The High Life

'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 lov
e 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.

'Wizardology' from the famous 'ology' series. Website at www.ologyworld.com

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).

More Alison Jay: baby board books in a box - absolutely delightful!

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


green phoenix said...

Gretel, how fantastic.
Sounds like a pretty perfect day to me, albeit a very tiring one.
I can't wait to hear more but won't ask.Keeping lips closed is hard sometimes, isn't it?

Jaimee McClellan said...

What a fantastic post!
I'm so drawn to children's illustrations. I think I enjoy the books more than my four year old. I love Library Day so I can help him pick out all the lovelies to read at bedtime.

Good luck on your endeavors!

Oh, and that squirrel is shocking - even a tad creepy, yet cute!

Sara Prebble said...

WOW that is a pretty cool story Gretel! Just had a read of it over a tuna baguette while my email kept flashing with amendments on all the work i sent of for approval this morning...*Sigh* Back to it.

Glad you had a wicked day!

Sara x

Jennifer Thermes said...

Hi Gretel-- I loved reading about your day, and all those books and artwork look luscious! Thanks for sharing. :-)

Susan Mitchell said...

It was only a matter of time - I am so happy for you and can't wait to see all your future projects come to life :)

tlawwife said...

I am so excited for you. What a glorious day.

Caroline B said...

So glad you had a wonderful day - can't wait to see the results.

tlchang said...

There are times that the whole children's illustrator thing becomes entirely worthwhile, yes? What an amazing stash of delicious art goodness! Lucky, lucky girl. Toymaker. Card company. Gardener, et al...!

Keep writing things down in your book of wild dreams and desires, and can't wait for more details!

natural attrill said...

Great to hear you've had such a good time, and that you are enjoying the life of an illustrator again. Sounds like you had a marvelous trip to Dorking.
Hope the book goes well.
I am so pleased for you G!

Morag Lloyds said...

A great blog about a great day.
Cant wait to see the finished work.

Anonymous said...

dont spare the horses

no sleep till july

going off to roost myself
the London type nerd

June said...

What a wonderful post Gretel. And a good reminder of how great it is to be a children's book illustrator, despite all the less enjoyable 'stuff' that may happen during the creating of a book.
It is good to hear you sounding so positive and excited about illustrating again, though you wear your other hats very well too. :o)

Rima Staines said...

Blimey, how brilliant!
I'm so pleased to hear that your wonderful work is getting to be in more and more books... and what a lovely post about some lovely things:)
We do like a lot of same things.. Alison Jay's book box is great.. and so's Robert Ingpen :)
So excited about your button-lipped project :)
Hugs x Rima

Dana and Daisy said...

I have some internet shopping to do after reading your post! Is it too decadent for a 40-something year-old to be buying children's books for herself when she has no children?

Mary Beth said...

Thank you so much for sharing this day with us - it does sound so glamorous to me, stuck here in a dry, boring office. But we're seeing the process hopefully near the end (where you become violently rich and famous) and not the beginning where you do anything and everything to be able to keep painting.

I am looking into that edition of the Wind in the Willows - we have one illustrated by EH Shephard, but you can never have too many copies of that book:)

Can't wait to see what's coming out or your workshop next. By the way, LOVE Sleepy Sam. When I get out of the $$ hole I'm in now, expect an order from NJ:)

Ratlion said...

"But yes, on the whole, it IS lovely being a children's illustrator. Toymaker. Card company. Gardener. Head Cake-Maker. Housewife."

You know, that actually sounds like someone I'd like to be when I grow-up!

Sounds lovely.


d. moll, l.ac. said...

Looking forward to seeing your book! Take naps, really, it saves the adrenals, Nettle tea as well. What a lovely WITW that is.

Weeping Sore said...

What a lovely day for a book lover. Thanks for sharing your lovely pictures, including the remarkable albino squirrel.
I've always loved well-illustrated kids books, and you managed to save the best for last: my fave: Wind in the Willows.

carolyn said...

Wonderful cheering post, isn't life good?
By the way I love those Lloyds ads just wish they weren't for Lloyds!

Dana and Daisy said...

Gretel, what a wonderful name. Thank you for stopping by my blog and replying. When I was an art director, I used to get similar remarks about my profession. Yes. I guess compared to accounting or some such thing, we've had very interesting jobs. Although it is work, and not all play and most people do not understand the processes and time involved.

Happy Illustrating!

Unknown said...

I aspire to be all those things ... but I can't draw so maybe the illustrator title will be dropped ... but I'm fully chasing the other titles ... sigh. I love that you love what you do - it shines through your work so much x

auntpearl said...

Sounds like you had a wonderful day. I would have just been so excited too! Such treasures.
Children's books are my passion. The illustrations are definitely the deciding factor on rating it's worth.
That is why your work is so cherished...


Anonymous said...

Oh Gretel!

You do have a lovely life. No one gets everything that they want but that day had a fair share of just about everything you could dream of! Good luck with your work. I look forward to seeing the results! Wish I was you! Jen

Libbys Blog said...

How exciting. I do envy you clever arty people. To be able to put pen or pencil to paper and actually produce something that resembles what your aiming for is to me a minor miracle.
A thoroughly enjoyable post!

julie said...

Thanks for the wonderful feast of illustrations. It sounds like a brilliant day. I can definitely see parallels between your favourite book and your life and I love the quote - it sums up what home is all about and why it is so nice to return there after an adventurous and exciting day!

Frances said...

Hello PG, and many thanks for your comments.

I just had a peek at your studio, and see that you are working, working, working. I left quickly, didn't want to be rudely looking over your shoulder!

Your visit to the publishers was wonderfully told ... a sort of story book in itself, and the photos are superb. I am not familiar with these books or their creators (old single woman with no children) but am going to recommend them to my lovely little library.

Did I ever mention to you that I once harbored the notion of illustrating children's books? Put together a portfolio, nothing came of it. Wrote and illustrated my own little book and sent it around, got "nice" comments, but nothing came of it. Retreated to other forms of employment, but am so, so impressed with what you create. Continued success to you!

ellen said...

What a truly lovely day. I am so happy for you and always look forward to visiting here and seeing the amazing things you create with your hands and heart.

Cindy Garber Iverson said...

Such a delightful post, Gretel! It was wonderful getting to peek into your illustrator world. I've often wondered what meetings with publishers are like. And your parcel of treasures you brought home is just wonderful! I'm so envious.

Cindy at Rosehaven Cottage

Anonymous said...

I didn't know the work of Alison Jay. I'm going to read the article about her now. Her work has the same 'other wordliness' that yours has. Similar colours too? Beautiful. I LOVE those Lloyds adverts - my daughter sings along with the music and has me in stiches every time! (It's the face she makes!)The animation is truly gorgeous. What a lovely post. :o)

kate smudges said...

What an amazing day you had ... full of beautiful books, news and interesting people. It was good to read about this day - and to know what it is like to be a book illustrator. I had no idea it was such intensive work ... now I do and I admire and respect you. I was also happy to find out that cold lager works in easing illustrator's hand.

Anonymous said...

Sounds divine to me! Unfortunately, my to buy list just got longer, thanks! The art work all looks fantastic.

Unknown said...

Great post! Picked up Varmints a while back, great stuff.

Taylor said...

A white squirrel is something you won't see down south. (South Carolina.)

Sarah said...

Oh FAB...illustration work...you were all down in the dumps when we met and now...brilliant, the deadline thing is crap, I guess you have to be one of the really famous ones to have the luxury of time...I am SOOO pleased for you xx big hug