'Oooh it must be lovely to be a children's illustrator'...yes, it certainly beats mowing graveyards, washing up, cleaning, selling pine furniture and stacking supermarket shelves, all of which I have done in my time until fairly recently. These jobs all have one thing in common - a regular (if not gargantuan) wage. But next time you pick up a picture book, ponder this: for every pretty picture there will have been hours, days or even weeks of brainstorming, rough sketching, too-ing and fro-ing between artist/art director and maybe others, not to mention the final art work. There is the design, the text setting, the layout, the choice of paper/book size, the printing and colour proofing; it often takes about 14 months or so for a book to come to the shelf, and that is on a good day - sometimes it can take years. But not in my case.
It has to be art worked by the second week in July. So, a last minute request from my lovely publishers, to thrash out the first half of the project meant that I found my self travelling (via motorbike and train) to the outskirts of London, and a meeting with my Art Director. If you had to have classes in 'How to be a Brilliant Art Director', she would be the model example. We've known each other for quite a while now, and the first hour or so was spent yakkering about juicy news, all of which made me practically faint with excitement and none of which must pass my lips until it is in the public domain. With the yakkering came a shower of hardback picture books; many of my favourite illustrators work with Templar, including Alison Jay, who creates some of the most gorgeous images, using lush, rich colours; I can lose myself in her work...
Soon I had a comforting stack of bookish treasure to take home, including a limited edition of 'Varmints' signed (SIGNED!!!!) by the wonderful author/illustrator Helen Ward (article link) and Marc Craste.
You know the to-die-for Lloyds Bank adverts? That's him. Stunning work. Invent a new word for it, stunning is not enough.
If you like Shaun Tan's work, you will love this - buy it. Just buy it. It is marvellous.
Templar Publishing have relocated from a lovely converted Mill to an equally delightful old Granary, so there was a tour of the new premises and I was introduced to the members of the production team for my small contribution to their new list - the production room being very large and a quiet bustle of designers and creatives working away on numerous titles. Up to the top level, where the art directors roost - and finding a few familiar faces last seen in the wee hours of the morning round a camp fire at the brilliant Templar party, two years ago. Having said that my AD is marvellous, it should be added that Templar, as a company, not only produce some of the finest, most innovative books in the UK, but are a shining light in what can be a pretty cut-throat business. Publishers - especially the very big ones, who are more like corporations - sadly do not always treat their freelancers as well as they could do. There are horror stories...but Templar are wonderfully friendly, inclusive, respectful and all round Good Eggs.
Back down to the senior AD's office, (another familiar face) and more heart-palpitating inside knowledge about future publications (I have now stitched my lips together, so don't even ask!) and finally back to the board room and a highly intense, enjoyable three hour session spent working out the details of the new book. We were so absorbed we lost track of time, and thinking it must be about midday and time for lunch, we were startled to find it was nearly two...
Lunch was an informal but delicious affair at Pizza Express, courtesy of Templar and there was more - much more - chattering. About two hours later we sleepily emerged, full of garlicky carbs, and strolled back through Dorking Center, past the old church with its albino squirrel, to collect my large pile of work-to-do and of course, my books.
The final cherry on what had been a monumental gateaux cake of a day was bumping into one of my all time favourite illustrators - and his agent - Simon Bartram. We shook hands and I went all quiet and shy and went a bit pink; as you do when you meet one of your heroes. (Earlier I had also had the privilege of seeing some of his original artwork for his next book, which was breathtaking).
I managed to get my precious books all packed and waterproofed (another British summer and therefore a seasonally rainy day). I made the trek back home, finally arriving, after two crowded trains and a bus, in Witney at 8pm (having left home at 6.15 that morning) and was whisked back via motorbike through wet, green country lanes, home. Wonderful home.
Through my little visit, I snagged another toy order; I'm trying to get the needle felting done at night after I've spent a good stint in the studio and I am going to be somewhat absorbed until mid-summer. But yes, on the whole, it IS lovely being a children's illustrator. Toymaker. Card company. Gardener. Head Cake-Maker. Housewife.
'The Wind in the Willows' illustrated by the Great Robert Ingpen. My favourite book. Ever.
"Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, those soft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all one way...shabby indeed, and small and poorly furnished, and yet his, the home he had made for himself, the home he had been so happy to get back to after his day's work..."
excerpt, 'Dolce Domum' , Wind in the Willows