‘Young children have an uninhibited, instinctive, approach to drawing, unhampered by any perceived rules and it’s that ability to put feeling before form that gives Bruce Ingman’s illustrations a certain guileless innocence’. So said Joanna Carey, assessing the work of Bruce Ingman for the Guardian. Here he explains how he creates and maintains that guileless freshness in his collaborations with Allan Ahlberg.
It starts with the story. No, that’s not true. It always starts with the phone call.
Allan calls to give me the heads up that the story is on the way. In the actual post!
This way I get his very important annotations on the text. But it means I’m well and truly chomping on my pencil by the time the jolly postman delivers the goods.
It won’t be a surprise to anyone that the first thing I do now is find a quiet spot to read the story. I read it several times and then I let it settle in my head while I get on with the practical bits of starting a book: cutting a sketchbook down to a suitable size, cutting out the text and sticking it into this ‘dummy’ book and putting on the kettle. It sounds very old school but this is still one of the most important rituals of getting started. When I’ve roughed out the whole book, the real sport begins. I photocopy it and send it to Allan and the ping pong of ideas begins.
My roughs are very primal and this is crucial; I don’t want to go too finished too early or I will lose that freshness when I decide to progress to the final versions. I don’t want to just colour in my drawings. I want to save that final decision-making for the artwork stage. It keeps me interested not quite knowing what’s going to happen next when I’m working. Luckily, Allan and all my publishers understand this process.
When I get to the painting stage, I’ll do two or three versions so I don’t get overly precious and can take risks with the painting knowing I won’t have to start all over again. I use acrylics as they dry really quickly and you can over paint quite easily. It’s like trying to capture the moment the idea struck and never losing that moment, of relying on my instinct to make the connection between words and reader.
My close working relationship with Allan can be seen all through our books and is very important. This is at its most obvious in our latest book My Worst Book Ever but it is an ongoing feature. Allan made himself and my daughter ants in The Pencil. My son appears in My Worst Book Ever. Then there’s the dog called Bruce in The Runaway Dinner!
Goldy Broad, the designer, played a pivotal role in what proved to be quite a technically tricky book. We probably did about ten different covers along the way. And when I said I wanted to put Allan’s actual desk in the book, she didn’t even flinch. She calmly took the rubbings I had made of the desk top, dropped it behind my artwork and together we came up with a colour palette to make it work.
My Worst Book Ever is published by Thames and Hudson, hardback £10.95