After studying art at Hereford and Bath Academy Jackie Morris went on to illustrate for magazines and newspapers, beginning her first book for children the week after her first child, Thomas was born. She has gone on to illustrate and write many books, and her work is characterised by powerful visualisations of links between the animal, human and mythological worlds. Here she explains the technique and thinking behind the illustrations in her new book East of the Sun, West of Moon.
I work with watercolour. After twenty years of painting I am beginning to get the hang of working with pigment and water. What held me back to begin with was trying to use the medium as other people did, in the traditional way, as I thought you were ‘supposed to ‘ paint. That and mixing colours. I can’t, don’t mix colours. But with time and patience I learnt to speak with watercolours in my own way, to layer, sometimes wet on wet, sometimes dry. Practice, always practice, always learning.
Working on a cover is one of the hardest things A book can live or die by its cover. What is needed is something that carries the flavour or texture of the book, something eye-catching and elegant, something that intrigues. It took me about a month of sketching and re-sketching, walking and thinking, conversations with the editor and marketing people, to come up with the cover image for East of the Sun, West of the Moon. The thing is that at the end of that long month, having produced two or three paintings that weren’t right (too much of a narrative content, too weak), I went back to the very first sketch that I had produced and painted that. There is, I hope, an air of mystery about it. I hope that once it has caught the eye it will make people want to pick it up and find out more.
This is my first novel. The paintings inside work in two ways. There are tiny decorative pieces that act as punctuation. The book has no chapters but there are natural breaks in the text, and it is almost built in separate ‘acts’, like a play. And then there are the full bleed double page spreads that illustrate part of the story. These are as much the scenery of the book as are the descriptive passages. They have a different atmosphere to the cover, they are designed to carry the story, to add to the description, the sense of place to help to paint the world in which the book is set.
The image illustrated is from a long and restless part of the book where the girl is walking. She is small in the landscape, insignificant in the world that is somehow separate from her. She walks alone in search of the castle that lies east of the sun, west of the moon, through hollow lands, and hilly lands, across deserts, through forests, until she finds help. This particular place is a real place, a bed and breakfast on the high hills of Derbyshire, called Stoop Farm, that I stayed in while I was working on the book. A place where midnight hares gather beneath a star bright sky.
I didn’t paint the North Wind. Why? Because I couldn’t? Because he lives in the mind’s eye of every reader who comes to this telling of an ancient tale, and he is whoever and however we would all want him to be.
East of the Sun, West of Moon is published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books 9781847802941 £9.99