One of Books for Keeps ‘Rising Talents 2011’, Nicola Killen’s illustrations for her first picture book Not Me! are notable for their stylish minimalism, patterned and textured use of colour and well thought out design. Here Nicola Killen explains the genesis of Not Me! and discusses her technique and approach.
Not Me! started as a university project while I was studying for an MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art. Most of the ideas for my stories come from life experiences and this was no exception. A group of us were at the fair and one of my friends bought a toffee apple. She was struggling to eat it so decided to throw it in a bin. The apple flew off the stick and hit a man on the leg. He turned round to see her still holding the toffee apple stick and looking very guilty. ‘It wasn’t me!’ she blurted out. This got me thinking about the antics a group of children could get up to while denying their involvement and Not Me! was born.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to show the project to some publishers on a class trip to the Bologna Book Fair in 2008, and was surprised that a couple of them were really interested!
After graduation in February 2009, I went straight into working on the artwork and, four months later, it was finished. Not Me! was published by Egmont UK in May 2010. The artwork was made using a combination of stencils, collage, rubber stamps, an occasional potato print and monoprinted line over the top.
The scenario of dropping so many peas was inspired by a friend’s little girl who was around 18 months old when I was developing the story. She was going through a phase of throwing her dinner on the floor and she would finish meal times completely surrounded by food. I enjoyed making this spread the most as, although the overall shape of the pea pile was planned, I could have fun cramming as many green circles as possible into the available space. I started by printing the floor tiles then moved on to stamping the pea shapes. The monoprinted line over the peas was done by eye – and as you may notice, I wasn’t entirely successful at working out where the lines should go. I think this adds to the sense of chaos though!
Following the question, ‘”Who’s been dropping all these peas?” ‘comes the reply, ’”Not Me!” said Louise’. I wanted to exaggerate the length of the table in this spread so that the reader could imagine all the children sitting at it. I used a dry brush to stencil the table cloth – this picked up the texture of the paper I was working on. I used much smaller hand-cut rubber stamps for the peas on this page but was much more restrained with the quantity – maybe someone waiting under the table has been wolfing them down! Jess the Pup is made from pieces of old envelopes and the chairs are collaged in wood veneer. And I still had trouble outlining the peas despite all my practice on the previous spread!
Not Me! is published by Egmont in hardback (978 1 4052 4829 7) at £10.99 and in paperback (9781 4052 4830 3) at £5.99. Nicola Killen’s next book Fluff and Billy do everything together will be published in the Autumn.
Nicola Killen was the winner of The Best New Talent Award 2009, a prize given to the most promising prospect on Cambridge School of Art’s MA course in Children’s Illustration. Not Me! was shortlisted for the Heart of Hawick Children’s Book Award, the Coventry Inspiration Book Award, the Nottingham Children’s Book Award and the ‘Read it Again’ Cambridgeshire Children’s Picture Book Award.