Ella Burfoot’s deceptively childlike illustrations are decoratively appealing with an emphasis on contrasting colours and texture. Here Ella Burfoot explains her approach and technique in her latest picture book Betty and the Yeti.
Betty and the Yeti came about almost as a reaction to my previous picture book, Darkness Slipped In which is quite graphic in feel, and very simple in its approach to colour, using black, yellow and shocking pink.
Whilst doodling new ideas I did a rough sketch of a little girl in a snowy landscape, with a green coat and a red sled. The white landscape was particularly pleasing after having used so much black in Darkness Slipped In, and the red and green really zinged against one another.
This was the starting point for a story that wandered happily along, and tumbled on to the page. Betty is a little girl who lives in the snow, and collects things on her sled as she goes on her journeys through the landscape.
I have always loved collecting things, objects and ideas, so my writing often starts off in this way, collecting lists of words and thoughts. Betty finds an assortment of big furry clothes, and she sets about trying to find their owner, on her way meeting her friends, whale, bear, and Arctic hare. She eventually meets the owner of the smelly, hairy clothes, who, contrary to first appearances, is not so scary after all.
I use a mixture of watercolours and Dr Martin’s inks for the base colour in my images. The inks are very intense, and provide me with lovely bright blues and reds. Using an oil-based pencil for the line, I then draw on top of the image with coloured pencils, adding texture and extra vibrancy.
I have used a fairly simple palette in this book, mainly blues and greens, but I didn’t want the images to be too cold (even though it’s a book about snow!) so I have, for instance, used some pink and yellow on the whale to give her a little warmth, and bring her forward on the page.
My favourite part of creating stories is making the rough drawings at the initial stages of the process. I love working quickly and excitedly on pencil roughs and these drawings have an immediacy, which I try to retain in my finished artworks.
I particularly enjoyed making the image of Betty and the whale. The difference in scale between the characters made a lovely contrast, and the shape of the whale echoes the rolling landscape of previous pages.
The image of Betty holding the Yeti’s coat is another favourite, as Betty almost disappears under the ‘jingly jangly’ hat, and her friend fox gets well and truly wrapped up warm!
I was working on Betty and the Yeti through the winter months, and snowy walks, with a bundled up baby and an excited dog, were the perfect inspiration for my pictures. I noticed seed heads and grasses poking up from under the snow and, through collage and pencil drawing, tried to capture a few of these details in my pictures, to add a little more depth to my illustrations, and bring a few extra wintry touches to Betty’s snowy world.
Betty and the Yeti is published by Macmillan Children’s Books (978 0 330 51117 9) at £5.99.
Ella Burfoot’s picture book Darkness Slipped In (Macmillan Children’s Books) was shortlisted for the 2008 British Book Design and Production Awards and nominated for the 2009 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal. Ella earned both her undergraduate and Master’s degrees in illustration from University College Falmouth.