The art of illustration
For me, finding an illustrator to bring stories to life for children isn’t a question of a choosing a style. It’s a question of choosing a vision. Interpreting a text can lead to mundane mirrors rather than the much more desirable doorways to new worlds which the best picture books represent.
The key to finding the balance lies in understanding that you are not writing a book, you are writing a picture book. This distinction (pointed out by Philip Ardagh) was a moment of revelation early last year when I tried leading ace illustrator Nicola Anderson by the nose through my story, I AM A GIANT. Seeing the damage I was doing to her vision taught me a valuable lesson and changed the way I worked (and thought) about writing picture books.
And it really is the vision which an illustrator brings to a book which makes all the difference. And it really isn’t about style.
Recently I wrote a short poem called The Octopuddle. It was beautifully written (thank you very much) and very visual. What could an illustrator possibly bring to this?
Well, quite a lot.
I asked illustrators to show me their interpretation of The Octopuddle and the results were beautiful. From technical solutions to presenting the poem as an object to adding a massive amount of depth and meaning (from B-movie invasions to 80s arcade gaming) the responses surprised me. They ought not to have, but they did.
I didn’t expect the range of thematic differences, and nor did I expect the range of tones. The metre of the poem was light and breezy, often easy but the illustrations deliberately chose to either use this or to contrast against it. The effects from both sides are wonderful. So wonderful that it had me considering how I would extend the poem and take in ideas from the illustrations.
This effect of illustration upon text occurred to me just before Christmas 2013 when Carl Pugh created the artwork for my short story, The Last Post. I hadn’t expected his tone or image of Santa (when, o when will I learn!). I’m still considering how best to develop The Last Post, especially after a friend gave me some feedback on lengthening it. Carl’s skill as an illustrator is something I’ve discussed elsewhere, and we work together so well that it will be interesting to see the next book we produce together.
The Octopuddle experiment has certainly focussed my thinking on this subject, as well as introducing me to several illustrators it would be interesting to work with. It’s shown me the value of being open to other ideas and relinquishing ownership.
And most of all, it’s been a lot of fun.
Illustration courtesy and copyright of Dave Kennedy.