A love letter to illustrators

I love art. I love drawing and painting and snipping out bits of paper and material, making little gorgeous things from fimo… I could go on. So when I realised my writing was heading in a picture book direction, I wanted in! I wanted to do the illustrations and create the theatre, the magic between text and art. So for the last year or so I have immersed myself in picture books – literally, my house is bowing with the weight of them. I have looked at the way text and illustration work together. I’ve explored examples of different mediums, different styles, different effects. I’ve bought the greats and stroked the pages in awe. I have bought hot off the press new illustrators and marvelled at their innovation. I’ve visited a local art gallery and a local bookshop displaying children’s illustrations. I’ve stalked the children’s librarian and mooched through the shelves of my local children’s bookshop. A lot.

And I have fallen in love with the work of so many illustrators. I love the variation. I love the design. I love the illustrators and publishers that are trying something new. I love the identity that shines through in the work of Emily Gravett, Alex T. Smith, Clara Vulliamy, Jackie Morris, Leigh Hodgkinson. I love the way you can see the influences and clear talent shining through in newer illustrators like Emma Yarlett, Hannah Cumming, Nicola Killen, Birgitta Sif. Sometimes the illustrations punch me in the heart and leave me with my mouth open and a tear in my eye. Thank you Jo Empson, Catherine Raynor, Rebecca Cobb.

A story becomes theatre when the illustrations are added. I’ve read (and looked and looked and looked at) picture books new and old, over and over, in awe of that magic. It has been a joy and an honour to do so. I have seen such beautiful, innovative, emotional, magical work and I have been able to share it all with my daughter and the children from The Rainbow Library. And it doesn’t stop here; my house is going to have to brace itself because I have developed a life-long love of illustration and I’m not going to stop bringing in the books.

I have learned so much from exploring illustrations in picture books. It has changed the way I write forever. I have such huge respect for illustrators and the magic they do that, now, I would never dream of messing with their area. I will save my art for making story sacks for The Rainbow Library. Now I write with my head full of pictures and colours. I write with an imaginary illustrator in my mind, and I feed her clues and I drop her something to run with and I leave her questions on the page. Because I am a writer. It is not my job to answer those questions for her. But it is my job to make my texts as strong and as inspiring as possible so that I can get them into her studio. And I can’t wait to see what an illustrator could do with my words. I can’t wait to see the theatre.


4 thoughts on “A love letter to illustrators

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  1. Carmen – I know exactly what you mean. I love children’s books so much that I spent years not daring to write them, but I’m glad I started. And I am slowly trying to pluck up courage to illustrate – so I would say don’t rule that out, either, Carmen. We are right to be in awe of the talent of others – but that doesn’t mean we are not allowed to try. So go for it as a picture book writer – but, as you love Art so much, maybe let yourself dream of a future illustrator’s life too! I’m a terrible hypocrite saying that, but hypocrites can still give good advice!!!

  2. I loved this post, so full of love and enthusiasm! Just wanted to echo Anne’s encouragement – I really hope to read your books one day in the not too distant future!

  3. I always feel slightly guilty if we favour a book or it becomes book of the week purely based on its visuals, but sometimes the illustrations are the precursor to the rest of the journey, and in some cases (for books like “The Cloud”) the one absolutely cannot exist without the other as they’re so complimentary and tightly meshed.

    Fab write up with some of our real favourites in it, lovely!

  4. Yes, feeding clues and leaving questions on the page, something for the ilustrator to run with, that is surely the path to magical collaborations. I’ll look forward to seeing the fruit of all this research and learning.

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