A dream of mine is to illustrate my own books. It seems far fetched and very far off but so did writing books and writing children’s television and I’m doing that for a living now. I figure we should always try and keep learning, the joy is in the learning!
I have an amazing illustration mentor, John Fardell. That helps lots. If someone professional believes in you enough to invest time into helping you improve – well that’s enough to keep you trying!
Recently John challenged me to post a sketch on my blog every day. To help me improve and keep me drawing. I’ve decided I’ll post an illustration at least every month (sorry it’s not more frequent John!). Last month I posted a sketch of some otters on the blog ‘Let there be Light’. This month I entered an illustration competition. Here’s my entry:
The competition was to design the cover for the debut novel ‘Slug Boy Saves the World’ by Mark Smith. I usually draw animals so I thought it would be a good challenge to try something different and I had to draw to a very specific brief. The competition runs every year, it’s run by Floris Books. There’s more info here.
This was my first rough sketch (this is rough remember – I’m quite embarrassed about it!):
I sent it to my mentor John saying:
I like the colour palette but not sure if he looks like an 11 year old boy – more like a homeless person.
I think it’s because I was trying to make his face slimy (but it just looks dirty!).
He’s meant to be skinny and awkward looking. Any thoughts for my next attempt?
John replied with some great feedback:
Yep, I like the slimy colour palette and sluggyness on the lettering and picture details.
I wonder whether making his eyes rounder and/or making the proportions of his lower face smaller might make him look more childlike – particuarly the distance between his nose and mouth, but maybe his chin a bit too.
And maybe those defined cheek lines are making him look older than the should. (Also, I think those lines plus his rather large upper lip area are what’s making him look a bit chimp-like. Not that some people don’t look like that, but it’s probably a more adult trait!)
Hard to tell if any of that’s good advice until you try it!
You can see how having such good feedback really helped me improve. I was proud of my second attempt. I didn’t win or get shortlisted but I improved and that’s the main thing! You can see all the shortlisted entries and even vote for your favourite here. They really are good (much better than my attempt).
I have an affinity with ‘Slug Boy Saves the World’ because the author Mark Smith got in touch with me in 2014, to ask if he could meet me and ask some advise about becoming a writer. He came to my event at Dundee Literary Festival and we met for coffee. He also came to a panel event ‘how to get published’ that I was speaking at.
Among other things I advised him to enter the Kelpies fiction prize. This summer I discovered Mark had been shortlisted for the Kelpies prize and the amazing news is, he won! So now he’s being published! Is so good to think I helped, even in a very small way towards that exciting journey. And that’s what John is doing for me – encouraging me and giving me advise and maybe one day – I’ll be an illustrator and John will feel like I felt with Mark. So happy to have helped someone else realise their dream.
If you’re in Scotland and interested in illustration, I’d recommend a brilliant website – ‘Picture Hooks’. There’s also a conference on 23rd April in Glasgow. I went last year and it was really inspiring.
If you want to get into writing children’s books there’s some great advise on the Floris Books website here. There’s also a workshop coming up in May through the South East Scotland network of SCBWI BI on how to write children’s books. SCBWI are a lovely group to connect with.
Read more about my illustration journey here.