MA Degree Show 2015

It is with a lot of nostalgia that I take the yearly pilgrimage to London to see The Masters of Arts Children's Book Illustration degree show.  The opportunity to ready through dozens of dummies invariably makes me ache to run back to the studio to work. Oh! But there is always one more book project to read, always another precious sketchbook or portfolio that makes me linger for a few more minutes, way past closing time.

Go and visit this show at Candid Arts (keep going left out of Angel tube station). Details here.  Even setting a whole afternoon to read through all book projects I couldn't.  So here are some observations of my limited visit.

There are very strong visual identities already developed in this year's exhibition. I loved  Maisie Paradise Shearring's Susan's School Days. It  had me hooked for a good while of my time there wrapped in a very believable world;  Jenny Duke's very distinctive mono print lines At the playground; and Joe Lyward's charming I'm going to school stood out as having a visual language of their own.

Joe Lyward

This batch of illustrators was not shy to tackle sad or difficult subjects. I really enjoyed Li-Wen Chu's You are here where she uses internal external chromatic spaces to amplify meaning on her sweet text on memory; as Lucy Wooler's divorce piece Dancing with Mummy and Daddy; and Maria S. Costa's uplifting story about adoption in her book An Odd Family.

Li-Wen Chu

Although the majority of graduates concentrated on story books it was nice to see more conceptual approaches such as Indira Margot Hamaker's pineapple variations book and patterns. A nice reminder how this course encourages independent thinking and the pursuit of individual goals.

Favourites of this exhibition were:

 Shu-Ti Liao's hilarious Birdie and An adventure at night where she uses the outside of a beam of flashlight to illuminate what the character can't see. Shu-Ti has a superb chromatic sense, pace and point of view. She has developed several books to such high and completed, I have no idea if she ever sleeps.
Shu-Ti Liao

 Morag Hood, who I hope walks off with the golden envelope tonight, had me laughing out loud with When Grandad was a Penguin and Go away, where a snail, pestered by slugs, builds them a home and sends them on their way. She combines natural storytelling with very confident  bold characterisation  and great instinct for design.

Morag Hood

There was a wide spectrum of the level at which books have been developed, from early dummies with great surface experimentation and wit like Abigail Joy Bowen's...
Abigail Joy Bowen published books such as Katie Harnett's Tras mi ventana.

Katie Harnett

Clearly fundraising efforts have been phenomenal to put together this show,  sometimes diverting from storytelling into merchandising. Nevertheless, this did not distract from the accomplished book projects, and as usual, the diversity in approaches, themes and techniques was a delight. There are woks there which will instantly be taken by british publishers and some which will sure benefit from the larger stage and wider tastes of the Bologna Children's book fair. 

My beloved old Cambridge School of Art seems to never run out of amazing talent, and both senior staff and regular visiting lecturers are ensuring that the quality stays high, to keep us alumni proud and on our toes.

Ceramics at White House Arts

I've joined White House Arts to practice some ceramics and to interact with fellow humans one morning a week. The place is nicely hidden by the river in Chesterton, a good 40 min cycle away, but the route is beautiful, and it allows me to "commute".  I arrive to a warm informal atmosphere, where tea is available to drink from all student made mugs (in all wonky shapes and sizes) and biscuits, which we mustn't give to Zeus (a mainly cylindrical sweetheart of a dog). There everyone just gets on with their own ceramic pursuits.

Slab Day: Cilinder to be pot and shapes cut.
The group fills the room but with enough space to work. All students are women of a vast range of ages. I'm getting to know some of them little by little and it makes me happy to discover shared experiences and common hardships. I suppose writing and illustrating on my own leaves me hungry for contact and exchange and I feel lucky to be in a group that is creative, generous and amicable.  Lucy, our tutor is friendly, incredibly knowledgable and with vast amounts of patience. A great advantage of the slow pace of ceramics is that it frees the mind to chat.

Underglaze- bisque fired
In the under-glazing and detailing there is room for freehand, and tonal drawing and squiggly lines, and perhaps these moments do require concentration. When I get to the point of mark making, I find myself in comfortable territory. There is however, a great delight in "shape making", a sensuality in the handmade process and in the final object. And the possibilities are mind-boggling vast.

Unlike my usual instinctive and direct approach, ceramics requires a lot more patience than I'm used to. There is an exact order and climatic conditions, and handling procedures, and a degree of witchcraft at the end. Ultimately,

The potential for catastrophe is ever present, in a long committed process. Clay is a fascinating thing with a spectrum of personalities and behaviours, (not all of which exactly match mine), but for the time being I'm hooked and I've already decided to extend my time there.


I managed to break two within an hour of leaving the place.

I quite like this cracked look.
Detail of outside. I was expecting this oxide to DO something.

This slab crank pot did not turn up at all as I anticipated. I can now see that I rushed the process and I missed a chance at leather hard to tidy the geometry.  I will be practicing when I can with some clay I bought from Bath Potters Supplies.

Will I get any good at ceramics?  We shall see in about 2 decades.

Bits and BOBS at Linton Children's Book Festival Festival 2014

On Sunday I was invited to do a workshop at Linton Children's Book Festival.
Valerie, the organiser was there to make sure I had everything I needed, alongside a beehive of volunteers, who made sure everything was in place and all authors were well fed and watered, in the right place and ready for our events.  David and Kathryn assisted me before, during and after my workshop and they made my job really easy.

35 Children and a few of their parents took part in making a wonderful wall of rainforest featuring frogs, butterflies, toucans and Bobs.  Following a reading of my book Niente Principe Ranocchio (No Frog Prince) published by Donzelli Editore, we explored some shapes of the plants and animals that live in the rainforests.

Rainforest of Frogs, Bobs, Toucans and Butterfies by the children of Linton.

Well you might be thinking, what is a Bob then? But the crucial question on the day was "Where is he?" Well you had to be there, and the answers where exciting and intriguing. The Children were engaged and were eager to participate and interact, so that at the end the wall was covered in specific character frogs and toucans with specific needs, fears, grudges and dreams.

On the tables more trees and characters where created.

We talked about the setting of the story in the jungle and about the skill of observing real trees and branches an leaves to draw them, or rather to draw the idea of them

Amazing structures of the rain forest.

It isn't enough to draw an anatomically correct frog, we need a frog to tell us a story. A frog that we can care for as a character will need a personality. We take from observation an "essential frogginess of the frog" as we see it,  and apply to it human attitudes and gestures. Children at Linton were super at this!

Is there anything as perfect as a frog that wants their own spaceship?
I hope by next festival the book is available in english, but if you can't wait you can get the italian version here or here.

Bologna Children's Book Fair 2014

For anyone involved in children's books but particularly for those of us who tell stories with images, the Bologna Children's Book Fair presents a unique chance to see the industry at large and to discover where our work fits in. Because it fits somewhere.  All within walking distance of the best ice cream imaginable!

Not every book we make will fit in with the same publisher necessarily, so the fair allows us to get a feel for what it is that each publishing house is about. If we are lucky we also get the chance to meet the people who define the character of those publishing houses.  First time round, it was so vast, so daunting, embarking on this search of mutual selection. But every year gets better, faces become familiar and meetings feel more like conversations. Although every Bologna Book Fair is great, 2014 will be hard to top for me.

When I went to the fair for the second time in 2012, I knew more or less who I wanted to show my dummy to, although I did not have an appointment. Being part of the team who started our stand (Cambridge School of Art) gave me a sense of belonging, a backstage view of the fair, and a little bit of extra courage.  All those beautiful books had been book projects once, just as mine was. 

With Bianca in front of the enormous poster of my book!

Bianca Lazzaro is my editor at Donzelli Editore. She was the first person outside of the MA to see my dummy.  From our first conversation I was completely at ease, she is an adorable person, as is Carmine Donzelli. So a great highlight of this fair has been spending time with them and getting to know them better. Both of them make me want to learn Italian more than ever as I can only touch the surface of what our conversations would be like if language allowed.  But even with the language barriers and the difficulties that come with distance, working with them has been a real pleasure and a great learning experience. It was during this fair, however, with the launch of the book, that I've begun to see just how my book fits in with what else they do.

It is clear to me that Niente Pricippe Ranocchio has their full backing and their belief gives me immense confidence in my writing (with words and pictures).  Carmine in this video gives an interview on monday, first day of the fair and mentions Niente from around minute 7:40

Thanks for this photo Zack Rock!

As Niente Principe Ranocchio was launched during the fair we arranged two book signings sessions for tuesday and wednesday and left the possibility open for another one on thursday. They were surreal!  It was an amazing privilege to do book signings between two very well established italian artists: Arianna Papini and Fabian Negrin.  It was a real treat to dedicate my books with love and care to every person who bought it.  It was nice to meet italian librarians, teachers, journalists and other illustrators (from all over) who were discovering my book right there and then.  I would have happily stayed there and signed for hours, except all the copies in the fair ran out by Wednesday noon!

But particularly special was to sign books for Steve, Daisy, Suzanne, Vic, Martin and of course Emily all of who have known this book from when it was an idea.  Drawing for them (and Catalina, Becky, Trudy, Zack, Sarah, Renata, Simona...) at the fair was the best bit by far. I dearly missed those who could not make it to the fair this year, but we will always have Bologna! The camaraderie encouraged in our course is consolidating into friendships and professional collaborations which will see us return to the fair year after year to support each other and to celebrate together our books. It was a real pleasure to see how my friend's publishers are backing their books:  Steve Antony's amazing books The Queen's Hat, Please Mr Panda (with Hodder) and Betty goes Bananas (with OUP); Suzanne Barton's The Dawn Chorus (with Bloomsbury); and so many more in the pipelines!

Thanks Emily for this picture!

Outside of the stand (and the fair) it was great to meet new people, make new friends and get an even wider perspective of those who make and value children's books. And with old friends the luxury of hours and hours...

As for the next book and what the future holds, well, a conversation with Sunkyung Cho was very timely to see my book as a step in a path that will make more sense when I look at it retrospectively. I just need to keep a clear vision of where I aim to go, even if it is too far to discern in detail.

This has been the fair that launched my first book. 

I called on Neil Burden on the last day, he is always so welcoming at Child's Play.  He asked me what it was like now that I was a published author/illustrator, and even tough we talked about it then, I don't think the realisation hit me properly until Saturday morning.  The sky was black turning into blue.  I was riding alone in the back of the taxi heading for the airport and it was at that moment, with Bologna fading into a motorway,  that I first though of myself as published. I don't understand why it happened then, but it did and it made me smile. Well, it still does.

Spring cleaning.

After much removal and filing and destroying, it turns out there is a huge surface to work on top of my plan chest. 

Here's a little selection of my much loved tools.  Third from the top is one of my old time favourite pencils. It is at least 20 years old, and you can no longer buy something this well made anywhere. Some were made in countries that no longer exist, but they still work! Ah the beauty of a well crafted useful object! Bottom ones are a more recent discovery, artist quality wax crayons. Grainy, flowy, really vibrant, a delight over acrylic.

Yeti and Eye- for loAf

Here are the two characters I have been developing for my comic "Yeti and Eye"
Yeti is actually having two forms. I'm excited about the shape this is taking, even though these two have not started plotting any threads yet.
It will come, well, it must because deadline is looming....

World Book Day 2013 St Matthew's School

I had a most excellent reading and drawing session with the children of year 4 in St Mathews in Cambridge on March 7th. I read from my new book project Mr Dodd'd Odd Day and talked a little bit about the book making process and I was so delighted to hear the children't comments and suggestions on how to make the book better. Their input and their reactions to the book were amazing, and as it is work in progress it was great to see what their response to it was.

After reading they began to work on enormous pieces of paper in small groups to create their own cities, inspired by Mr Dodd's urban setting.

And here are their amazing cities:

Auction for Bologna Stand

Last wednesday we had the great auction of originals and prints to collect funds for our group stand at the Bologna Children's Book Fair. More than K£1 was raised thanks to the great initiative of my friend Mel, who organised the event, and the determination and care of Pam, who as always made sure it was a smoothly run operation, and a small but very efficient group of helpers.

There were over 140 donated pieces and they were ALL snapped up. We came home with some beautiful new artwork by Becky, Jin and Emma.

Vic took home my toothy donation, Thank you everyone!

MA Children's Book Illustration/Degree Show at Foyles

 Early in the morning panels left the van and somehow made it up to the 3rd floor.

Then white paint was applied to old smudges in walls and plinths.

Work was set on the floor.

Pam and Martin curated the show by allocating spaces so our work complemented eachother. 
The show would look amazing!

Then we all helped each other to put our work up so it looked its best.

Set up took most of the day on friday. 
Great camaraderie sweetened the task for our group.

 But by early evening it was done.
All we needed now was visitors and their feedback.

This is what my bit of wall looked like.
 I was so lucky to be between Steve and Jin.

Emily's cake was a hit during and after our private view.

Lots of families of my colleagues were there on the last saturday and it was a pleasure to meet them. 

As we pulled it down we were all slightly, well, gutted. 
We do not want this to end. Next stop:  Cambridge.

Thanks for the photos Steve and Daisy!