Archives for posts with tag: illustration

My latest Picture Kelpies book came out earlier this year, and I’m delighted with the expert illustrations of Abigail Hookham, a graduate of Goldsmiths, University of London. Oran the otter spends a lot of time underwater, and Abigail is brilliant at capturing the light coming through water from above, as well as dark, stormy seas when things get scary.

Oran the Curious Otter is a rhyming story about a young river otter who goes for his first trip to the open sea with his mum and his sister Orla. They live on the isle of Mull, and arrive in a wide and beautiful bay – Calgary Bay. Naturally, to do proper research for the book, I had to spend some time on Mull, taking photographs of a tree overhanging the bank of a stream, the journey downstream to the shore, and the wide expanse of the bay.

The perfect spot for a holt where otters can live.
The stream flows along the edge of the beach down to the sea.
Calgary Bay with its white sand in the late afternoon sun.

Abigail has captured all these features in her illustrations, starting with the otters’ holt by the stream:

Oran and Orla are just waking up. They are old enough now to visit the sea…
Mum leads them downstream to the bay which looks enormous!
Oran meets a friendly seal called Camille who shows him around and teaches him a thing or two.
When Oran finds a lobster trap, Camille warns him not to climb inside.
Camille also warns Oran not to eat the plastic floating in the sea.

Abigail first shows the sun filtering through the water in a bright and happy moment when Oran meets Camille. Then, when there is danger, Abigail uses darker colours to convey a more worrying atmosphere. The most distressing moment comes when Camille is caught in a fishing net and Oran has to rush to her rescue. Abigail makes the sea grey and stormy to give us a sense of danger and uncertainty.

Two guillemots warn Oran that Camille is in trouble. The sky has turned dark and rain is falling.
The sea is dark and murky as Oran struggles to free Camille from the net.
As the sun goes down, Oran, Orla and Mum head back upstream to their holt.

Camille is rescued, and Oran rejoins his mum and sister at the end of a long and busy day. The storm has passed and the clouds are turning pink and gold as the sun sets. With this illustration, Abigail creates a sense of calm using warm, mellow colours. The final image shows Mum and the two pups curled up in their holt, safe and sound.

Like all my Picture Kelpie stories, this one has a happy ending! Oran has a new friend, and he has learned a lot about sea creatures and underwater dangers. I hope Abigail’s amazing illustrations will inspire readers to visit the isle of Mull for a bit of otter spotting!

Calgary Bay, Isle of Mull
©Malachi James 2020

Malachi James has always loved drawing. His school notebooks were crowded with cartoon characters, and in high school he designed and produced his own comic books which he sold to his classmates. He was determined to become a storyboard artist, and worked hard to get into a top animation course in London.

Today Mal has his dream job, working for Moonbug Entertainment. He draws on a cintiq tablet with a special pen and a two-fingered glove (so his hand doesn’t touch the screen). He works long hours on his storyboard drawings, and then in his free time he does more drawing!

Sometimes when he’s working he listens to his favourite music. One day, listening to some classic jazz tracks, he thought of a new drawing project. He could do stylised portraits of all the greatest jazz musicians! He created a series of ten drawings, and each one is unique, with so much character shining through. Most of the musicians are ones I have heard of, but a few are new to me.

©Malachi James 2020
©Malachi James 2020
©Malachi James 2020
©Malachi James 2020
©Malachi James 2020
©Malachi James 2020
©Malachi James 2020
©Malachi James 2020
©Malachi James 2020
©Malachi James 2020

I love all of these drawings, even though I don’t know much about jazz. They all have a lot of personality and convey so much emotion. Mal’s style is similar to caricature (where features are often exaggerated and stylised to look ridiculous), but these guys remain classy and cool.

Mal has a lot of talent and a real passion for his art. If you want to see more of his work, he has an Instagram account HERE. He also makes inspirational videos on YouTube to support other young people wanting to establish themselves as freelance artists and animators. You can watch those HERE. Remember the name. Malachi James is going places.

friendly puffins

I can’t remember now what first inspired me, about ten years ago, to write about a puffin. Perhaps it was a tin of oatcakes we had in the kitchen, with a charming image of two nuzzling puffins. Somehow a character emerged in my mind and a story started to develop. As it did, I decided to do some drawings so I could share the story with my children.

I imagined a puffin who was unhappy living by the sea, and who dreamed of doing something more exciting. What else might a puffin do for a living?

Lewis in goal

The puffin’s name was Lewis, and he came up with a few ideas. What about a football goalie?

puffin cowboy

Or a cowboy singing songs out on the range?

puffin driver

Lewis thought it would be fun to drive a bus. Or perhaps he could be an acrobat, or a mechanic, or a postman?

puffin plans

Lewis had a brother called Harris who was not very sympathetic. He was perfectly happy being a puffin on the open sea, and couldn’t understand why Lewis wanted a change. When Lewis thought up his best idea yet, Harris just laughed.

Harris laughing

“A circus clown?” squawked Harris. “You’re right – you would be perfect! You’re always tripping on your big feet and everyone laughs at you already.”

sad puffin

It was true that the other puffins made fun of Lewis. He really didn’t belong. But when he finally got to the circus…

pufin juggling

…he fit right in!

This was the kernel of my first puffin book, Lewis Clowns Around. If you know the book, you’ll know that a lot more happens to Lewis once he starts work as a circus clown.  It was the first children’s story I wrote, and for that reason it took a good deal of honing and reworking before it could be shared with publishers. Even then, it was another four years before it finally found a home at Floris Books. That’s why the most important quality a children’s author must have is patience!

It was all worth it in the end, as Lewis has since inspired two sequels, Harris the Hero and Skye the Puffling. And this year Lewis Clowns Around is getting a lovely new cover. Although I enjoyed doing the original line drawings of Lewis and Harris, I am very pleased that Gabby Grant and Jon Mitchell were chosen to illustrate the finished books.

And now I think it’s time I rummaged in the kitchen for more inspiration…

Tiger English

March 2015 seemed ages away when I was working with the Scottish Book Trust and a group of fun, creative ladies in Fife to produce a picture book on the theme of healthy eating. But now it is nearly upon us! Being Early Years Writer-in-Residence 2013 was a brilliant experience, and I am delighted to announce that our finished book is now in print!

Tiger English back

Eilidh Muldoon has done a lovely job with her charming and comical illustrations. I’m sure they will be a huge hit with their target audience, ie. every toddler in Scotland! The Scottish Book Trust will be distributing our book free to thousands of children as part of their Bookbug scheme. It’s a fantastic initiative which encourages a love of reading from an early age, and facilitates the sharing of books between parents and their children.

This was my first collaborative writing project, and I really enjoyed working with the lovely ladies at Home-Start Levenmouth and the great group of mums who helped me formulate the story. If you want to read more about the whole process, we put together a blog about it called The Methil Makars. You can see some of the fun things we did to explore our healthy eating theme, like making food art and visiting the Buckhaven Community Garden.

I am very grateful to everyone at the Scottish Book Trust who helped bring this book to “fruition”! The Early Years team are a great bunch of people and it was a genuine pleasure to work with them. I’m looking forward to seeing them again (and meeting the illustrator Eilidh Muldoon for the first time) at our Book Launch in a few weeks.

And if you missed out on the 2015 distribution of Never Bite a Tiger on the Nose, you can still find a copy on my website HERE.

Kohinoor watercolours

For her 18th birthday this year, my daughter received a Koh-i-noor watercolour set of a very clever design. It has four round discs, each with six colours and a depression in the middle for mixing. The discs screw together, one on top of the other, so that the whole set is about the size of a can of tuna when closed.

The gift was a surprise from her Dad, who got it in London on the advice of an artist friend. When she opened it I think I was even more thrilled than she was, because it was just like a paint set I had at her age! Mine was green rather than black, but otherwise it was exactly the same. I loved that set and used it for years, and until now I had never seen another one like it.

In senior school I loved working with watercolours, and the art teacher was happy to let me get on with painting what I wanted to with my own stackable watercolour set. I had a special Chinese paintbrush too, dark red with soft bristles that came to a perfect point.

Chinese brushes

These Chinese brushes are designed for calligraphy, and the bristles are made from weasel tails or goat hair. The top brush in this photo has soft goat hair, and the bottom one is a mixture of goat and the coarser weasel hair. I think my brush was a mixture too, though it was a long time ago and the brush is long lost. When I was 17 I used a photograph from the National Geographic magazine to paint this Inuit child:

Eskimo

The rich colours of my special paint set made it possible to get those warm skin tones and deep black of the shadows. My Chinese brush with its fine point allowed me to capture the loose hair on the child’s forehead.

There is nothing like working with real paint on real paper. But more and more these days, artists are turning to computers to produce very similar results that can be shared electronically and reproduced countless times. Many children’s books that were once illustrated the “old fashioned” way with pen and ink or other traditional media are now being brought to life digitally instead.

A good example of this trend is the work of my friend and illustrator Margaret Chamberlain. She has been illustrating children’s books for over 20 years, and when she first illustrated one of my books (Pink! in 2008) it was a departure for her into a new technique and simpler style. Her earlier books had always been done with richly detailed ink and watercolour artwork. An excellent example of this is The Enchanted Flute by Angela McAllister:

©Margaret Chamberlain 1990

©Margaret Chamberlain 1990

The central character of this story is an impossibly demanding monarch, Queen Pernickity, who wants only the very best of everything. You can see from the illustration above that Margaret has created texture and lots of detail with a fine ink outline and rich colour using watercolours.

In her later work, Margaret used computer programmes and a tablet to create effects that look just like watercolours and ink. She says it takes much less time working on a computer, and it’s easy to correct mistakes. The finished illustration is very similar to real paint on paper, and it can be sent directly to publishers and printers to produce a finished book.

So is there any future for real paint and paper?

Another recent invention, the WaterColorBot, has reversed this relationship between art and computers. Instead of computer art replacing paint and paper, this machine translates art drawn on a computer into “real” art through a mechanised process similar to an Etch-a-Sketch:

©Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories 2013

©Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories 2013

The paintbrush moves around an x and y axis (two metal rods) powered by pulleys and wire cables. In this way a drawing made on a computer can be reproduced multiple times, and the WaterColorBot becomes a type of printer. The idea began with a 12-year-old girl called Sylvia who wanted to make a robot for a science fair. She has her own website, Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Maker Show, where she demonstrates fun creative projects. When she took her idea of a painting robot to the people at Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories they were happy to help out!

My daughter is still keen to experiment with real ink and watercolours, and has done a few sketches with her new paint set:

©Anna Rickards 2014

©Anna Rickards 2014

©Anna Rickards 2014

©Anna Rickards 2014

Even though technology seems to have made real paint and paper somewhat obsolete, I’m quite tempted to buy myself a little Koh-i-noor paint set too…

©Lynne Rickards 2002

©Lynne Rickards 2002