Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Ian Beck at Just Imagine - with thanks to Nikki Gamble and Sue Eves!

No Facebook this morning, I said to myself, otherwise I'll never get started before midday.  So glad I didn't listen to my better self!   Turned out that fellow author-illustrator and SCBWI-er Sue Eves had passed on an invitation on FB to an event at Just Imagine - for TONIGHT!
I'm so glad I braved the wintry evening to Liverpool Street Station and the train (only 30 min. after all!) to a warm paradise for kids book lovers in Chelmsford.  I'm just back now and  very grateful to Nikki Gamble of Just Imagine for setting this up, and to Ian Beck for coming from Richmond, even further afield than me and Sue Eves.

records of the evening: the elegant and animated Ian Beck rapidly squeezed into my sketchbook and a signed copy of his latest chapter book
What fascinating work and stories Ian Beck had to share with a small circle of us lucky illustrators!
He began by showing us some of his earliest illustrations for The Radio Times and covers for Bowie and Elton John (alias Elsie) - including the famous album cover to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.  We were given tantalizing glimpses of several rare private press books he had illustrated including The Summer House, inspired by an extraordinary Lutyens house in Varengeville, which in turned inspired Jeannette Winterson to write a novella, The Dreaming House.  Ian Beck's own blog shows the house, and many more goodies besides.
Ian shared some of his sources of inspiration - how the series of picture books starting with Home before Dark started from wheeling his child home one windy evening.
He talked about all kinds of collaborations,  including with a certain David Fickling when he was starting out as a young unknown editor, with Philip Pullman and his vision of a cover for Puss in Boots, and more recently Ian talked of how he had used Photoshop to create misty layers behind the silhouettes in Pullman's retelling of Aladdin and his Lamp.
Ian talked of dispiriting rejections too and going back to the drawing board and cutting out key characters, and having to restitch everything.
Applying his imagination to different media from illustration to novel writing and poetry, his persistance is inspiring.  He doesn't shirk the re-writes and refinements that come from working with editors and art directors as precious mediators.
A tremendous tonic - thank you again Ian Beck!

Monday, 3 December 2012

SCBWI Winchester conference to Salon du Livre Jeunesse, Montreuil, Paris

The buzz from SCBWI Winchester conference is still ringing in my head:  Debi Gliori's heartfelt keynote speech and workshop,  Eric Huang's enlightening explanation of Transmedia, hosted and reported on here by Nick Cross,  useful branding tips from author Justin Somper and PJ Norman of Author Profile, performance training from school visitor extraordinaire Steve Hartley, author-actor Mo O'Hara, and finally the best ever group book launch hosted by the inimitable  Lin Oliver co-founder of SCBWI.

Three days later I was on a (thankfully restful) train to Paris, preparing for more buzz at the Salon du Livre et de la Presse Jeunesse, the French national kids book fair.

Hilarious comic illustrator, author and cartoonist friend Sally Kindberg who is also published at Bloomsbury, came with me -  an ideal travel companion.
We lodged close to the fair thanks to another friend, the illustrious Doug Cushman, fellow author and illustrator at Hen & Ink.
When we arrived Doug was painting a watercolour of an owl in his Paris studio.

A couple of hours later Sally and I went to the grand opening of the French kids book fair.   

Sally took a pic of me in my spotty jacket.  I'm holding a pile of bumpf about the fair.  Imagine over 300 children's publishers showing their year's output and more, in stands across two huge floors.  Well over 150, 000 visitors brave the trip into Montreuil, an eastern suburb of Paris to look at books and attend events for kids and publishing pros. 
I'll confess I  blogged last year too, enthusing about this mecca for illustrators, authors, kids and book lovers.  I just can't resist going on about it!  What is it about this particular children's book fair that stands out from any other?    

One big difference is that kids can attend, not just the industry pros.  
They come with their parents or schools armed with a few euros.  They queue up to watch illustrators and authors sign their books.  There's a buzz around books which older kids notice.  Yes, it's cool to look at books.

Another feeling you get strongly here is real pride in the produce.  It speaks for itself. There's not so much glitzy corporate marketing and hard sell.   Yet it's a fair that seems to help even the smallest publishers survive.   From the huge variety of books and inventive formats it seems they can afford to take risks and publish the books they love.   This year it was great to see Nobrow come from London who also take pride in publishing stand-out books.  

Sally loved this beaked tight rope walker on the wall of a publisher's stand.
ish we had noted the book it was from - anyone know? 

The opening night is not all about bribery with food and drink..
Little girl and appetizers at one send of the Tourbillon stand

wine and tasty canapés at the Bayard stand -
where there was a real buzz this year...
Aside from incredible standard of art in French kids books, and the daring formats and subjects, there is more than enough to entice children, parents, librarians and booksellers into buying mounds of books before Christmas...

A book of historical maps to make kids love maps forever

one shelf in the BD (comic / graphic novel) section
Telling kids stories of  WW2
from publisher Rue du Monde 
for teens, a newspaper-like fantasy in pictures

"What are swear words?" asks this article in a Bayard kid's magazine
(Not sure such graphic visuals would be tolerated in some other countries I can think of!)

 The day after I took Sally to my French publishers, Bayard.  They've moved to a huge modern building south of Paris in the suburb of Montrouge.  It's a long walk from the book publishing end to the magazine end of the building.  As we got to the offices of Belles Histoires and Tralalire,  I noticed a couple of old posters I'd done a while ago were up on the walls.  

Notice the washing line of illustrations up in the Belles Histories / Tralalire offices!

And here is Sally again, with Marianne Vilcoq, an illustrator herself and the hard-working Belles Histoires art director - just before we took off.    

My only regret is I didn't have time to catch up with more friends in Paris.  Still Sally and I had a hilarious  meal at L'Atmosphère by the Canal St Martin, with some of the other Hen & Ink authors and illustrators,   Jeanne de Sainte Marie,  Sarah Towle,  Mina Witteman from Amsterdam,  and also a recent SCBWI member, Jion Shebani whose portfolio I had admired a few days before at the Winchester conference.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Bridget Marzo is here! is a new site of mine.

And because it's all new and different,  I've shortened my name for this work to my mother's maiden name. This new world I'm creating needs its own space as it is quite distinct from my other work as a commissioned illustrator.

My new characters Tiz and Ott are busy building the house for Bridget Marzo . You can go and see them at work if you like.  Meanwhile I'm getting some precious advice on the best way to open the door to all their art and antics.

Yes, I've been busy.  Time has flown.  And I'm off again for the French kids book fair.
I wanted to talk more about an inspring SCBWI conference in Winchester this past weekend but I have to pack.  Another time!

Saturday, 27 October 2012

My first school visit to CET Primary in Bow, East London

Last week I went to the official opening of a new school in Bow, just down the road.  It had been open just 30 days.  Here's a sketch I did of some of the 5 year-olds lining to tell a big audience of parents and partners why they liked their new school.

On the left is Helen O'Donoghue, a warm, wonderful headmistress, who returned to found this school in London after years working in International schools abroad. This school is free - parents don't pay. And yet it is as international as East London.

Here I am a week later making and drawing Mini Books with them -  a 6 page folding book with no staples, made from a single sheet of paper - thanks to a clever slit in the middle (note - must  upload this on my next activities page!)

I was the school's very first author to visit for their very first Book Week.   Here's a table at one of the 3 classes I made books with - the oldest class of 5 year-olds. 
At assembly I showed a slideshow to the whole school  - where I work, my drawings, how I plot books out, rough books and finished books and the long list of covers which they counted together with the headmistress.
I also showed them this photo.
I'm not sure they all believed that this little 4 year old girl below with her nose in a picture book was me. 

I ended by reading Hush, hush!  from my illustrations on the big screen.   How I wish I could have taken a picture of the little boy who after all the others had got up, was left sitting in the middle of the room, eyes closed, face turned up in a blissful doze.  Now that's a bedtime story that really works!

A big thanks to CWISL for putting me in touch with this exciting local school!

Monday, 24 September 2012

Characters, characters

A decade, several books, many illustrations and many more characters ago, I was commissioned to illustrate a little hippo for a story by Margaret Wild. He upped and left my studio and is still going strong in a book, plodding around his corner of the Savannah.   

In illustrating my most recent English book, Mini Racer, I came up with twenty characters in twelve odd little vehicles, each making their odd little way to the end of the race.

This year there are just two characters that won't leave me alone.  I've written several stories about them - more to come.  
High-energy Tiz and low-energy Ott  draw, paint, dance, build...
They play apart and sometimes together.   And they're getting more confident with a bit more color in them now.  
When will they up and leave the studio?  
Erm, perhaps before they go, they'll bake me a cake for my birthday?

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Mini Racer on track: near the Museum of Childhood & down the road from the Olympics

The sun shone on my first ever children's workshop in London - in the Gallery Cafe Garden, near the Museum of Childhood yesterday.

As ever, the kids proved to be great readers of pictures.  They spotted all the red and green flags - and plenty of other details I had almost forgotten myself, as I read Kristy Dempsey's words.  
As time was short, I'd prepared a quick activity - a choice of vehicles I  printed onto card, for them to colour, fold in two, & stand upright on the track.

One boy and one girl chose Motodog.
At least five girls wanted DottyDog and family.  

One chose the speedy Carrot Car.

And the smallest person there, chose the smallest
racer ...

We made a track with left and right turns
with this tape.
Mini Racer go go go!  

We cheered the Mini Racers on, one day before David Weir won the Paralympics marathon gold medal down the road.

Today I whizzed down the Strand on my bike to catch the tail end of the closing Olympic parade, dodging the crowds through central London.
The bus with the Olympic medalists was WAY too far ahead.
Oh well.  Doesn't matter where you are on the track.  
There's always something to appreciate...

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Children's Book Garden Party, Gallery Café St Margeret's House, near the V&A Museum of Childhood

Are you in London and do you have kids?
Why not take them to the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green next Saturday September 8th?
Then after 1pm, just cross Old Ford Road, a few steps north, for the first Children's Book Garden Party at the Gallery Cafe, St Margaret's House!

A bunch of us authors and illustrators from CWISL will be running some fun workshops and storytelling until 5pm for free - while you eat cake!

Nicholas Allan will be performing his magic  with the Queen's Knickers.
Margaret Bateson-Hill will get your child making a duck hat.
You can meet Karin Littlewood and her Eskimo Immi,  Judy Allen and her Catnapping Cat.
And I'll be making little cars with kids from my star-review illustrations to Mini Racer  (read Juno magazine's review here) to race on our very own track.

If you're children are budding writers they can get some feedback and story-doctoring from older-fiction author Sam Osman. (Buy a signed copy of her book Quicksilver before it goes global as a film! ).

Also don't miss award-winning author, Sarah Mussi new book Angel Dust is hot off the press with brilliant new publisher, Hot Key.  (Sarah's top writing tips appeared in the Guardian recently).

If you're not in London, and don't have kids, well, you maybe can still spread the invitation around - thanks!

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Notes from Shaun Tan & Quentin Blake in Conversation, a Comica event hosted by Paul Gravett

A big thank you to Paul Gravett and Comica for getting two great artist-illustrators, Shaun Tan and Quentin Blake, who had never previously met, to talk together in public this evening in London.
I'm sure there'll be other fuller records of this interesting meeting with its unexpected bonus of a joint live drawing session.
Here are just a few things that grabbed me, which I want to get down while it's all still fresh.

What interests Quentin Blake in the process of drawing is finding out what he's drawing will look like.   "You'll have fun or trouble with this one"  is a thought he likes to have when he starts, avoiding easy, formulaic answers.

Both Shaun Tan and Quentin are happy to alter even their final drawing if needed.
They also both talked about the problem of a drawing being "too good".  Shaun has even sandpapered over a painting that feels too slick, too real. Likewise Quentin said, the important thing is not to get to the answer too easily.  You have to believe in it as a drawing, and if it's too real, too polished, perhaps it's harder to believe.  (This by the way, reminds me of something Matisse said about a painting needing to have a chink in it, some corner or bit that was troublesome, something not quite right that could give you a path into looking at it.)

Shaun nevertheless fights what he feels is his natural tendency to be too controlled.  He likes to work on a messed up surface - using collage, some colour or paint dribbles to break it up a bit.  The trouble with the computer, he says, is that you don't get suprised by accidents in the way you can drag a palette knife laden with paint and find something surprising emerge.  That said, he has to work digitally at some point for things like his film work. The real ideas start for Shaun when he 'stumbles over his own consciousness' at some point after all the emails, and worries about artistic failure (!) , visualizing things in tiny thumbnails, the smaller the freer.  He then blows them up on a light box, being too scared, he says, to work large...After working on it some length of time - he'll start to be convinced by it .  There's a certain stage of work when the conviction comes, a kind of leap of faith.   It's not there at the outset.

Quentin Blake talked about there being a lot of acting in drawing. And like an actor you can identify with your characters while maintaining a certain detachment, even if you are grimacing or growling.

Shaun standing, Quentin sitting to draw
Both started out studying English literature at university, and in Shaun's case, art history and theory but it was the apprenticeship,  the 'doing', getting small drawing commissions, both from aged 16 that taught them the most about drawing.  

For Shaun drawing is an emotional thing.  He focuses on it feeling right. He can intellectualize about it afterwards.   Words, Shaun Tan says, have a set speed (he had a nice image of the the movement from words, like throwing pebbles into a still pool, that he didn't want for The Lost Thing) The wordless visual sequence in Blake's Clown or Tan's The Arrival, means the pace can be slower, so your eyes can bounce back, move around the page, at your own pace.

Another advantage to not being too realistic, removing certain descriptive details - is that it allows for more open-ended readings.   Shaun was touched by one interpretation of his book The Arrival,  about an immigrant arriving in an unfamiliar country.  One boy told him he read it as about going to school.  So the trope of immigration can also be about transition.   That open endedness is fine.

Shaun joked that from his uneventful life in the studio he can struggle with people facing situations that he would never want to face in real life.  Similar Quentin said the people he draws are active to make up for his own laziness (!).

Lazy?  Well I'd say both Shaun Tan and Quentin Blake worked hard this evening,  talking about their process, actively drawing a few subjects the audience gave them at random, and signing books for a long line of admiring illustrators and comic book creators.

Shaun Tan and Quentin Blake starting off on the subject of 'Disguise'

Quentin's interpretation left and Shaun's right of 'Gluttony' (sorry the angle's not great!)

Friday, 22 June 2012

A London day, rich as a fruit cake

sketch for Tiz & Ott project 

I've had to lay aside my Tiz and Ott stories for the umpteenth time this year, to finish the cover for the Belles Histoires wolf story mentioned earlier.

Still, yesterday I got distracted by a  London day as rich as a fruit cake.
First I took time off in Clerkenwell Green, to draw 2 lunchtime sketches for the artist and writers Summer Solstice Scrawl Crawl.

Inspired by this man in the rain, though without that umbrella, I too had a glass of wine, before cycling back to the studio and then home to Brick Lane to work on the computer for a bit.

Two hours later, back to Clerkenwell, this time to meet my Storybox editor Simona Sideri.  Alongside books and other commissions, I've had a small regular job since 2005, illustrating her riddles on the back of each monthly Storybox magazine. Occasionally my illustrations to a full length picture book are republished there too.   Simona has worked as an editor on both sides of the Channel for various big publishing houses and we had a great time nattering about English and French publishing, and the mixed origins that lie behind our English education.

Leaving Moritos we walked past my favourite bookshop Clerkenwell Tales and saw a talk going on inside by artist and author Rachel Lichtenstein, whose fascinating book On Brick Lane  taught me a lot about where I now live.  She was launching her new book about the diamond street of London, Hatton Garden alongside none other than the great biographer of London, Iain Sinclair.

We were too late for their talk.  However we ran into Victor Keegan there. Victor is,  among other things, author of the  app, Gems of London.  I can really recommend it as a  delightful way to wander off the classic paths through London, and dig up some surprising discoveries.  We had previously met  in same shop, enthusing over the amazingly rich and stimulating blog Spitalfields Life.

Spitalfields life is so packed with goodies, people, pictures, stories. Although I follow it regularly, I've barely scraped the surface. It's like London itself. But how to work when there are such wonderful distractions all around?

Time is all I need right now.
This weekend I drive off to France for a lightening trip.  I'm giving students an day intensive on colour mixing at Parsons Paris School of Desin, and I'll catch up briefly with my former life in Senlis.
Back to the wolf cover first!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Sneak peek 3 or spot the difference!

At last! I sent off all the final spreads to Bayard's Belles Histoires yesterday, after well over a month of tweakings, snipping and snappings.  
I started this story, due to be published in October, with pencil and brush pen...scanned everything in, then decided that, to save time, I'd do the colour in photoshop.  Big mistake!

The problem with Photoshop is  - second thoughts, and third and fourth thoughts...

You can carry on revising at infinitum, until there are no more thoughts at all.  Then before you kill the picture altogether, you find yourself going back, to hunt out whatever it was that lurked in that first simple sketch that made it feel alive. 
And then you re-sketch, and re-scan and re-draw.  That done, you'll print out and detect a small inconsistency from one spread, to the next.  So you go over everything again, hoping to make every character believable across the whole world you've shaped and every action fresh.  Aaargh!

You wonder if anyone else will look at it as hard as you have done.
I can't help thinking that children will.  They are so much better at looking.
In fact I remember how annoyed I was as a child by visual inconsistencies.  A glaring one was on the cover of the old Rupert Bear annuals.  Why oh why did my best friend Rupert have textured brown fur on the book cover when inside he had white fur?  The fact that this was an accepted tradition in Rupert Annuals, with only one exception  - the cover of 1973 meant nothing to me as a child.

By the way in this story, young wolf frees the rabbit, bravely explaining to his wild wolf dad that he prefers potato pie with a sprinkling of thyme on it.
A very French story with food at its heart, written by Céline Claire whose story Une Nuit à L'Ecole I illustrated a while back and is being made into an app. To see the rest of this story, Le Doudou du Loup,  you'll need to be in France and hunt out the October 2012 number of Bayard's prestigious children's magazine Belles Histoires,(which publishes a new picture book story every month) or take out a subscription.
Meanwhile you COULD play 'spot the difference' with my previous sneek peak.
Now, where was I with my own book projects?  
Back to the kitchen to give them a stir!

Friday, 27 April 2012

Sneak peek 2 - a whole new wild wolf, French style

Well, the feedback from my loyal French art director was that the wolves in my first roughs weren't  quite scary enough for small kids.  They want a least in France they do.  Which is fun, so I'm working on scaring kids some more. 
Here's wild Mrs Wolf admiring her new born.  Our little hero looks like he's got what it takes, she believes, to a Big Bad Wolf one day, just like Grandpa. 

And here  - almost done but... is a colour version of the rough I showed in my previous post, where Dad Wolf is showing his son how to be a Big Bad hunter.    
I'm still working on the look and feel of all this, 3 weeks before the final deadline. Back to work asap!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

A sneak peek: recent roughs...

rough for Belles Histoires - 'Baby wolf has got his grandpa's black eyes....

'Pa teaching little Wolfie how to hunt'.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Parsons New York, post the SCBWI Midwinter conference

If you happen to be in New York, next Monday lunchtime, Pat Cummings has invited me to give a talk at Parsons, New York.  See - she's put up my whole name, in big letters!

Hope to touch on the core, the 'coeur' , the heart  of what it's all about for artists. 
Knowing our strengths, overcoming self-doubt,  appreciating others and our context, and plain old plugging on are all part of it.  It seems so obvious, even banal when put like this.
The brilliantly smart comic artist Jamie Smart  puts it in much more colourful language.  By the way he's also got a kids and adult version of his site and a bunch of wonderful characters, and kids books and comics and TV pilots and all. 
And here are a few more serious words of his wisdom.... I couldn't have put it better myself!  And yes it IS fun!

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Let's play with Tiz and Ott - in the Idea Store

A story I've been struggling with for months is ready to show, at last.
Could it be the pressure of my upcoming week in New York then Bologna mid-March?

And last week, I had a new idea.  I was enjoying a baked potato and the view from the top floor of the Whitechapel Idea Store  Anyway, I put down my fork, and started sketching two new characters.

Meet Tiz and Ott.   Maybe that's what an Idea Store is for?