Chris Judge won the Irish Children’s Book of the Year Award with his first picture book, The Lonely Beast. It was followed by more best-selling picture books, his vibrant illustrations and comic-book-style layout and transitions becoming immediately recognisable. He takes a very different approach in this latest book, as he explains.
My daughter Juno was diagnosed with Leukaemia in January 2020 just before Covid arrived and it was a monumentally tough two years of treatment for her during this terrifying time. Happily she finished treatment in April 2022 and is doing brilliantly.
To keep myself busy (and sane!) during the first lockdown in the Summer of 2020, I started a project called ‘A Daily Cloud’ where every day I would take a photo of a cloud and draw a few lines to turn it into an animal or object. I post them onTwitter and Instagram and have built up a lovely community of followers. Amazingly Eoin Colfer spotted the project and approached me with an idea for a book called The Cloud Factory that by chance he had been working on simultaneously.
In my mind I thought I could never create a book about the overwhelming events of my daughter’s illness but Eoin’s delicate story about a little girl who sees things in clouds and becomes ill just blew me away.
We felt very lucky that we got to work with Walker books who guided us both brilliantly with regard to the story and illustration style.
The image for the book that I have chosen to talk about here is the first spread in the book where we are introduced to Erin and her dad. This was the first illustration I worked on, and we went through multiple versions of this and the following two pages as we tried to find the right style for it. I had the cloud illustrations established which are essentially minimal pencil lines on photographic backgrounds. We struggled for several weeks to find the right balance of line work and colours overlayed on photographic elements and collage that would complement the cloud drawings.
Finally we had a breakthrough and suddenly the entire book fell into place. The style we arrived at was a very detailed coloured pencil style that I created digitally in Procreate. Each element has 3-4 layers of textures that I built up gradually. I trawled through my 80,000 digital photos from the last 20 years to find suitable backgrounds and elements that we could use to create the photographic collage backgrounds. It was a bit of a departure from the more graphic style that I use in my other picture books. I am thrilled with the results and learned a lot along the way.
It was a very emotional book to work on as we were still going through treatment and living through parallel events in the book which was difficult at times. Luckily, I had an incredibly patient and talented team in Walker books, Deirdre McDermott, Maria Tunney and Marty Cleary, working with me on the entire journey. It is an incredibly precious book to me and I really hope readers will engage with it as much as I do.
Cloud Babies by Eoin Colfer, illustrated by Chris Judge, is published by Walker Books, 978-1529502671, £12.99 hbk.