Starting to get used to the possibilities of crayons, some water-soluble and some not. I am beginning to enjoy using a medium that is graphic at base, but is sensitive to the management of colour, and can be changed and manipulated. This is more how I see Ella and the cat -the cat seems to have become large and grey, which as a shadowy figure seems appropriate.
I liked Ella’s boots (based on my boots, though I still had them on) but her face was wrong, and the longer I look at it the wronger it got (spellcheck says wronger is wrong, but it feels OK to me). The new sketch is a quick scribble, but it is a nicer image of Ella. It is interesting to go back to a graphic medium, I am enjoying myself; but I just couldn’t stand the doe-eyed creature with the big hair, however much the boots felt right.
Time to get back to the hares, whilst at the same time trying out the delicious crayons that cover my table in the studio. The process of self-publishing is not something I regret for a moment, though I was so involved in the production of the book, I didn’t do enough research, and underestimated the difficulties that a one-off publication would have as getting a distributor is concerned, even from an author who has had many books published in the mainstream both here and abroad. I didn’t send out The Midnight Hare to any publishers, it was always going to be a self-published work, as I wanted to see what would happen. The new story will be sent out to publishers/agents, and if I don’t get a contract, I will print 500 copies under the Moonwuzo Books imprint. Much easier to store 500 copies rather than 3000. Meanwhile, The Midnight Hare flies off into the world – repeat orders come in – this has been a very good week, so now I need to do some more work on this website, and put some graft in outside the studio. Though the studio is the place where I most like to be.
I have been working on a new story in my octagonal studio, the Tardis in the vegetable garden. This boy is called Finn, or maybe Louis. He meets a girl who has red hair and green eyes, in a wood where he has got lost. Louis comes to live in a house that has been given to his mother and father by Uncle Solomon, a maker of marionettes and toys, who has gone to the Gulf of Mexico. Louis’ mother paints pictures, his father plays the violin, Louis (or Finn) explores the house on his own. There is a cat who does not want to be seen. The pictures will be in crayon of various kinds, with some very fine sepia line here and there. A new departure. I only have a smallish table in the smallish Tardis, and the whole thing is covered in crayons. Yesterday I started a tiny sketch in a particular notebook with extra fine watercolour paper, and the texture just felt right for the medium.
I based the Garden of Delights in The Midnight Hare on the Alnwick Garden, a place I have visited many times. However the deserted nature of the place is nothing like Alnwick, which is one of the most visited destinations in the country. Of course one takes liberties all the time when illustrating, and one of the liberties I took was creating a wood on the edge of the garden inhabited by venomous mechanical birds. Mind you, Alnwick does have a Poison Garden among its many delights.
I had a lot of work to do on the scan of this picture, as I realised that the picture on the opposite page had Milo’s hand in exactly the same position, so I changed his hand, but the original hand showed through, so I had to very meticulously cover it over with red, using Photoshop; I don’t think the extra hand can be seen. Also Milo has a bright countenance, which is also manipulated somewhat, to get rid of the striations of the paper. However, I only use Photoshop to tighten up and clean up various areas of colour, and use my Wacom pen too at times (one of the interesting things about doing this book has been finding out how many brilliant programs there are to help). But the fundamental illustrations are done out in my studio in the vegetable garden, far away from the computer, the only machines out there being my very old CD player, an equally old blow heater, and a light up above, the bowl of which gradually fills up with insects as the summer progresses.
My publishing schedule for the coming few months is to get The Midnight Hare into as many local venues as possible; this will be especially important in January. Meanwhile I am getting on with the book about Finn and Ella and the Cat. This afternoon was one of those beautiful days in autumn when the sun slants through the changing colours of the leaves, and there are long shadows on the ground. And once again I can’t get near enough to the heron by the bridge to get a decent picture.
Painted on pastel paper with gouache and crayon. I will use both gouache and water-colour in the new book, and will paint on soft white Fabriano paper, using fine brush line with sepia water colour for the outlines of the figures, as I can no longer get the sepia drawing pens I used to love. However, having to improvise sometimes produces new effects, which in themselves can produce new ideas.
Neither “Finn and Ella” nor “Finn’s House” feel right as a title for the new book, I still think of it as “The Snow Book” even though it is definitely set in autumn. Went walking today looking at trees and leaves and the disintegrating heads of the greater willow-herb down by the River Leet – trawling for images as I went along. Wool-gathering, but all part of the process.
Maybe I’ll try sending out new book out to publishers, or even approach an agent, which is how I sold my work in the past, most of it anyway; but will keep the alternative option of printing 500 copies myself under the Moonwuzo Books imprint – that will give me the energy to do the work properly.
The boxes full of copies of The Midnight Hare are slowly emptying. If I had published with local publisher Serafina Press there would have been a set-up whereby distribution would have been much easier, as the groundwork had already been done by the MD of Serafina, Jennifer Doherty. But the other side of the whole caboodle is that I would have missed out on the having ownership and experience of the process. Swings and roundabouts. I am enjoying the ride.
Quite a different experience from working with large publishers, which I have done much of my life. I have the feeling I may never go back into that world, but who knows?
An illustration from The Fierce & Gentle Wolf. I used white neocolore crayon over paint to create the mist rising from the ground. All three of the recent books I have been involved in working on have children lost amongst trees. I like walking in woods rather than in open ground, the trees this time of year are interesting to look at, changing colour, and more sparsely leafed; and the bark grows beautiful lichen. I am starting to collect images here and there for Finn’s House.
Sent off seven more copies of The Midnight Hare to children’s bookshops yesterday, the next batch will be to local concerns. Sad how many local bookshops have closed over the last few years, I check everything now, as these shops disappear from the High Street. Sad how many businesses have closed, indeed. This year I have decided to do my Christmas shopping as far as possible through actual shops, not on-line. Found a wonderful shop in Peebles that sells Russian boxes and hand-painted brooches, and started my shopping there. The gemstone and fossil shop had closed, but had opened, quite recently. My husband said “That’s a strange-looking shop,” and we went in – it was a cornucopeia. Worth a visit. Gustaf’s Studio and Gallery.
Children’s bookshops seem to be flourishing, though. It is a strange business, the book trade, it seems to change all the time. My knowledge of it at this point in my life is nada nada nada. But there seem to be some really beautiful and interesting books being published. I have some reference books and a couple of novels on Kindle, which is superb in manyu ways,but reading in this way is a completely different experience to opening a book.
I love the picture book form, one can put quite a lot in there, under the radar of High Art concerns; whilst trying to make something that looks and feels aesthetically pleasing.
An illustration for “The Fierce and Gentle Wolf” that has some of the autumn colours that I am going to use for the story I have been calling The Snow Book, but which has transferred itself to autumn, and is now called “Finn’s House”, though I am not sure this is what it will end up being entitled. The text is finished, as far as it is ever finished at this early stage.
I look at this illustration to the Wolf Book and wonder what on earth is that little green bird doing at the bottom of the picture – I can’t remember that particular variety, it looks like a budgerigar. The next book will have siskins and goldfinches in it, and a barn owl – but nothing that resembles a budgerigar.