Tuesday, 18 October 2016

The Biggest Smallest Christmas Present

Out today is my new picture book The Biggest Smallest Christmas present. Published by Penguin US.

It's a Christmas story about a miniature girl called Clementine, who is so small that she has to bathe in a teacup and sleep in a matchbox! Every year Santa leaves her presents but the presents are always too big. The story is about Clementine trying different ways to tell Santa that she is a miniature sized girl. 

You can probably guess where my inspiration for this book came from - my love of all things tiny of course! 

This book was actually quite a few years in the making. It is also my first full colour picture book in 2d not 3d so it was a learning curve. 

I started by drawing out the dummy book and designing the character. At first she was actually called Arabella but I decided to change her name to Clementine later. She went though quite a few character designs. 

I was very into the idea of making her look Cindy-Lou esque for a while (below) but the publisher suggested that she should look less 'made up' and I agree with that now.

I eventually came up with this version and everyone was happy.
Because the story in the book actually spans a few years, I had to be able to draw Clementine at different stages of her life. Starting with her as a baby.

Here I added some colour and I was also trying to work out which presents Clementine should be given at each stage of her life. I decided that she should always wear red or green to give a festive look. 

The dummy book also went through quite a few changes and so did the story. Here are a couple of un used sketches from the book:

My favourite scenes in the book are the bathroom ones. I just love the idea of a tiny little person using the sink as a swimming pool. Originally Clementine was going to be older in these scenes but later she changed to being a baby in them.

This is the original sketch:

And for the facing page:

I must admit it was a bit of a challenge drawing the sink so close up! I think because there are so few definitive edges on a sink, just curves and shading. I ended up taking a photo of my actual sink and using it as reference to draw from. 

The final version has baby Clementine in it. I think this double page spread is my favourite of the whole book. I was very pleased with how I managed to paint the sink in the end.

There were also some changes in the way I drew the illustrations during the process of creating this book. I ended up using pen and ink in the final illustrations but I did not start out like that. At the beginning I didn't use any black line at all except for pencil line round the character. You can see what I mean in the double page spread with the paintbox. That was my tester illustration!

I do actually quite like this one but I didn't go with this way of working in the end.

At one point I even experimented with painting Clementine with no black line either. I didn't really like it though.

Here's another example where I experimented. No black line at all on this one except for round Clementine and that was a bit too much of a juxtaposition.

Take two. I used acrylics rather than watercolors for this one but I didn't like the pastelly brightness of the colours.

Take three!

This was the turning point, when I decided to use a dip pen and ink. I think it helped that I was working on Isadora Moon at the same time and using dip pen and ink for her. I felt very comfortable using that medium.

This is a rough painting when I was just experimenting with it. 

And the final:

Again, that one actually started out with Clementine being not a baby!
But then changed...
As for the cover, that went through a couple of changes too. The idea was to have Clementine swinging on a Christmas bauble on the Christmas tree. So I did this sketch:

Can you guess why that one didn't get used? It looked too much like Miley Cyrus swinging on her wrecking ball! It made me laugh when the publishers came back with that comment. But it's true! I had to find a different way to draw Clementine. I actually felt quite annoyed with Miley Cyrus for scuppering my picture book cover plans, though I was happy with the end result anyway. 

I hope you have enjoyed seeing some of my process for creating this book. Clementine does eventually manage to contact Santa and he realises that she is a miniature girl. After that, she gets the toy of her dreams - the biggest, smallest Christmas present! Can you guess what it is? 

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Isadora Moon Events!

I will be doing some Isadora Moon events this October half term:

Saturday 22nd October: St Albans Waterstones. 11am

Saturday 22nd October: Harpenden Waterstones. 2pm

Monday 24th October: Welwyn Garden City Waterstones. 11am

Tuesday 25th October: Barton Le Clay Library. 2.15 pm.

Wednesday 26th October: Hitchin Waterstones. 3pm.

Friday 28th October: I will be at the Off The Shelf festival in Sheffield.

It's going to be a busy week!

As I wrote in my last post, I did my first Isadora Moon event at Hatfield Waterstones which happened in early September, just after the books were released. I did a reading and then made vampire and fairy wands with the children. Here are some photos from the event. I made sure to wear my starry shoes!

(above photos taken by Laura Wildgoose)

Are you more vampire or fairy? I was surprised to see that most children picked to make the vampire wand. I would have picked the fairy one personally becasue it's more glittery and I love sparkles!

In other Isadora Moon related news: Isadora Moon goes to School was featured in the Guardian the other week which was pretty cool. They wrote a lovely review. I rushed out to buy a hard copy of the paper so I could keep it!

Also I have been recieving editions of Isadora Moon in other languages in the post recently. This is the Welsh version and the Japanese version:

I love how the Japanese version looks with the powder pink endpapers. It's so interesting to see the books in different languages. 

Another thing I have really been enjoying is seeing the books in the actual bookshops. It's a novelty for me because most of my other books (I am a Witch's Cat etc) have been published in America so I never got to see them in book shops in the flesh. 

(top left photo taken by OUP Childrens in Waterstones Piccadilly, top right taken by Sian Shrimpton in Foyles London, Bottom left taken by Waterstones Bromley and bottom right taken by me in Hitchin Waterstones)

It's so amazing to see Isadora Moon out there in the world!

I'll finish off with these two pictures. They are very, very early Isadora Moon drawings. Concept ideas for her really but I realised I never showcased them on my blog so here they are:

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The Story of Isadora Moon

One day to go until Isadora Moon is out and available to buy! I am so excited!

I thought it would be a fitting time to tell you the story of how Isadora Moon came to be.

Let's start at the beginning. About ten years ago!

If you know me, or if you have followed my blog for a while then you will probably be aware of a character I created called Victoria Stitch. Victoria Stitch is a character I first created on my Art Foundation course ten years ago. She was a naughty fairy type creature and she had a pink rabbit who went everywhere with her.

This is the first incarnation of Victoria Stitch:

I would have been eighteen at the time and I remember the kinds of things that inspired me back then:

- Alternative people who I had discovered on myspace - especially girls with pink hair. I was obsessed by the idea of having pink hair.

- Cupcakes. I just loved the aesthetics of them. I had pictures of cupcakes stuck all over my walls.

- Anything glittery, stripy, starry.

- Fairies. I loved fairies SO much. Everything I drew/owned had to be a fairy.

- Gothic looking things. Especially if it was juxtaposed with something sweet.

...And so Victoria Stitch was born! (and Pink rabbit too)

Personality wise she was quite a mean dramatic character. I think because I was feeling quite angst-y at the time. Well, I was a teenager! I also remember feeling very free and excited at that time in my life too. I channeled all these energies into Victoria Stitch and she became like my alter ego. She was (is) very special to me. I ended up writing and illustrating a picture book about her on my foundation course for my final project.

Three years later, on my degree, I re did my Victoria Stitch book. By that point she had changed quite a bit and grown with me. I had cured myself of the pink hair phase (by dying my own hair pink for a while and then getting bored with it) so Victoria Stitch had also got bored of the pink hair! She now had black hair and instead of traditional fairy wings, she had black bat-like wings.

This is the second incarnation of Victoria Stitch:
You can see she was still quite an angry, spiky, mean character - because that's just who she was by then. Poor Pink Rabbit! (He is much happier with Isadora Moon now but shh don't tell Victoria Stitch that!)

This was one of my favourite Victoria Stitch images from the book I created on my degree (below.) I have it hanging on my wall at home. Pink Rabbit is having a nice time for once, eating ice cream!

I was pleased with this book at the time and I showed it to quite a few publishers but I was always told that Victoria Stitch was too mean, too adult, too spiky for a children's picture book.

After my degree I continued to work on Victoria Stitch in my spare time. I always went back to her and then when I was on my MA I wrote Victoria Stitch number three, which is actually a young fiction book about her, about 65 000 words long. I was pleased with it at the time, after I finished writing it but actually now I am not very pleased with it and it hasn't seen the light of day since!

However, to go along with the young fiction book I created some more illustrations of Victoria Stitch and as you can imagine, by this time, she had changed yet again!

By this point I was drawing her with pen and ink in a slightly looser style, and only in black and pink. I was really pleased with how this looked. I really loved the aesthetic of the black and pink together.
At the end of my MA I got a book deal for I am a Witch's Cat and then I got an agent. I was busy with other work so Victoria Stitch didn't get a lot of attention for a while. But she was always there at the back of my mind! And occasionally, when I had time, I would work on her.

After I got married in 2014, my agent organised some meetings for me with a couple of publishers as I was hoping to get some extra work now that my wedding was over. I took my portfolio to London and showed it around. Inside my portfolio I had a page of my Victoria Stitch pen and ink drawings all done in black and pink. One of the publishers spotted these and said how they thought Victoria Stitch would work well as a young fiction book.

I had of course already written a young fiction book about Victoria Stitch but I wasn't very pleased with it. Also, at 65000 words it was unlikely it would be able to have many illustrations in it and certainly not in two colour, they would all have to be in black and white. I thought it would be a shame to lose the black and pink which was the thing I loved about my current Victoria Stitch illustraions.

And that's when it clicked.

I thought: I could create a heavily illustrated young fiction book for younger children. A shorter one, about 7000 words. That way I wouldn't lose the black and pink illustrations and I could have a lot of them but it wouldn't have to be as simple as a picture book.

It was like puzzle pieces that had already been there for ages all suddenly fell into place.

I felt so inspired and I immediately went home and started to create something.

At first I kept Victoria Stitch as the adult character she was and just tried to write a more simple story about her. But it wasn't really working. I knew Victoria Stitch would have be become friendlier and kinder for a young fiction book and that just wasn't her. She is who she is and it felt wrong to change her. Also she is so special to me that I couldn't just switch her personality like that.

So then I thought... I could create a new character, a young child character but with the aesthetics of Victoria Stitch. Basically how Victoria Stitch would look as a child, but not Victoria Stitch. A nicer, sweeter character.

And so Isadora Moon was born!

As soon as I did this drawing I knew this was her:

I added the little vampire fangs on a whim just because I wanted to see what they would look like and then I decided I really loved them. Already Isadora Moon was becoming a character in her own right because Victoria Stitch did not have vampire fangs.

I started to think then: 'why does she have fangs? And little bat wings? What species is she?'

At first I toyed with the idea of Isadora's mum being a witch and her dad being a vampire but that didn't really make sense.

Then I realised: Her mum is a fairy! Obviously! That's why she has the wings. And they are bat shaped wings because her Dad is a vampire. And then the fangs made sense too.

I loved the idea of a fairy and a vampire producing a hybrid offspring because as I said before, I love juxtaposition. I love the look of something slightly Gothic contrasted with something really pink and girly.

(Below: early drawing of Isadora Moon and her parents before their characters were finalized. Note Dad has messy hair in this picture which got changed when his personality was fine tuned! Vampires are very obsessed with looking neat and groomed. Similarly Isadora's Mum changed too. Her hair became much wilder as she is a fairy and likes to be outdoors and at one with nature. Isadora didn't change at all!)

After that everything came really easily. Isadora Moon's world was sort of already there and because of the back story of her parents being a vampire and a fairy the story just came naturally. I think it was Henry though (I must give him the credit!) who suggested that a story about a vampire fairy going to school could work well. Because which school would she go to? A vampire one or a fairy one? Where would she fit in? Would it be difficult for a vampire fairy?

(Below: early drawing)

Then there was the matter of Pink Rabbit as well. Could I take pink Rabbit away from Victoria Stitch and give him to Isadora Moon? He was such a strong part of Victoria Stitch.

But then I decided that I would give Pink Rabbit to Isadora Moon because I knew he would just work so well with her. He was too perfect not to. And he would have a much nicer life with Isadora Moon anyway. I decided that I would create a new side kick for Victoria Stitch at some point instead.

The next step was to write the book. So I wrote it. Then I started on the illustrations. At this point I was drawing the final version of Isadora a bit differently to how I ended up drawing her in the final versions. I was drawing her in a much more long winded way:

I do quite like the effect of this, it's a bit more sketchy, but it took sooo long. I used this method for the 17-ish pages I illustrated for the dummy book...

Then I sent the whole lot off to my agent and waited excitedly. I felt SO passionate about Isadora Moon and I had felt SO inspired creating the whole thing and I was really hoping a publisher would take it.

And luckily... they did!! Amazingly Oxford University Press liked Isadora Moon so much that they offered me a four book deal.

And then of course the real work started because I had three more books to write. Also on the advice of the publisher I stopped drawing Isadora Moon in such a long winded way and just started to draw her in pen and ink which cut out a few steps of the process and was a lot quicker! I am not sure how I would have got four books completed if I had been doing it the other way. Also the pen and ink gives the pictures a cleaner crisper look I think.

I find it very satisfying drawing in pen and ink.

After I've drawn the outline I fill it in with watercolours and then scan it into the computer to change into pure black and pink as the books are printed in two colour. This process actually takes just as long as drawing and painting the image but it's worth it. And it has to be done anyway for printing.

It was so exciting when I received the first proof of the first book!

And even more exciting when I received a box of the final versions of the books a few weeks ago!

I was delighted to see all the glitter on the covers.

I am just so so happy that Isadora Moon has made it into publication. Because you know, she is a little piece of Victoria Stitch! That is why I am so passionate about my Isadora Moon books. They came completely from my heart. I absolutely adore Isadora Moon and her world.

Above you can see how Isadora's Mum's hair changed for the final version. Much wilder! She loves to be surrounded by nature. This is a sketch from Isadora Moon goes to the Ballet. 

I don't want to put too much of the final artwork on the internet but here's a double page spread from Isadora Moon goes camping. One of my favourites. You can see Dad really doesn't like the sun!

I have absolutely loved every second of writing and illustrating these books. I really hope children will enjoy reading them. They are for ages 5-7, but of course anyone can read them if they wish!

I'm sure I will be posting more about them in the future but for now...

That's the story of Isadora Moon! 

Also: If you are in Hatfield on Saturday (3rd September) do come along to my Isadora Moon event in Waterstones and make a magic wand!

Here I am drawing on the window of Waterstones Hatfield last week in preparation for the event:

It felt strange drawing her so big as I am used to only drawing her very small.

Maybe see you there!