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Category Archives: illustration

Bluebell and Blue Cat

I forgot my stylus on a visit to Strathclyde Country Park so I had a go at sketching using using my finger:

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I love bluebells! I was pleased with how it turned out.

And here’s a sketch from earlier this month when I did have a stylus, it’s my lovely cat! He didn’t stay still long but I’m trying to loosen up a bit and add some fun into illustrations. Once he’d moved it forced me to use my imagination and here’s what happened:

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Posted by on May 17, 2018 in Environment, illustration, nature

 

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Sketching on Skye

I’m going to draw more. I’ve set a goal of posting a new drawing on here every other week, this week it’s the black cuillin, sketched on my ipad from the middle of Loch Coruisk on the Isle of Skye:

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Loch Coruisk is described as the most magnificent of Scotland’s freshwater lochs by Walk Highlands. It’s also supposed to be home to a water horse – a kelpie! I was excited when we got the boat towards these misty black mountains, from Elgol:

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We passed some seals on the way:

20180407_171652And clambered over lots of slippery rocks:

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And I stopped here and sat to sketch:

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Here’s where I was, from the other side:

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It really is one of the most magical places I’ve been too. I wanted to capture the feel of the mountains – they seemed almost angry. With their snow capped peaks. And the mist too – that’s hard to draw! And all that orange tufty grass:

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And I only had twenty minutes and at one point I got attacked by a cloud of midgies so I’m pleased with how it turned out. But more then that, it helped me to take my surroundings in, to really experience the place I was. Here’s the sketch with a filter on it:

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And a goodbye from me on the boat trip home:

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Posted by on April 12, 2018 in illustration, nature

 

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Christmas Contract: Little Door Books

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I have some super exciting news! I’ve signed a contract with Little Door Books for a picture book and download album!

This is me with Alan Windram from Little Door Books at the Scotland children’s authors and illustrators Christmas meal – nice hats! You might spot author Lari Don photo bombing in the background.

The Download Album

To be honest, I’m more excited about the album than the book!!! I’ve been trying to work out why that is? Maybe it’s because I’ve written the book already and I’ve not started on the album yet. Or because I’ve written a few books before but an album is an entirely new and exciting challenge for me? Or because music is amazing? Or because an album is a collaborative process and I’m looking forward to working with someone else who has expertise in this area? Or because my whole life I’ve been writing comedy animal type songs anyway!? Or because I don’t look like a person who would make an album but it doesn’t matter because it’s for young kids and they don’t really care what you look like. It’s just very exciting anyway. I’m looking forward to singing harmonies. And recording in a studio.

The Music Industry

Alan formally worked in the music industry so every book Little Door Books brings out includes a download album of tracks for children and an audio book. Authors can play or perform the songs at book events. Children can download the songs later. Sometimes authors write lyrics and he writes music, other times he writes it all or sometimes they work together. We’re going to work together!

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There’s a woodpecker in the book so perhaps I’ll write a woodpecker rap!!! Something fun for the children to sing and dance to anyway.

Dancing at Events

Speaking of dancing – here’s me and Alan earlier in the year when I was chairing his One Button Benny author event at Edinburgh International Book Festival! He’s an author too. We did lots of robot dancing with the families there:

My Book with Little Door Books

The book I’m writing for Little Door Books is a secret just now but I can say it was first pitched to Alan in the author’s yurt at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2016, we had a really good chat back then about books and music. I start all my events with a bird themed dance track that I commissioned a songwriter, Sam Gallagher to produce. I also use it to teach children real life bird dance moves. So we had lots in common in terms of valuing music and dancing in events for children. I was impressed with the books they were producing as Indie Publishers too so we decided to work together.

Little Door Books have a full schedule so we penciled a book in back then for 2018. I pitched a few ideas and we had some meetings and narrowed it down to one. We first met at a book festival a year before that in 2015. So it’s a long process – making books!

Alan and Susan at Little Door Books have chosen a wonderful illustrator from Italy for the book – I’m so excited about the first few pictures I’ve been sent. I’m making the last edits to text over the next few weeks with feedback from Little Door Books and my Agent Lindsey Fraser. So next year will be finalising the text, illustrations from Italy and writing and recording the songs! Bring it on!

PS The book will come out in 2019. Did I mention, we’re making an album?

Please note the album is not an actual CD. It’s a download album of children’s songs and an audio book. 

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2017 in Education, Events, illustration, storytelling, Writing

 

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The Book That Explains Everything…

IMG_20171025_123822_960Well, almost everything! It’s a bold claim for the cover of a book but I guess it makes sense for an encyclopedia. I’m excited to see it in print because it’s the first book I’ve worked on for DK. I grew up reading DK science books. I love them. I still can’t quite believe I wrote the science and human body sections of an actual DK book!

The Children’s Encyclopedia is aimed at children 5-9 years making it the youngest full encyclopedia DK have produced. We were creating something new with it’s own style. It was exciting to be working on a groundbreaking project.

Each topic had to be explained in one page with very few words. That’s a huge challenge – explaining all of gravity or the brain or evolution in just one page and so that a five year old can understand it. I think that’s what makes it such a good book for adults too. I’m excited about reading all the sections I didn’t write – because I get to learn about everything in the world in easy to digest summaries!

The Process

So how do you write an encyclopedia? I’m sure there are many ways but here’s how I did it. First I was asked if I’d like to write it. I said YES – WOOHOOO – YES! In a slightly more professional way. My agent helped negotiate the contract and we were off.

Reviewing the topics

Next I was given a list of the science topic headings by the chief commissioning editor Lizzie Davey. I reviewed these and pitched some new ones and we finalised the list. Some spreads got dropped later – it depended on the North American market and space. But our final list was 37 science pages.

Research

I checked the school curriculum for each topic to see what was covered at primary and secondary school. I read books and did research and started to write page plans. I had a good understanding of some topics already – for example I wrote book a whole book on light – but that actually made it harder when I was trying to write the light page and fit an entire book into a page – you can’t really do that. I had to start fresh – review light as a whole – choose the most important elements and also think about a good central image. Here’s how the final page turned out:

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DK books are so visual and the image ideas need to be really strong. I had a few sections to work with, an intro, three small stories, a wow fact and an extra info box. It’s like doing a puzzle – working out how to explain something from first principles keeping it correct, engaging AND fitting it into the format. The human life cycle page is an example of one of the human body pages I ended up writing too.

Writing page plans

My page plans were made up of bullet points saying what I’d cover in each small section. They also included suggested images. Sometimes I’d add examples of images but say ‘like this but with this and this added’. Or other times it was less complicated –  for the page on gases, the suggested main image was a party balloon. I sent my first few page plans in and they really liked them so I was asked to write the human body section too. Which was another 19 pages – hurrah! Here’s an example of one of two of the science pages I wrote:

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Reviewing page plans

Page plans went to the editor and she made suggestions. We changed them until they were the best they could be and then they went off to the design team.

Writing final text

The design team sent pages back looking all beautiful and I wrote the final text to fit into the specific word limits the pages allowed, once all the visuals were in place. Then it went back to the editor for suggestions and finally to the copy editor. Last of all the final pages came back to me for final checks. 

Here’s an example of how I tried to think of images that were relevant to children – using chocolate as a solid:

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Timescales

The writing and checking process took place over 6 months. And now, here it is, a real book in print with a golden case!

Defining emotions

One page I’m pleased with is the page on ‘Feelings’. Emotions are something I’m continually learning about and find fascinating. Scientists don’t agree on what emotions actually are or how to define them so it felt like an exciting challenge and a privilege to attempt to define them for children. I wanted to make sure they felt okay about having and expressing feelings too. I discovered there was one thread in the research that scientists around the world did agree on. An agreed set of facial expressions that are recognisable in every culture – they have even been tested with remote tribes. Therefore facial expressions are universal in communicating emotions. So I asked for the central image to be a face wheel and then I wrote about each emotion.

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I found the intro so difficult – in under 40 words define emotions! But I’m super pleased with it – it’s about the reason for emotions as well as what they are. And covers inner and outer world contributing to feelings. They did a photo shoot to get the faces right and I think it looks great!

I really love working out how to explain something complicated in a way that makes it seem straightforward – so this book has been a joy and a huge challenge for me.

Buying it

It’s available online and in all good book stores around the world. Hope you enjoy it. Oscar the cat asked me to say you should read the page on cats but I didn’t write that! If you’re reading it and want to check out my pages they are the red and dark pink marked pages. And I also wrote the story of energy, story of colour and story of sciences double page topic specials. These had to cover a topic using every other section for example art, people, living world, Earth etc! So the red circle is human body and dark pink is science and all the other sections have a colour code too:

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I wrote 20% of the spreads in total, there are other authors listed at the front in the experts section. Yep, I’m really in there! I’ve never been listed as an expert in a book before! Don’t worry if you know me, I’m not planning to pull out the “Well are you an expert?” card in the pub – ha ha!

Hope you love it!

Thanks to everyone at DK for your help and support, especially to Lizzie and the editorial team and to my agent Lindsey Fraser. Also thanks to Patrick Thomson for expertise on the cells page and to Manuel Breuer for reviewing the evolution page – you both get credited at the end of the book.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2017 in Education, illustration, Science, Writing

 

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Ollie and the Otter Book Launch Pictures

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Last month I launched a new picture book, Ollie and the Otter. Lots of lovely folk came along to Waterstones in Edinburgh and Chris Scott took brilliant photos. Thanks to everyone for coming, here’s the highlights:

Editor Eleanor started the evening with a thoughtful introduction:
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I came up to say hi:

Ollie and the Otter launch And throw fish at folk

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Rory the otter squirted water…
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We made the smells of the forest and an osprey caught a magnetic fish and lots of volunteers came out to help.
Ollie and the Otter launch The sparkly water weed wings were placed on Rory the otter…Ollie and the Otter launch

He was pinged on a seesaw branch. Rory flew through the air with his water weed wings, whistling in the wind…

Ollie and the Otter launch Ollie the osprey had a great time making noises and helping with drinks: Ollie and the Otter launch

We listened to the story

Ollie and the Otter launch Some folks followed along with their own book Ollie and the Otter launch

Ollie and the Otter launch And everyone seemed to enjoy it, phew! Ollie and the Otter launch

The illustrator Kirsteen Harris Jones joined us for the Q and A

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People asked questions

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And folk bought books Ollie and the Otter launch

We signed them (for ages!)

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Thanks again so much for coming! If you enjoyed it, please could you review the book on amazon?Ollie and the Otter launch

Ollie and the Otter was illustrated by Kirsteen Harris-Jones and published by Floris Books inprint Picture Kelpies.  See more photos in Chris Scott’s flickr album here.

 

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Top Fives: Reflecting on 2016

On new years eve I was having dinner with friends and someone suggested we do top fives. You take it in turns to say one highlight from the year past. It made a change from talking about the state of politics or how many great people had died in a shocker of a year that was 2016.

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There were five of us and we shared stories together until it was time for fireworks. After I’d shared number three a friend said:

Wow, you really challenged yourself this year didn’t you!?

And I realised, every story I’d shared had a pattern.

  • It was something I was scared to do
  • I didn’t think I could do it
  • I did it
  • I enjoyed myself because I realised I could do it after all

I was doing mini Rockys (you know the films with Sylvester Stallone?) all year and the hard work had led to my highlights. Had I never taken the challenges, I’d never have got to the highlights.

I’m writing a children’s book just now about a character who is afraid of something so he just doesn’t do it. And he thinks he’s fine. In some ways he is, he’s comfy enough. But his friend suggests he might be missing out and tries to encourage him to try and do the thing he’s afraid to do.

All through life I’ve been scared of things so I wanted to show children that courage isn’t the absence of fear, courage is something you need because life is scary. It’s not a magic potion that makes fear disappear. It’s a choice to act when you’re not comfortable, you’re not sure you can do it, you’re not sure others will like it and you might look like an idiot. That’s what courage is.

When I write for children my characters have a habit of reminding me of things I need to remember. It’s like in my head I think ‘I want others to know that’ and then I realise I really need to know it myself. I’ve been like the character in the book where I think I’m fine but my world is limited because I’ve let a boundary of fear define how far I’ll go or how much I’ll try. I’ve chosen comfort above courage because I’m afraid of looking stupid or failing or being rejected. That’s not how we start off in life. That’s not how we are made. If it was, we’d never learn to walk.

Looking back over the year was a good reminder that trying new things and learning and growing is what we’re made to do. Our brains make new neuro pathways as we learn, because they’re designed to work inside changing, problem solving creative humans. That’s all of us.

So if it’s daring to be honest or signing up to try and keep trying something new or having the courage to really enjoy the present or just the courage to do something everyday when you’re feeling so bad that just going to a shop seems like a mountain to climb…

Whatever it is for you, you can do it!

TOP FIVES FOR 2016 :

Playing an International for Scotland Writers in Italy (and being the only Woman on the Team)

Image Credit top left: Adrian Searle 

This was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had in my life – starting in a stadium, in Italy in a Scotland kit felt amazing! Also I need to thank the friends who told me over and over I should go. One even texted me every day asking if I had booked flights. I was scared because I didn’t know the guys well and I was the only woman and I thought I wasn’t good enough. But I had the most brilliant time! Also I really worked on my fitness the month before so I could play okay in 29deg heat. Italy had a woman on their writers team too and both teams were lovely. Here’s the captain Doug’s fab match report (warning- there’s lots of swearing in it!).

Chairing at Edinburgh International Book Festival

Totally one of my favourite jobs ever! I got to look after brilliant authors and illustrators TIm Warnes, Nick Arnold and Tony De Saulles. Read about it here.

Becoming a Chaplain to Hutchison Vale Semi Professional Ladies Football Team 

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Yes I am wearing a giant manager style coat and look twice as big as everyone else! I really enjoyed supporting the team in 2016.

Mining Memories: Creating Digital Stories with Children via the Perspective of Animals

One of my favourite school projects with the Inner Forth Landscape Initiative and Boness Public Primary – read more about it here.

Being a Dinosaur in a play for adults in Edinburgh International Science Festival

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Image Credit: Chris Scott

This was the dress rehearsal. It was like AE but for dinosaurs that have been debunked. We wrote our parts too – as part of Illicit Ink. Read more about it here.

New Challenges for 2017

I wrote three books which are coming out this year – I’m planning events now. You’re invited to the Book Launch of Ollie and the Otter on 9th March, 6.30pm at Waterstones Princes’s Street, Edinburgh.

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I’ve finished the season of chaplaincy so I can work on music related stuff.

I’m working on a new non-fiction book project and I’ve recently written my first radio play for BBC Scotland Schools radio. It’s about space and emotions and will be broadcast in March.

I’m working toward my first illustrated book (I’m an author of other books but I’d like to illustrate too). You can read a bit more about the journey towards illustration here and here. Here’s one I drew over Christmas on my ipad:

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Posted by on January 18, 2017 in Education, Events, illustration, Science, Writing

 

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Adventures in Sketching

I recently spent a lovely week visiting relatives in England. I set myself the challenge of sketching every day. Mostly because it’s a fun, relaxing thing to do on holiday. But also because I’d love to illustrate my own books and I want to get better. My illustration mentor, John Fardell has been telling me to sketch every day for a long while. So finally I made the time to do it. Here’s how I got on:

DAY ZERO: SUNFLOWER

The day before I left a stylus arrived – I had my first go at sketching on my ipad with the notes app:

Then I downloaded the paper app to try that next…

DAY ONE: WOBBLY OTTER (all the pens, paintprush and pencil)

wobblyotterI sketched this on the train so it’s not precise. It was my first go with the paper app and only my second go at sketching on an ipad so it was all about getting used to it. I enjoyed trying the different pens and colours and seeing which ones blend and which override the one below. I love otters!

DAY TWO: SCOTTIE DOG (Dip pen and a little bit of pencil)

scottiedogI’m writing a book about a worm and a scottie dog just now so that’s why I chose to draw him! I google image searched for ‘scottie dog’ and chose one I liked. He was on my phone while I sketched on the ipad. I was really pleased with the result.

DAY THREE: OSCAR (Dip pen, ball point pen, pencil, paintbrush)

oscarI was missing my lovely cat so I thought I’d draw him. He’s all black so that was a challenge but I realised the great thing about digital drawing is, you can add lighter colours over the top of darker ones. In real life that doesn’t really work so I made the most of that, building up the dark colours first and adding the light after. It even looks like him (:

DAY FOUR: QUICK MINI (Dip pen) AND A NEPHEW (Dip pen, paintbrush)mini

My sister picked up an amazing new mini! I love minis and really enjoyed sketching the light on something shiny!

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I also tried to sketch my nephew from a photo but it went a bit wrong and aged him by about ten years – he looks like someone else:nephewI tried to get the mouth right so many times and eventually gave up and just did a little line! So I learnt mouths are hard and maybe I should stick to animals.

DAY FIVE: BROUGHTON FOX (Dip pen, ball point pen, pencil, paintbrush)

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The Broughton Spurtle were having a competition to find foxes in Broughton and I noticed a fab photo of a fox by Camera Stellata:

I thought I’d go for some colour this time, I really loved building up the colours in layers and adding texture and inking over lines. I was really pleased with this – it looks 3D and I like his face!

DAY SIX: PTARMIGAN (Dip pen, ball point pen, pencil, paintbrush)

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I love rare Scottish birds – I’ve written books about a black grouse and a capercaillie. Earlier this year I had a wonderful experience sitting next to a pair of Ptarmigan up Cairngorm. Here’s a picture I took with my phone of one of them:

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They have white feathers in winter and black feathers in summer and they change to half and half in spring and autumn. They’re pretty cool as birds go! Here’s the lovely photo by Ben Dolphin that I sketched from:

I also added some lettering – my writing is quite messy, I’m a bit dyslexic but I’ve been encouraged by illustrators like Oliver Jeffers who use messy letters as part of their illustrations and thought I’d have a go – I like it!

DAY SEVEN: QUICK WILLOW (Dip pen, ball point pen, paintbrush)

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I had a lovely day on my Dad’s canal boat. I just had ten minutes after lunch to sketch one of the willows before we moved on along the canal (and I was needed for locks!). It’s an impression but I think it could work as a style for a background in a picture book? If you screw your eyes up it suddenly looks real so I like that about it! Here’s the canal in real life:

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DAY EIGHT: NIECE (Dip pen, ball point pen, paintbrush)IMG_20160720_003611My final day of the trip and I’d forgotten to sketch until the plane ride home. A friend had said they thought I should try people again so I decided to give it one more go and sketched a picture of my niece in the time it took to complete the journey. The only problem is my style went a bit realistic rather than children’s illustration. It’s a bit too intense. Then I tried to make the eyes less realistic. But it’s just a bit of a weird mishmash of styles.

One of the best bits is the clothes and I just did them really quick! But one good thing is, her mouth! It looks like a real mouth so at least I improved at something. I ran out of time to finish this but it’s something I can come back to. People are hard!

AND NOW…

I’ll keep going. The best thing was I totally loved doing it. I improved. I got excited every time I finished a sketch and I wanted to show someone – kind of like being a kid again. It’s nice to feel that. Thanks to the people who encouraged me when I sent photos and posted them on my facebook page, twitter and instagram.

Sketching made me get up earlier to sketch before the day started. I felt happy and excited. Even if I never illustrate my own books – I think I’ll make sketching part of life!

Thanks to John Fardell for all the illustration encouragement. And to Elspeth Murray for being an awesome Ipad sketcher and making Ipad sketching a thing.  And to Stuart for convincing me a stylus would work on my Ipad, even though I’d tried five and even called the apple help line (who said a stylus was ‘unsupported’ on the ipad mini). Turns out you can even use sausages

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2016 in illustration, nature, Writing

 

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