advice and FAQs

Advice and FAQs

Some questions answered below.  I’ll add more as time goes on.

What materials do you use?

For cartoons, I draw them in pencil first, a HB propelling pencil, then go over it in technical pen, Rotring Isographs, usually doing a few drafts before I get to the final version.  I generally draw the frame first.  I often use different sized nibs for the words than the drawing – wider for the words.

For cartoons that are to be published in colour, I draw the line art first, then usually photocopy the cartoon onto 180gsm watercolour paper and colour it.

My children’s books have all been done the same way – line drawings in ink then coloured with watercolour.  Except for Yellow is my favourite color, my most recent children’s book, which was done with watercolour only, no outline.  How brave of me!

Who have been your influences in cartooning?

Dad received a copy of Pick of Punch, the annual collection produced from the English humour magazine Punch,  for Christmas every year, so that was always around when I was growing up. I read the cartoons from when I was old enough to read.  I haven’t been influenced by specific artists as much as as I have been influenced by the idea of cartoons and cartoonists – that there were people in the world drawing pictures to make other people laugh or exclaim or think.  Or feel sad – I always noticed the sad ones.  Charles Schulz with his Peanuts comic strip was a huge influence, I loved the world he made and the brilliance of both the drawing and the ideas.   Michael Leunig’s work in the 1980s had a big impact on me, it was so different to other people’s work.  When I decided to become a cartoonist I looked at masses and masses of work, and discovered amazing women cartoonists including Nicole Hollander, Alison Bechdel  and Roz Chast.

Who have been your influences in children’s books?

There have probably been countless influences – but there are a few I specifically remember thinking ‘I want to do something like that’.

Firstly Brian Wildsmith’s illustrations.  I had A Children’s Garden of Verses illustrated by him and I pored over the drawings.  I loved the brilliant colours he used, and various the techniques such as wax resist for a nighttime drawing.

Then Tove Jansson’s Moomintroll books which I read over and over again.  I loved the world she created of the Moomins, illustrated with simple line drawings. I think her work has been a huge influence.

My two favourite children’s books, neither of which I had as a child, are The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.  In their different ways, I think they are examples of near perfect picture books.

Why did you start doing children’s books?

One of the first things I ever remember wanting to do was to write and illustrate children’s picture books.  I was small, at the age of reading children’s books myself.  From a very young age I drew pictures and wrote poems and stories, and I suppose picture books appealed because they combined those two things.

But it was a long time before I actually did do a children’s book.  I had been a cartoonist for ages by then (which like picture books, combine writing and pictures).  It came about when Mem Fox who I had met a few times, saw a small etching I had done that was on my website.  It was a picture of a green sheep and she fell in love with it.  She emailed me to say that the green sheep simply must have a picture book of its own, and we decided to create it together.  That was my first foray into picture book making, and I  was very lucky to work with someone as well-known and well-loved as Mem Fox.  Since then, the books I’ve done have been on my own – I love doing the story as well as the illustrations.

Any advice for people wanting to start making children’s books?

As a general rule, children’s picture books are 32 pages long, including the title page, or 24 pages for a board book, so make sure that your work fits within that.

Have a good look at picture books that you like and work out what it is that you like about them.  (Taking a look at some picture books you  don’t like and working out the reasons can be helpful too.)

Keep the language and the pictures age appropriate – i.e. don’t use lots of words that little kids won’t know, and equally, don’t only use words they will know – the occasional trickier word is good. Along the same lines, don’t draw things that don’t fit with their lives, such as toys that are for much older children for example, but of course you can have animals and things that aren’t in their lives, and even that don’t exist.  And remember you probably don’t need as many words as you think – when you look at picture books closely you’ll see that the text isn’t actually very long – count the words.  You might think you need a few thousand words to tell a picture book story, but believe me and countless others when we tell you, you don’t.

Be prepared to sometimes have to throw out your favourite sentence or picture for the flow or clarity of the story.  But take heart – you can often use those bits in another project.

There is fantastic advice on both Mem Fox’s and Jackie French’s websites about starting to write for children.  The website of Books Illustrated is another fantastic resource for all manner of things about picture books,