Katie Cleminson is a multi award-winning author and illustrator whose books include Otto the Book Bear, selected as one of The Sunday Times’ 100 modern children’s classics in 2014. In this article she describes the challenge of illustrating a teddy as it is – literally – loved to bits.
Loved to Bits was written by the excellent Teresa Heapy, and the first text I’d been sent to illustrate that truly spoke to me.
I had already written and illustrated four picture books of my own, so illustrating for another author was a voyage of discovery. I read the text for the first time just before I went to visit my mother. I took it with me, her first reaction when reading ‘How will you illustrate him all fallen apart?’ Yes, how do you illustrate a dismembered teddy bear in a charming, non-scary way? By the end he has ‘No arms and legs – just hanging threads. Stripes loved off, all brown instead. Battered, worn-out ball and head.’ I had to get the balance of just enough of the Ted we knew, his face shape the same, and still with a smile for us, so he was still recognisable.
Also, the beginning of the book is full of swash-buckling, colourful Indiana-Jones style adventuring, and we have to switch tone completely when Ted’s last leg comes off. We managed this by slowing down the text, switching from busy backgrounds to white backgrounds, and zooming in on just our two characters, to show the importance. The incredible duo of art director Ness Wood, and super editor Alice Corrie, helped me find the delicate line of getting all the tones right, with this moving story.
One of the key drawings is when the boy is deciding bear’s fate, and I chose to have him with his back to us. This was definitely inspired by the great illustrator, EH Shepherd. That gorgeous illustration of playing Pooh sticks on the bridge, came to mind. The characters have their backs to us, inviting us to go over and look, as though we have stumbled across them in the woods. If you look at all those illustrations, the characters don’t often ‘look directly to camera’ and it creates the sense that they are in their own world, in private moments, rather than on stage for us. I wanted that quiet, intimate feel in this book. It took a lot of pencil and charcoal roughs, and a couple of mini dummy book to get the right compositions. For final artwork, I would then draw the ink line with a pipette, followed by willow charcoal, watercolour or coloured pencil.
I used photo reference of old Steiff bears to get the shapes for Ted. I wanted a classic timelessness to him, and I wanted his arms and legs to look jointed and flexible. I also hoped other generations might identify with Stripy Ted, I think we all had a toy that got rather tatty during our childhood. Did we all have them completely mended, or thrown out? Certainly not. My mother still has her faded pink teddy, it’s sixty years old, with one eye and a missing ear. Just like Stripy Ted, he’s loved to bits, and perfect just the way he is.
Loved to Bits is published by David Fickling Books, 978-1910989333, £6.99 pbk.