27 April 2006

Because I know you all want to buy my book...

...I've made it a whole lot easier. If you have a ganders at the sidebar on your right (or left if you're standing on your head - not recommended! - or staring into a mirror to read this ) you'll see, somewhere near the top, an image identical to the one below. Buy my book, Petunia Petalbum & the Quest for Knowledge (described by Lolabola as "super cool"), just by clicking on the image whenever (and however often) the fancy takes you. And it will!

Thank you for your support!

24 April 2006

17 April 2006

How To Make A Book part three: First Story-board & Development


(This series of posts starts with part one and continues with part two)

I'm not entirely sure which came first - the story-board or the development sketches - as I started both around the same time. Armed with a loosely connected set of ideas I decided the best way to get a story out of it was by attempting a story-board.



The first story-board was a sequence of very rough pencil sketches. It gave me a general sense of how the story might pan out and the illustrations required.

While working on small a year earlier (a story I barely planned at all), I noticed that it took a dozen goes at something before I could draw it satisfactorily and consistently. This year I decided to have those dozen or so goes at each drawing BEFORE I started the book so that they'd be satisfying and consistent from start to finish. Accordingly, I began to fill sheets of A4 typing paper with sketches of the various things needed to illustrate my embryonic story. At this stage, I thought I needed one or more pylon style steel giants, one heavy plant, one or more giant beer mugs/cooling towers/flower-pots, one girl, one dad and one grandma.


Around the time I got bored of drawing slight variations of the same thing over and over again, I settled on the final look of each element. I did later change the odd thing but broadly speaking I knew how each thing would look in the final version of the book. The next stage was to colour them in different ways to see what worked best. Before I started with colour, I felt that gouache would probably work best but wanted pencil to work best because that would give me a better chance of finishing the project on time.


This test made my mind up. I had a go with pencil just to make sure but even before I started I knew I'd be completing the job with gouache.



3 April 2006

How To Make A Book part two: Ideas

(This post follows on from part one: History and Early Stages)

Whenever I show my work to people they almost invariably ask where my ideas come from. It's not the easiest question because there is no single, definitive answer (well, I could say 'My ideas come from inside and outside my head' but I'd be revealing nothing by stating an absolute and undeniable truth). The process of thinking up and developing ideas varies from person to person and from project to project and is very hard to describe.

As a general rule, the process begins when an event or a conversation or something observed or something read or something dreamed snags somewhere in the consciousness of the creator. Let's call this snag an idea. The creator will fiddle around with this idea for any amount of time (from a fragment of a second to a lifetime) and (to muddle metaphors) the idea will percolate and filter through their conscious and unconscious mind until it comes out as one or more creative acts. Sometimes an idea arrives near enough fully formed and the process is short. The Elvys turned up in my head a fraction of a second after I read the blogpost that inspired it and didn't change much on its way to the page. At other times the path is longer and with twists and turns and variations. Treadmill started out as an online conversation about a hated job where I expressed my loathing of the place, the organisation and what I had to do there through the metaphor of the pedals. Quite pleased with this, I cut and pasted the conversation into a document and turned it into a poem that I didn't like as much as the idea. A couple of years later, I started doodling comic strips for my blog and decided to see if the failed poem might work better as a short comic strip and the idea finally found a form that (in my opinion) did it justice.

Like a proper romantic (albeit a proper pomo romantic), the seeds of my latest birthday book were found in the environment around me and in the myths of my own childhood. Specifically, three industrial intrusions into the rural landscape of South Yorkshire and the myths my family and I generated to explain them.


When I was a child, my mother would often talk of the lines of electricity pylons as steel giants marching across the land, and the cooling towers of power stations as giant flower pots. Even as a child, the cooling towers looked more like beer tankards to me but the tropes stuck in my head. More recently, I regularly pass a sign that says 'HEAVY PLANT CROSSING' and this always prompts my daughter to ask 'What does THAT mean?', and any groan ups in the vicinity to speculate on the possible meanings and nature of HEAVY PLANT. These various thoughts have floated around my head for years, independent of each other and without ever finding an idea to properly attach themselves to.

Towards the end of November 2005, I suddenly remembered how long small had taken to complete and how little time remained to get the next book done. It seemed quite urgent and yet I had no tangible, substantial ideas, just a few general observations about what a children's book should and shouldn't be like. Scrabbling around my inner-fog for ideas, steel giants, flower-pots/beer mugs and heavy plants all strode out of the mist and demanded to be made use of. Nothing arrived fully formed - essentially (and hopefully, without sounding too vague or too pseuds corner) I plaited these various thoughts together and began to tease them out into a single narrative thread. I recalled my daughter stating, a couple of years ago, "I nearly know everything and pretty soon I will know everything" and decided to entwine that into the thread somehow. The thread became a ball of twine, rolling down a hill and picking up other ideas along the way. I still lacked a sense of what the finished book would be like, of where this thread was leading me. However, I also lacked the time to just let it happen at its own pace and so I started working with what I did have, sure that a book would emerge from this tangle of ideas.

(How To Make A Book continues in part three: First Story-board & Development)


Joona is Ms Suomi-Suolmate's one-year-old nephew. He loves his Grandfather Tapio's tools and sits on Tapio's toolbox whenever he can. He also loves music and dancing. When Ms Suomi-Suolmate visited Finland in February, Janne went along to the family summer house and Joona heard a real guitar for the first time. A real guitar (played by a real rock star no less) was just about the best thing ever as far as young Joona is concerned.

Book Cover Project

At the weekend Easter takes me east where I'll have neither the means to translate my doodlings to a computerised form nor a portal to this wwworld so that I can parade them before your eyes. Also, the person whose office I have taken to squatting in order to shove my electronicated doodles through the protal and before your eyes (Ms Suomi-Suolmate) goes away on a field trip tomorrow until the weekend and so my access to this wwworld will be curtailed even before I head east. In other words, this place might be a bit quiet after today. And so, I'm going to dump a few things here all in one go to keep you going in case I don't get the chance to post again for a few weeks.

This first post was a 'sort of' commission. One of Ms Suomi-Suolmate's many friends back in Finland has written a children's book and asked me to do a cover for it having earlier received a hastily put together housewarming card from me (well, from us but made by me). The book is about elves or gnomes that live in Lapland and help Father Christmas. We're not sure if they're elves or gnomes because words for the smaller offshoots of humanity don't always translate properly and I'm not really sure what these are - obviously in Anglophone cultures elves are traditionally employed by Santa but these Finnish Santa proletarians seem more like gnomes (not the garden variety) to me. Anyway, she needed the cover quite quickly because she finished the book sooner than expected and wanted to send it to prospective publisher along with the manuscript. Also, she asked for something a bit more realistic than the cartoony stuff I normally do.

I painted this with a combination of artist's watercolour and designer's gouache. Along with a couple of test pictures it took about a fortnight. I'm not all that happy with it - with a bit more time to experiment and mess around I feel I could have done a better job - especially with the snow covered pines that dominate the central area of the image.

Meri, however, was delighted with it. I made a couple of adjustments to the image and mocked-up various book covers and sent them all off to her on cd. These are all lossy jpgs because the original files are massive.

Now I just want everybody to cross their fingers that the book is published quickly (as it so obviously deserves to be) and the publishers use my cover.