I always work from ‘life’ if you can call a load of soft toys and inanimate objects ‘life’. In fact I never include live animals or people in my books because they would have to sit still for the 20-40 hours it takes me to complete each illustration. I can take my time with a stuffed toy and they don’t object to being pinned in position or suspended from the ceiling! I set everything up in mini still-life groups and draw, first in pencil, then in coloured pencils on smooth watercolour board.
[image:Old Bear All-Together Painting – double-spread.JPG:left]
I work large (approx. A2 for a single page illustration) which means that most of my illustrations are reduced for the books; because of this it is quite hard to tell what medium I have used. I don’t think I am typical of coloured-pencil illustrators in that my drawings are not small, soft and decorative but are large, bold and quite vigorous. I try to make colours strong and saturated when this is required.
Coloured pencils also allow me to go overboard with texture. In fact my cast of animals is carefully chosen, not just for the variety of characters but also for colour and texture.
In the last 15 years (and more than 15 books) I have drawn the same group of toys about 500 times. The reason this has not become a chore is that I have included a large collection of objects and situations that are more of a challenge. Years ago I wrote myself a list of things that I wanted to draw; baskets, wooden toys, cardboard boxes, marbles on Indian rugs, water in jam jars etc. I have been working my way through that list ever since. I regard these things as treats (like a meal out or a weekend break!) to be thrown in when I might otherwise lose enthusiasm. They are dotted regularly throughout the books and sometimes have even inspired a whole story (eg the box in Jolly Tall and the picnic basket in Little Bear Lost.)
There are plenty of things from my list in this latest book, Old Bear’s All-Together Painting. In the illustration shown here Ruff the dog is bouncing rubber balls into paint to create splattered blobs of colour. The book is aimed at very young children and I have tried to make it as colourful, lively and appealing as possible.
I don’t actually radically alter the expressions of the characters in my books from page to page. However I am able to make subtle changes to mouths, eyes, posture etc to suggest mood, and that would not be possible in a photograph. Duck looks sad or downcast by his body language in this drawing; drooping wings, lowered head whereas Little Bear and Ruff are cheerful and animated.
The age group I write for will hopefully return to a book over and over again so there needs to be plenty in it to sustain interest. For this reason I try to include things to count, things to discuss and things to make or do (at home or school) in my drawings.
First of all children will look for familiar objects in a picture (dog, ball, water) then they will listen to the story and look for the things or actions they are hearing about. Later they may read the story for themselves, concentrating mainly on the text – using drawings to help make sense of the story, and finally they might look at the illustrations to see how they are done. It is a challenge to cover all these stages but to do so greatly extends the life (and value) of a children’s book.
The story is about an everyday activity; painting patterns, but it also explores the idea of working together as a team to create a communal effort.
I thought it would be a very loose and free book to illustrate, easy with lots of messy paint splodges, dribbles and splashes to draw – but I didn’t really take into account the fact that I would have to repeat all the ‘random’ dribbles several times because the patterns that the toys create are cut up and pasted together at the end of the book to create a finished picture! Wild and wobbly styles become waves on the sea. They had therefore to look convincingly similar! All part of the fun I guess – a new illustration challenge on every page!
Old Bear’s All-Together Painting is published in August by Hutchinson, 0 09 176957 4, £9.99 hbk.