Much of this issue of BfK is devoted to the Words About Pictures seminar and workshop held in March. Organised by The Quentin Blake Gallery of Illustration, the Joint Education Department at Somerset House and Books for Keeps, it was the first children’s books seminar and workshop to focus on the problems that confront the reviewers of children’s illustrated books when they try to make critical judgements that involve expressing the visual in words. We reproduce here seminar papers from Joanna Carey and Brian Alderson as well as an account of the day from Ghislaine Kenyon. One of the participants, Martin Salisbury, Course Director for MA Children’s Book Illustration at APU Cambridge School of Art, continues the conversation begun at Somerset House in this issue with his article on the changing role of illustration in children’s books.
One of the many great pleasures of the day was witnessing the facility and confidence with which the invited practitioners (illustrators, art directors and leading reviewers) in the field were able to put into words the processes and thinking involved in creating illustrated books. Art directors Deirdre McDermott and Amelia Edwards from Walker Books quoted Maurice Sendak on the importance of the ‘emotional quality’ in illustration, not just ‘picture quality’. In a riveting conversation between themselves and with the audience they described the ‘invisible time’ involved in the making of a book which involves such considerations as the pacing of emotion, the manoeuvring of type and the enabling of the illustrator to take charge of the whole space available. There is also, they pointed out, the need to recognise where you, as Art Director, are needed and where you are not. They illuminated their talk with telling examples: Patrick Benson’s owl babies in the title of the same name, hopping with joy when mother owl returns – the consummate solution when your babies have no smiles and no clothes; the emotional scale of mother and baby in Guess How Much I Love You with their dramatic diagonals and the graceful dancing of Charlotte Voake’s hand lettering which is such an intrinsic (and often ignored) part of her drawing.
While it is the case that every time one sits down to write about an illustrated book the problem will be different, what the Words About Pictures day has left me with is a greater awareness of process and the hope that this fascinating conversation about illustration will continue.