I had a good version and a ‘ruined’ improved version. Gut feeling plays a large part in creation. Perhaps sometimes we really ought to stay with the original. Unless market forces combine to prevent that. In which case… Give in?

Example. I sketched this little dancer this week. She looked cute but I ploughed on to digitalise and paint her and I’m really not too sure if she couldn’t have inspired the imagination better in her original form! What do you think?

little dancer

little dancer revised

Despite being super busy on journal work, I have actually done some personal tasks on pushing my writing out there and assembling various pots of illustration work that someone or other might see one day. There’s always hope. But no hope at all if I don’t tell anyone I’m illustrating! It’s always been like that with the writing. If I don’t send it out, how will an editor or agent know I’ve written the bestest young adult novel in the world??

So, what have I done? It amounts to this:

  • Put myself on the Association of Illustrators site with a portfolio
  • Remove my writing site from one provider to another to save some money and bring it up to date
  • Produce some more work in Adobe Illustrator (Ai)
  • Print a picture book text on one side of a postcard (well, they’re always short!) and put a sample picture spread on the back, ready to mail to a few children’s publishers
  • Print out on A4 a sample sheet of my artwork (either children’s or editorial) ready to send to art directors today.

For a week when I was also fighting a losing battle against rampant loosestrife in the garden (garden? a.k.a wilderness), that was a pretty impressive list of achievements, usually known as getting off one’s backside🙂

Here are some Ai flowers for you. They may not see the light of day anywhere else, but they’re fun to do. Composition could be improved, of course; I just like the effect of cutting down on glue! Have a look before they drop off the page…

new flowers

I was messing around with an idea about rewriting nursery rhymes (UK ones, if you’re one of my valued readers from the rest of the world – I don’t know any ‘foreign’ ones!).

The idea was that most of the original lines would be kept and others added randomly, still keeping to a rhyme scheme. Sort of filling them out a bit, if you like! Here I added a bit of background to who he was and why he was on the wall in the first place.

This is the original version:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men

They couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Of course, the real person referred to in this rhyme was, I think, a dumpy, clumsy person – who could have been put back together again – so he’s usually been drawn as an egg, which couldn’t. And that probably followed from Alice through the Looking Glass, where Lewis Carroll drew him as an egg. But don’t quote me on that. It might have been political for all I know!

Here’s my version – with a quickie sketch to go with it🙂

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall

without his friends, without the ball.

They said that Humpty was too small

to play with them – the wall was tall.

He fidgeted, afraid he’d fall,

and when he did, they heard him bawl.

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men

came rushing up in groups of ten.

They’d heard his cry and felt his pain

and thought they’d make him right as rain.

They wrote down how and what and when.

But after an hour and loads more pain, 

they couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Humpty Dumpty on wall

Humpty Dumpty alone on the very tall wall

Comments welcome!

I wrote a short chapter book which would divide into six chapters. It seemed reasonable for the target age group to have a six-year-old girl going to a new school, having just moved into a new home. It would need colour illustrations on every page, I think, to encourage the new reader to read, even if being read to. The (dreaded, compulsory!) synopsis starts like this:

Jess hates her new house because it is draughty, noisy and ghostly. She also hates her new school because she has, as yet, no friends. Grandad has stopped travelling and moved into the attic. He remarks that his beautiful stones are magical and not to be touched. Jess creeps up at night to borrow one to help her solve her problems at school. But his caged mouse challenges her and demands cheese for his silence, after which he lets her take it, with warnings about telling on her if she loses it.

Obviously, things must go wrong with the stone and at the end she must have won a friend – by normal means using her skills – and be reconciled to the new house. Otherwise, where is the story?

It starts likes this:

Jess hated her new house. The bedroom door moaned and groaned all night. She tried propping it open. She tried pressing it shut. She tried pushing her slippers against it.

But: Creak! Squeak! 

Moan… groan…  

Cold air brushed against her face. 

A scuffle on the floor: mouse or ghost?

Jess shivered and pulled the covers over her head.

It was nearly morning before she fell asleep. She dreamt that tree roots were curling round her feet. When she woke, the quilt was twisted round her legs and the wind was whistling round her toes. 

She pulled her uniform on and ran down to the kitchen, where Mum was frying bacon. 

“I hate this house,” she said. “And I hate my new school.”

Anyway, I decided to sketch the bit near the end before the final thing happens, where we read:

Later, Jess lay in the dark listening to the door creaking and groaning, despite the pile of books she’d dumped in front of it. The wind blew cold about her ears.

Then I painted it digitally.

jess and books

It’s not intended to be neat and tidy. And I want to add a scene in the same style with Grandad in his attic room showing the melée of things from his travels, including the cage and its mouse (that is, or perhaps is not, also magical). I can see it in my mind’s eye, preferably with the sun streaming in, not darkness like here! But it will be hard to do, whether neat and tidy or scribbly!

This is not a story I would want to illustrate myself, though. More of an accompaniment to submitting a manuscript. But it was fun to try.

I’m at the SCBWI picture book retreat this weekend in the South West. It’s been a really worthwhile venture and I’ve just had really helpful advice and strategy from John Shelley, an experienced picture book illustrator and writer. I shall be continuing with a plan and developing my children’s illustrations in line with his excellent advice, after we jointly looked through my embryonic portfolio (how scary is that! He was sensitive and kind but also dead honest). I also shared some picture book writing and illustrations with four other illustrators and writers the night before. And again tonight. That too was worth the journey here.

So now I need to deal with my editorial illustration plans, which might produce success a bit earlier, simply due to the lengthy turnaround time on children’s books.

Here is a banner and also four vignettes for a factual article for 7s to 14s for an inflight magazine intended to be read when travelling to Norway. Colour and style matching wasn’t a problem. I just hope I have the ‘young people’ appeal of the illustrations done right!

norway spot illos

norway banner

For a youth-friendly article with facts about Norway

And some spot illustrations about the history and culture of Italian pizza.

assembled pizzas

Spot illustrations for Italian pizza history

 

 

 

Yes, I know I should be editing. Or writing. Or cleaning. Or exercising. But I have done all those things today and wanted to invent something nice.

I found a print of a tree I shot many years ago. It was a photo, developed in my dark room cellar and later photocopied on an ancient mono machine.This gave it the texture you see here and I brought it into Photoshop and added the green background one day recently when I was playing around.

After that, it sat on my hard drive till this week, when I added some pelicans. I grabbed the image from a seascape photo by Yair Hazout at www.unsplash.com (where you can get and use hi-res photos free of charge). I cut out his pelican and made three of them, layering each of them once or twice with different blend modes.

Then I brought in a guy I found in the support materials of Manga Studio 5 – now called Clip Studio Paint – and layered him in too. The moon I pulled in from a children’s illustration I did a few weeks ago (you can find it in my portfolio here) because I hate to waste a good bit of art! And then I used a KyleTWebster splatter brush to fling a bit of paint around!

But I’m a writer, you say? OK, so I invented a haiku to go with it while doing the aforesaid exercise (a drippy walk in the rain). It’s a pretty naff poem but I hope you like the image!

screenshot pelicans

sharp eyes