Thursday, June 26, 2008

Crossing your eyes and dotting your tees

All finished. Time to let my book go off to the printers.
All of the pages, pictures, files, typefaces and bits and pieces are collected and put onto CD to take the book to production.
Apart from various stages of approval, signing off page layouts and answering minor questions, I just had to sit back and wait.
So, freed up from the intensity of The Boy with an Axe in his Head, I can swing my focus onto one of my other projects. I have several books in various stages of development and there is also this illustrative thing I want to do with snails.

That's not to say I'm finished with Maxwell. I'll get involved again when the book is delivered and the process of promoting the book begins.
Time for a cup of tea, I think, and maybe a nice biscuit.

Thank you Weddington Primary

My thanks must go to Weddington Primary School for showing me where I'd got it wrong.

An interesting thing about writing in verse. You can slog away for ages, shuffling words around, getting the rhyme to work, counting syllables and getting your stresses all mixed up, but until you actually read it out loud, you never really get the feel for your own words.
Perhaps it was the haste in putting the book together for the school event, or that I simply made some errors, but reading The Boy with an Axe in his Head to four classes of children at Weddington Primary emphasised to me so many points that needed addressing.
I'd initially decided on an April 2008 publication, because it seemed logical timing. However, having come away from the school with a list of things in the book that bugged me, I changed my plans.
It wasn't exactly back to square one for me, but I took quite a big step backward.
I spent the next few weeks tuning and retuning my words. I don't think a single verse came out without some change, albeit quite small.
Of the illustrations, I tidied up the one with Maxwell's sister on the swing and made a change to one of the earlier pictures. Finally, I decided that I should totally re-work the illustration on page 30. The original one wasn't 'homey' enough, so I replaced it with this one.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A little distraction

Just to change the subject for a moment. In the current issue of the magazine (June 2008) 'The World of Cross Stitching' there is an article about the work I do with Heritage Crafts in Staffordshire. I've worked with them for quite a few years now and they are lovely people to deal with.
The article talks about the 'Cats Rule' range and there's a page solely about me! I did an interview about where my ideas come from and what else I'm working on etc., etc. Heck, there's even a picture of me!
I was delighted recently to receive a phone call from Susan Ryder, the boss of Heritage Crafts, telling me that one of the designs I did for them under the name of 'Cats Rule' was their best selling design for the month. It's always nice to hear that a design has been well accepted.

Friday, June 13, 2008


What an amazing week that was.
Everything went according to the planned list, but one thing I added was, as the children came into the classroom, I decided, rather than me just stand around like a spare part, I'd do a drawing.
So, I took in an easel and drawing board and drew out the thing that triggered the idea for The Boy with an Axe in His Head - a bear with... well, you know.
It was a little bit of a performance thing on my part, but it proved to the class that I could at least draw a bear. I put the finishing touches to the drawing and added the caption during registration.
After a brief introduction from the teacher, it was my turn.
When I attend signings or public appearances of any sort, I often has a degree of uncertainty about how the occasion will go. Will it be difficult? Will it go wrong? Will I make an idiot of myself. These four mornings were similar. Until I began, I had no idea what the outcome would be.
So, away I went. I spoke, I pointed, I waved my arms around quite a bit. I read my book.
But the amazing thing for me was the enthusiasm from the children. Maybe it was the subject matter, perhaps it was the chance to do something different to regular lessons. But it was so rewarding to work with all of the children and get the wheels and cogs of their imaginations turning. Luckily, the teachers kept an eye on the time and sent children out for break and lunch, otherwise, I'd still be there today.
I had no need for any of my worries beforehand - I assume it's similar to stage fright.
For each of the mornings, I was carried along on a roller coaster of energy provided by the children. Propelled through the morning until, when lunchtime arrived and my morning with the class ended, I'd be buzzing with energy and excitement from the experience.
Interestingly, on the first morning, no one asked for an autograph. On the second morning, one or two children asked me to draw the bear on a sheet of paper and sign it. The third day saw more autographs and sketches. Day four, I was still signing and drawing bears with axes in their head when the class came back in for the afternoon session.
Another effect I noticed - often, when I write captions, envelopes etc. I'll use a cartoony serif type of writing. Some of the children picked up on this and asked me how I did it. "Easy" I said, "just give your letters hats and boots" and demonstrated by writing some of the children's names. Funny how a typographical element derived from Roman antiquity can be summed up in such a simple fashion. Hats and boots.
As I left the class, I saw some of the children practising writing their names in a serif font. Viral education - I often wonder if I cased an epidemic of typographic proportions.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

My Baby!

There's a warm fuzzy feeling I get when I hold a new book for the first time. A book encompasses lots of hours of thinking, typing, scribbling and pacing up and down (and quite a bit of chocolate eating). So, even though these twelve copies of The Boy with an Axe in his Head were digitally produced copies before the main production run, they still made me go all squiggly inside.

A couple of days before my visit to school, the books arrived and I put some thoughts to what would be happening during the four mornings at Weddington Primary School.
I'd discussed what I'd be doing with the children with Mrs Ward, the head teacher and Miss Booth, the literacy co-ordinator.
I was to spend a morning with each of four classes. Each morning would go like this:
• I'd introduce myself and explain what I do and how I came up with the idea.
• Explain the process of creating the book - words, drawings, page layouts etc.
• Hand out copies to the class and read to book to them while they followed the pictures.
• After a brief explanation of the mechanics of poetry, have the children write a verse of their own.
• Once a verse has been arrived at, create an illustration, bearing in mind how it would sit with the verse on the page.
• Finally, the children would read their verses and show the illustration to the rest of the class.

That was quite a lot to fit into a morning, but I was sure the teachers knew what we could achieve.

I gathered up my preliminary drawings and bits and pieces - and twelve fresh copies of the book - and headed off to school.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Full Steam Ahead

My deadline was looming and I feared I was running out of time. So, in case that happened, I took the last four or five illustrations that still needed colouring and really quickly dashed in some colour. Imagine being told you have five minutes to finish something that you know will take hours. I worked like that. The result was a bit messy and I went over the lines more than I would with the final one, but if it came to it and I had to send the job to print before I completed the real version, I would at least have all of the pages coloured. Black and white line drawings would stick out like a sore thumb.
In the end, there was only one illustration that appeared in the digital copies - the one where Maxwell's sister is on the swing. It wasn't too bad. Anyway, better than nothing.

So, off it went to the printers with my fingers firmly crossed!

To Print or Not to Print

I'd spoken to the printer I intended to use for the actual production run of the book and had been told that it would take around three months for them to deliver the final books.
Since I'd agreed to be guest author at Weddington Primary School in Nuneaton in mid-October and it was now September, it was clear, so I'd have books ready to use with the classes, that I needed something much quicker.
Digital printing was the answer. A friend of mine, Ron Hoe of Ocean Digital in Coventry had agreed to turn around a dozen copies for me in a week and a half. Brilliant!
I'd never used this type of digital printing before and went to see some samples. I was amazed at how good they were. It was such a relief because I didn't want to create something that wouldn't resemble the real thing.
I set a date when I needed to get my completed artwork to him and began laying out the pages.
Things were going to be slightly different for the digital copies. These were going to be paperback rather than the hardback of the final print run, and the binding was going to be a little different too.
So, once I'd made up several small mock-ups of the book to decide what went on each page, I assembled the artwork as it was going to be printed.
As I completed the illustrations, I'd put a page together, including the verse. It soon became obvious, by the number of pages with no picture, that I had a lot of work to do in a very short time.

On a roll - well, maybe on a little bun

There's a great feeling you get when things start to come together.
I found I was belting out images with some confidence. I could be working on perhaps two or three at a time. It would seem logical to start at the beginning and work my way through to the end, but I found it didn't happen that way.
Because each illustration needed to pass through three stages, these being:
Pencilling - working out the shapes and how they would sit on the page and 'embrace' the verse.
Inking - Putting down the black linework on material similar to tracing paper, which would be scanned into the computer to take me to stage three, which is...
Colouring - adding colour using Photoshop and saving in a format that can be placed on the page,
not every illustration was at the same stage. Depending how I felt when I started a session, I would flip through what I had left to do and choose something. If I felt like doing colour, that's what I did. Similarly, if there were still pencil stages to play with, I might do that, if the mood took me,
Eventually, of course, all of the pencilling was complete. Then I did all of the linework, which left me with many hours of colouring.
While all of this is going on, I have to earn a living because working on a project like this, which is a bit like a hobby, I'm not earning money. So, I'd get up at 6.00am, like I normally do, and work on The Boy with an Axe in His Head until 9.00am. At that time I'd work on the things that earn me a living - creating all kinds of stuff like embroidery designs or characters to be sculpted as figurines for people to collect.
At 5.00pm, I'd go back to my book illustrating maybe grabbing something to eat when my belly began rumbling too loud I couldn't hear the music I play while I'm working.
I'd then work until sleep made my eyes close and flop into bed. I'm lucky enough to work from a studio at home, so I can work as long as I feel like.
Whenever I tell people I work from home, they often think I get up when I like, take lots of breaks, an extra long lunch and finish early.
Nothing could be further from the truth. When you do something that you love for a living, which I am so fortunate to say I do, you find that you happily put all of your time and energy into your work because it's special. It's not like school homework or something that you are required to do.
So, here I was working between 16 and 18 hours a day between July and the first week in October and I loving every minute.