Adventures with children’s picture books

Some of you may or may not know that one of my hobbies is illustrating and writing children’s picture books. I got the bug a few years ago after spending a glorious week attending the Children’s Picture Book Summer School at Anglia Ruskin in Cambridge. The annual course is taught by expert teachers from the MA Children’s Book Illustration course and aims to teach you how to write stories for picture books, design believable characters, and find a ‘voice’ that children are going to relate to. Most picture books are only 32 pages long and often less than 1000 words in total, so they are incredibly difficult to write well. I would say they are akin to writing a very good abstract for a journal article. Before starting the course, I had a story in mind, as well as what the main characters would look like, but it was amazing to see my original ideas transform into a dummy book by the end of the week. As well as help with writing and illustrating, we learned the principles of book design, attended lectures by famous picture book illustrators and writers, and had one-to-one tuition by Pam Smy, Birgitta Sif and Marta Altes, all with a number of very popular books under their belts. At the end of the week, we presented our dummy books to the rest of the group and they received a very useful critique. I was immensely proud of what I’d achieved and my book ‘The Parrot Who Wouldn’t Talk’ received some very nice comments.

After the course, I decided to produce the entire book using Photoshop and spent every day for about 3 months drawing and painting the twelve spreads, cover, title pages and end papers for the book that make up a 32 page children’s picture book. Unfortunately, trying to get a children’s picture book published is extremely complicated and seemingly improbable, probably because lots of people want to do it. Unless you’re a pop star, comedian, actress or footballer, even the chance of getting an agent to tout your potential book around is nye on impossible, never mind getting a publishing deal. So, my completed book has sat inside my computer, unread and unloved. I’m currently deciding whether to self-publish – although a tablet screen is never going to elicit the same experience as a physical book when reading to children – or I may even set up a Kickstarter campaign. Or I may just plunder on until someone picks it up…

The fact that this book still languishes in a virtual drawer hasn’t stopped me from completing another, albeit a very different type of picture book. If you’ve looked at some of the paintings on this site, you may have seen a series of evolutionary trees where I painted the animals using simple tiles to get across the details of their form. In one of the paintings, the different habitats of the different creatures were represented with different background colours. Dark green represented a forest, whilst deep blue represented the sea. My dad suggested that this might form the basis for a book, with each spread a different colour and a different environment. So, I created thirteen different spreads, a cover and end papers, including some additional environments to the original painting (underground, the dark, urban, volcano and snow), as well as sea, sky, forest, freshwater, grassland, jungle, mountain and sand. On each 2-page spread, the left hand side displays a typical animal in the environment in a display of their behaviour, whilst the right hand side contains a number of different animals also typically found in that environment.

To make sure that this project doesn’t just hide away in the same virtual drawer*, I’ve decided to post one spread a day here from the ‘Habitat’ book project, so keep an eye out for them. Anyway, I hope you like them.

The Sea

*If enough of you express an interest in buying any of these spreads as high quality, framable prints (without the copyright info), then I’ll look into what it might cost.


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