'Laura Carlin moves with ease, yet with great care between different moods, demonstrating both sensitivity and a sense of humour… the pages are paced to perfection’, said the judges of the Biennial of Illustrations Bratislava (BIB), when she won the Grand Prix in 2015. Here she talks about the influences on her work and the approach she took in her book The Promise.
This was one of the most important pages in The Promise. It’s a turning point – where the main character, a little girl who has previously got by stealing, understands the promise she has made to plant a bag of acorns. ‘I held a forest in my arms and my heart was changed.’ I think of this spread as quite a magical one. And, for this reason, it’s the one I made most versions of!
Despite the promise and the hope, we are still in the mean and hard city, so I used a dirty grey ink wash for the background, including the city pavement with its litter. I then covered the paint using different shades of coloured pencils to give a gritty atmosphere. I try to create depth and atmosphere with the combination of ink, acrylic paint and coloured pencil. I’m influenced by the work of artists such as John Burningham, Andrez Francois and Remy Charlip. They never lose the energy in their work. Sometimes, after making rough after rough and revising a book so many times, finished work can end up looking forced or laboured. The best children’s books look like they’ve been made with love, spontaneity and playfulness. I think children pick up on this and respond accordingly.
It’s important that this picture illustrates the girl’s imagination. I kept drawing and painting the forest that she was to plant, but it always ended up looking too literal. I ended up rubbing out the trees because I liked the dreamlike atmosphere it created around the main character – I wanted it to be enchanting enough that you’re eager to turn the page and unveil the rest of her journey.
I wanted the girl to look like she was in wonder – after all, her whole mindset has been altered by this bag and its contents. The rubbed out colour helped give the illusion that the acorn was almost lighting up her face.
On the next spread, I continued the rubbed out effect, to help create a spotlight on the girl who is now asleep, sleeping with the acorns as her pillow. She’s preparing for the next day – a very important one on which she’ll start to plant. Again, I wanted a magical quality to the illustration – with the air of possibility and hope.
Nicola’s writing is so visually rich, I try not to over-illustrate it with too much information – I want to keep the poetic quality of it. She doesn’t waste words and she doesn’t patronize children and I hope to reinforce this with my illustrations and the way I make them!
Laura Carlin graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2004 and has lived and worked in London ever since. She wrote and illustrated A World of Your Own, which won a D&AD as well as the BIB Grand Prix. For Walker Books she illustrated Ted Hughes’s The Iron Man, for which she won the V&A Illustration Award. Her new book King of the Skies, written by Nicola Davies, will be published in May 2017. Laura also enjoys working in clay, making and glazing figures as well as telling stories on tiles.
The Promise is published by Walker Books, 978-1406355598, £6.99