A graduate of the MA in Children’s Book Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art, Rob Ramsden channels his fascination with nature and love of gardening into his work. His picture books are deliberately simple in approach and speak directly to their young audience. Here he describes his illustration technique and approach.
This illustration from I Heard A Bird perfectly demonstrates the idea that links all the books in my In The Garden series; it’s the idea that our senses and feelings might help us to engage with nature. This spread shows a close-up of a child engrossed with nature, having been led to it through their senses. An awareness of nature and biodiversity, and the interdependency between nature and ourselves has never been so important, and my aim is to try and encourage that connection.
I begin each new project with a simple idea in mind, and with I Heard A Bird the idea was a question: What could sound bring to exploring nature? I also explored what the extremes of noise and silence might bring to that experience too. Personally, I experience a lot of inner ‘noise’, but nature can, if I take a moment to notice it and get interested, stop the noise of everyday life and help to relax and focus me.
Once I have an inkling that the idea might be worth finding a story for, I explore it through drawing, and writing single words and lines of text. Sometimes it’s easier to explore the idea through a drawing and sometimes through words – eventually they impact on each other.
Out of this process emerges the story and the final text, and I can begin to design and draw a sequence.
I love this next part, I get to set the stage, ask the actors to read the script, and let them improvise the scenes. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and there’s always my editor and designer sitting in the wings ready to have an editorial and design meeting. I need a shout out for my editor Janice Thomson, and designer Goldy Broad, the books are always stronger because of their dedication and understanding of the story.
The artwork for these books began life in I Saw A Bee as linocut printing, to work with simple shapes which made the exaggerated movement of the character possible. This set a certain aesthetic, and although the artwork no longer uses this method, it still informed me about how to illustrate the rest of the series. Before I begin, all the spreads are drawn with pencil on paper, I scan the drawings, then redraw them digitally, and each part of the drawing becomes a shape which I colour and add texture to. I hope that, by adding real pencil and printed textures, the illustrations balance somewhere between the simplicity of the shapes and being more tactile to the eye.
One thing I enjoy doing is including small details, and most of the insects in the books are living their own lives until we notice them, so in I Heard A Bird an observant reader might notice an ant investigating a flower or collecting seeds. I must have spent so many hours wondering what ants were up to, until I stopped, took notice, and began to investigate a little closer.