Piece for Student at Curtin University about how I work (26.06.2017)

It’s a rather broad question I suppose – the main values – but maybe if I encapsulate my attitude to approaching an idea for a book it will do (?). It sounds as though you just want to discuss the Archie book, but I’ll reference other things too.

To me, communicating an idea is what making the book is all about. The text and pictures must work together to achieve this, but the pictures aren’t a mirror of the text. They must have a direction of their own to expand the idea, or even change it. Archie is an example of this, because I believe there are questions the pictures propose that aren’t in the text. If the pictures were didactic representations of the words, what’s the point– one should just read the words.

The process involves planning how to tell your story within the medium of a book. For a trade picture book you are limited to 32pp (usually) and the mechanics of the book function in a prescribed way. That is, one starts at the front and ends at the end by turning pages in order. This sounds obvious, but that is what is happening. The turning of the page is the dynamic one must work with to achieve rhythm and tempo and all that kind of thing. It must be used to advantage the storytelling: choosing where the text breaks for a page turn, whether a page has text on it at all, the size and position of the text on the page. All these things deliver the reading in different ways and as a designer I think about this in the planning stage.

I want my books to raise questions that the reader can choose to answer themselves. I don’t want a book to dictate one idea, although it may appear to on one level. Essentially, i want the reader to think and discover. 

Many of the subjects i’ve dealt with are presented from a child’s perspective of experiencing and overcoming a challenge, and I like the subject of discovery through experience. In Archie, this is a big theme, and in marshall Armstrong Is New To Our School, the school has to adapt to the new boy as much as Marshall has to the school. In the end, he’s accepted as he should be but it takes the other child time to understand something that’s foreign to him.

When I illustrate texts by another author, I have to consider things differently. Firstly the text must appeal to me somehow. Secondly I have to satisfy the author that my interpretation of the text is suitable for them too. If not, they can reject the concept and we go our separate ways. Usually, I find that the author is happy about what i bring to the storytelling and that’s all i can ask. Good picture book authors are hard to find, often I have to find  something in a text that I feel can make it a picture book rather than the story revealing a way of illustrating it. This may mean that I ask for changes in the text, like dropping lines or words that the pictures can replace. It’s a fragile balance and it depends on the author as to how amenable they are to text changes.

Once I have storyboarded a way of telling the story in 32pp, and the publisher and the author are happy, I can do the artwork. The visual narrative develops further alongside the text once I’m making the real pictures because I might spend 3-4 months doing the pictures and ideas naturally occur along the way as you’re sitting there thinking. This can impact on the approved storyboard and again may require changes to the words. My attitude is if my new idea is proven to be superior than what was agreed then everyone will want to change it so it’s no big deal.

Well I hope this tells you something about the main values of my work.

There are blogs and interviews I’ve done elsewhere where I go into detail about things and i’m sure they’re easy enough to find online.