Illuminating the Art of Illustration – Three Stars of Children’s Books – 30th August 2015.
Basically, Illuminating the Art of Illustration was a must-see for those interested in, well, the art of illustration. With Chris Haughton (Shh! We Have A Plan), Oliver Jeffers (The Day The Crayons Came Home) and Chris Riddell (Goth Girl) ready to chat away between themselves, it was always set to be a great event.
So let’s start with: how do they work?
“I don’t really know,” admits Oliver. “There isn’t really a formula. That’s what keeps it interesting. No two books have been the same. You just get a little seed of an idea.” Chris Riddell picks up, “It’ll be on a train, in a bus queue.” You’ll get a spark of an idea and scribble it down.”
“I have one image in my head,” says Chris Haughton. “For Oh No, George! that was George making a mess.” He has the before and after, and from that you can get the general arc of a story. “Part of the rhythm of a picture book is turning the page to find out what happens,” adds Riddell. For Goth Girl he poured the story into his vessel, a sketchbook, and it “gives you a rhythm to find the story.”
There is the half-way hurdle, where you’ll find yourself saying “Why on earth did I think of this?” but you have to reach over and carry on. It doesn’t always happen. “I have the naughty drawer,” says Riddell, on where he keeps unfinished work. But it can marinade over time, and be usable down the line.
“Really good ideas are the combination of two half-cooked ideas,” says Oliver, with Riddell noting, “Sketchbooks are a repository of ideas. Keep it in your pocket and revisit ideas, revisit thoughts.”
“I had a plan,” says Haughton, on a book based on scale and The Power of Ten. It lacked a story and his editor wasn’t keen, but after leaving it for a while “later, the missing component showed up.” Moving to the story element, he says, “Writing sets up for my illustrations.”
“I write in order to give me something to illustrate,” adds Riddell. “My editor turns it into polished prose. Publishing is collaborating.” Oliver notes that, “The editor and designer have no name on the book. I think that’s a shame; the editor and designer bring so much to the book.”
A sense of judgement is queried: how do you have a critical eye while maintaining faith in your style? “That’s a depending on the day question,” says Oliver. “It’s a sense of judgement. It’s a matter of trusting in your own ability. I’m my own target audience. I make the art I want to see.”
One audience member says she needs a deadline to draw and without it almost has a fear of art – have the experienced this? Can they offer some motivation for her to tackle it? “You’ll be dead soon,” jokes Oliver. Haughton says, “I was exactly the same. I wanted to do a children’s book for years. It got to this embarrassing stage of saying I’d not done it.” His friend told him to book a flight to Bologna, as he’d make himself have a book to pitch.
“I was convinced of my own genius,” notes Riddell. “The arrogance of youth.” He went to publishers and was finally asked by one, “You can draw but where are your stories?” He said he had one at home and had to write one overnight; the next day, they agreed to publish it. “You’ve got to find stories. Write them. Don’t wait for a story to emerge from somewhere else. Write your own stories and make your own work.”
Haughton pretty much sums it up: “Panic is a great motivator.”