Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Art of Picture Book Characters with An Vrombaut

An Vrombaut is a writer, illustrator and animator. She has always loved picture books and loves drawing animals. She draws from her imagination and prefers this to life drawing. She likes to use coloured outlines for her illustrations.

For the 64 Zoo Lane CBeebies series, there is a regular cast of about 60 animals shown in lots of different situations. For this series the script writers could create their own characters, which is quite unusual as usually get a working bible, which outlines all the characters.

An has had to look in detail at what makes a character good. She is best at writing character driven stories. She thinks to herself, what will make the character 3D and stand out more than another and believes it is the flaws. When writing picture books some of these flaws can be visual in the illustration.

64 Zoo Lane has a very gentle pace. It is shown at Bedtime Hour. An wrote the first ten stories for the first series and had a co-writer for the second series. For the new series, due out on CBeebies soon, she has written ten episodes but, has edited the whole series herself. She loves Zoo Lane. She really knows the character and how they talk. She told us how once the voices have been cast and you’ve heard them, it is easier to do the dialogue.

The first series of Zoo Lane were hand drawn and coloured in on the PC. When animating it is essential that all the animators get the dimensions exactly right. In the new series it is done on Flash and the dimensions are on the computer. There are also lip models so the animators know how to draw the lips when they are speaking.

An’s favourite character from Zoo Lane is Georgina the Giraffe. The giraffe is semi- autobiographical. She also likes Henrietta the Hairy Hippo, which is also semi- autobiographical, because when she was younger she was teased about her ginger hair. The flaws in the character drive the story.

An explained that sometimes when she does a design for a picture book it can be easy and she can produce her ideas in one drawing but, sometimes it takes ages to get the design. She starts by doing a pencil drawing with a 3B pencil then she uses a light box to trace the drawing to get the dimensions for each character just right, and pastels and hard crayons to colour it in. Then she scratches through with a metal tool. Some of the outlines are scratched through as well. She uses her fingers to blend it together.

When making characters sometimes the pictures come first and sometimes the story comes first. For The Lost Acorns, she wrote the whole story in her head before she wrote anything, but that is unusual. The Lost Acorns was produced as an animation for CBeebies. But, An was unaware when it was shown so she has only seen it on YouTube.

Dear Dragon has also been shown for the Bedtime Hour on CBeebies, but she has never seen it. She started working on Dear Dragon in 1998 and the character took her years to create. The princess has changed completely from the original. The editor had said the nose was too long but, in more recent pictures she has made the nose slightly longer again. The dragon wears slippers. The slippers hint at his personality. In the second book he is still blowing bubbles because there is back story in the character.

The Dragon Festival is being developed for TV at the moment. She usually works actual size but, when illustrating Dragon Festival she worked smaller and it got blown up to the right size that was needed.

Smile Crocodile Smile has repetitive text and is lovely to read out loud.

An Vrombaut has also produced a short animated film at The Royal College of Art in 1992, called Little Wolf. This started with sketches of her dog.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Sue Eve's Book Launch

On Thursday 5th of February, I went to my friend, Sue Eve's, book launch. She has written a fantastic picture book called: The Quiet Woman and the Noisy Dog. It is about a very noisy dog and his quiet owner. There are lots of great sounds and repetition to stimulate young children.

This is Sue's second picture book. She also wrote and did her own illustrations for Hic, a story about a rather hungry cow looking for adventure.

It was a fantastic evening held at the wonderful Illustration Cupboard, in central London, just off the Piccadilly Road. There was wine and snacks and we were surrounded by the gorgeous illustrations of many famous picture book illustrators. If you visit the Illustration Cupboard, you will be able to buy a copy of the first edition of The Quiet Woman And The Noisy Dog, because Sue has signed and left a few extra copies.

The illustrations for Sue's latest book were drawn by Ailie Busby. Three of the pictures were kindly lent to the Illustration cupboard for the event. I personally love the bold colours and the beautiful vivid greens Ailie has used.

On Saturday 14th February, Sue is going to be doing her first public book signing at Wimbledon Books and Music in South London. She will be reading The Quiet Woman and the Noisy Dog and introducing her new puppet dog. She will also be revealing the name she has picked from the list suggested by a local Berkshire school.

Find out more about Sue Eves on her website:

And finally... a big Happy Birthday to Tony.

Monday, February 09, 2009

An Evening with the Illustrator Axel Scheffler

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to go to a talk by Axel Scheffler about his career as an illustrator of children’s picture books, run by the Society of Authors. The meeting was chaired by Ros Asquith.

Axel is one of my favourite all time illustrators. He won his first drawing prize around the age of eight. It was for a picture of a cow. He is originally from Hamburg but, studied at Bath Academy of Art where he got a first class degree.

He told us, the greatest thing about going to art school was having the freedom to draw for three hours and the qualifications opened doors for employment. He has no time to do observational drawings anymore. He has got out of the habit and has been unable to get back into it. Looking and remembering is a skill some people can not do. Picasso and many other artists all used photos. But, Axel claims it is a skill you can train yourself to do. It makes you look more carefully at things. His style he developed himself. But, he is a perfectionist and is not happy with his work on occasions. He divulged how he finds it difficult to draw a succession of events and prefers to tell a story all in one picture.

He showed his portfolio in the mid-80’s to magazines and got regular work for a magazine called Lotus. He would draw anything and would change his drawings when asked. Sometimes he found himself drawing things he did not really understand. He also worked for a German magazine called Zeitmagazin where he did weekly illustrations and illustrated a column for a food writer.

He has also written and illustrated some Pixi Books (or Pixi B├╝cher) for their 40th Anniversary. He was one of 10 illustrators asked to commemorate the event. They have published over 1,500 identically sized titles, 10x10cm, which are all grouped and numbered in little series with German precision. He likes to do things that are less main stream, but he has less time nowadays. He enjoys illustrating with little pictures on a white background. He still does some work for The Oldie. He thinks as an illustrator he is more popular in Germany than in the UK.

He showed us hoow when you look at his illustrations over the years you can see his progression from pointy nose characters to softer styles.

The Piemakers by Helen Cresswell was the first book he ever illustrated

Daley B by Jon Blake was the first book he illustrated for Walker Books

Sam: Who Was Swallowed by a Shark by Phyllis Root was the second book he illustrated for Walker Books

In 1994, Julia Donaldson was writing songs for Playdays and Axel Scheffler was recommended as the illustrator. He worked on A Squash and a Squeeze. This was his first book with Macmillan. The next book he did with Julia was The Gruffalo, followed by Room on the Broom, Tiddler and The Stick Man, which was nominated for The Roald Dahl Funny book Prize. These books have been translated into 29 languages.

Publishers often do not have the patience to develop illustrators and authors. But, he has worked with Macmillan a long time now and they have moulded him into what they want. There are many people involved in the publication of a picture book. The final product is very influenced by the editor and art director.

The Gruffalo
Usually when he has an idea he ends up sticking with it. But with The Gruffalo cover his original just had a shadow of The Gruffalo, but the editor wanted the main protagonist on the cover so he redrew it. However, in the US they did not want the main protagonist on the cover so he had to draw another one where he hid The Gruffalo partially behind a shrub. This only appeared on the US first edition, the second edition adopted the UK design.

He explained how he had a terrible time getting the skies right because he found it difficult to get the liquid watercolours to do what he wanted. He usually starts his illustrations with liquid watercolours (like ink) drawings a lot smaller than in the book and they get blown up to the right size, which he then works with. He dips a pen into the ink and then colours them with special coloured pencils. He used to do his picture book drawings the same size but, now he does them 90%. He always starts with ink outlines and then colours on top of the inks and rubs in the colours with his fingers. At the end he reinforces the outline with the ink and adds details, such as lines for fur and leaves. Nowadays he is able to ask the publishers to make small alterations in Photoshop but, previously he was only able to change it by hand and then email the new version.

The Smartest Giant in Town
For this book he also drew a totally different front cover, but they wanted something more friendly so he had to rethink.

Rabbit's Nap (Tales from Acorn Wood)
This is a lift the flap book and Axel loved drawing the little dressed animals

The Gruffalo Song and Other Songs
This was not the first cover design again, as he decided he did not want to metamorphosis the animals. This book is also available as a musical audio CD.

Axel’s advice to aspiring illustrators is to practice hard. He kept a sketch book from the age of about 18 before he started at art college. There is a whole playground of ideas in these sketch books that he has jotted down. Sometimes the sketch books relate to books he is working on. Axel explained how it is nice to look at old sketch books as they bring back memories. But, it is the unpredictability of the whole business that is so lovely about it.