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?
This was the first scribble I did on brown paper, and I knew at once that this was the feeling I wanted for the book. Maybe I should have kept this colour as the background throughout, and painted on single sheets, crossing over both pages so as to have kept the design more coherent, instead of it being a tad hit and miss. Also I like the texture of this paper, but it is obvious from the crinkles that it is too thin for water-based paint. However this is all water under the bridge. I always like to learn. For a couple of days now my mind has been switching on to the new book. This entry is a kind of acknowledgement that I need to do some more publicity next week.
I came across some beautiful photographs by Michal Iwanowski, this image of trees (see below) has exactly the feeling that I want in the new illustrations, when Finn, the protagonist, gets lost in the woods just beyond his house. I am going to put in a small image here; I am wary of using other people’s work, and the context is quite different, but this way down the page I don’t think showing this image is too invasive of copyright/privacy/another person’s work. The photographs can be seen on the Edge of Humanity WordPress site. Of course I will be using the landscape round here, and my own photographs, as one shouldn’t us someone else’s work out of the context in which they created it; but the images of Michal Iwanowski will be at the back of my mind. When I was thinking about the illustration, there were silver birches and darkness; but this photograph is just something else:
All this time I have thought of my new book as being set in a snowy landscape, but I find I have been picking up red leaves, and dark sticks decorated with ravishing shades of lichen, and thinking these are the colours I want in the book; and this is telling me that the book is autumnal, shading into winter. There can be flurries of snow against autumn trees, but not thick snow on the ground. How strange that the spirit of a book, and one’s own spirit, sometime spring surprises.
I had a mysterious hat appearing on a snowman, but I think instead there can be a stone girl holding a bird bath in her arms, and the hat can appear on her head instead. This girl with the bird bath was in my Granny’s garden, in Chailey, many years ago. We called the stone girl Lizzie. I looked up this house. It is still called Moorings. So much of Sussex has been built up, but this part of the world still seems to have wooded areas, and the expanse of Chailey Common, where I went looking for autumn gentians with my grandfather.
Autumn does seem to be creeping into this new story.
The illustration above is out of a book written by Jennifer D Doherty and Gerald Golding called The Fierce and Gentle Wolf, published by Serafina Press, a book which I illustrated a few years ago. Not nearly as many years ago as Moorings, and Lizzie, and the autumn gentians.
This was the original page three, but I decided I wanted the hare in the foreground, and Milo full face and actually trying to approach the hare. There would have been too large a jump in narrative if I had had this as the first page, and then the second page having him chasing the hare. I think Milo changed a bit from this earlier version. But I think this page is quite pretty, so gave it away rather than leaving it in a drawer.
A couple of days I composed a letter in French, with some help from Google Translate, as it is a long time since I spoke or read French at all; and sent the letter, with a copy of the The Midnight Hare, to L’Ecole des loisirs, a publisher in Paris who published two books of mine in France, originally published here by Orchard Books. The French titles are Vingt-Six Lapins sement la pagaille and Vingt-Six lapins fetent Noel. A long shot, sending this package to Paris, as these other books were published a long time ago, but why not? I am trying to be more energetic about selling the book. And the postage was minimal.
For now, I am off to the studio to work on the new story.
This is so like the finished picture for the opening page of The Midnight Hare, I think I must have scanned the drawing early in the process, as the proportions and imagery are so similar. The stripes of the paper are very obvious, I used pastel paper because it was the only paper I liked that came in books – I always seem to work on blocks or drawing books, not on single pieces of paper. I had to use Photoshop to get rid of some of the corrugated look when the illustrations were painted. I actually scanned a section of the paper the same size as the finished pages were to be, and then copied and pasted the artwork on to this using Photoshop, so that the margins of the design were without these lines. Also it gave a very clean look to the margins.
There was an earlier picture, which I gave as a present to a friend, which had Milo with his back to the camera, so to speak. I was going to use this in the book but then changed my mind, as I wanted his face to be seen in the first painting.