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curtis brown creative course

Hey, I have news! My Jampires co-author David O'Connell are teaching online courses about how to create children's picture books!



If you're interested, it's booking now, and you have three options: Writing a Children's Picture Book with David, Illustrating a Children's Picture Book with me, or a combined course, Writing & Illustrating a Children's Picture Book with both of us!



We've been working hard writing up the course notes, and the Hadley Brothers crew have been in the studio filming.



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miffy me

Lunch-break self portrait as Dick Bruna's Miffy:

twineham primary school

Last night I caught the train to Burgess Hill, to stay overnight for a morning start at Twineham Primary School.



School visits are a great way of getting to see places I might have otherwissed missed. I didn't know anything about Twineham, but as I watched several ladies leave the hotel carrying horse saddles, and saw this huge horsebox on the road, I began to suspect the area had a bit of a theme. (I discovered the school's very near the All England Jumping Course at Hickstead.)



Teacher Andrew Chapman gave me a lift, and before we went into the school, we stopped by the adjacent early Tudor church for a peek:



The school had a lot of fun surprises, including Bella the Reading Dog. While I was in the staff room between assemblies, children came in, one at a time, each carrying a picture book. A volunteer named Margaret would ask them for their latest news, and after a little chat, the child would read his or her picture book to Bella and Margaret. It was clear the kids saw reading to Bella as a real treat. One of them brought in a pony book - Margaret mentioned to me that a lot of them bring pony books - and since Margaret had been a horsewoman, she and the kids could talk very knowledgeably about all things equestrian. Watching this was so inspiring, seeing how much the kids were motivated to read and cheered by this combination of cosy individual attention from a grownup and getting to spend time with a kindly dog.



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drawing the new neighbours



People often ask me how I make the artwork on the pages of my book, and it varies, from book to book, depending on what I think might work best with that story. Here are my four stages of illustrating The New Neighbours:

1. Thumbnail roughs: I started with very rough versions of each two pages (or 'double-page spreads' as they're called in the book business). This version is called a 'thumbnail', because often it's very small, like a thumbnail. These just have to be detailed enough to give my David Fickling Books editor - Alice Corrie - and my designer - Ness Wood - a very basic idea of what will go on each page. I scribbled them with my mouse pen on a Wacom tablet, leaving room for the words I'd been working on with Alice to get just right:

Thumbnail rough

2. Pencil rough: For this stage, I cut some thin, plain cartridge paper to 110% of the size that the actual book page is going to be. This time I drew more carefully, and tried to make sure nothing important (such as a character's face) might disappear down the middle of the book, known as the 'gutter'. I also didn't want to draw anything important too close to the edge in case it accidentally got cut off when the printers trimmed the paper. Sometimes when other publishers reprint the book in other countries, they slightly resize the pages, and I needed to give them a little bit of wiggle room.


Pencil rough

3. Final pencil outlines: When Alice and Ness were happy with the pencil roughs, I moved on to working on the final artwork. I drew all the basic lines in black watercolour pencil, to try to capture some of the softness of the bunnies' fur and get some more texture than I usually get with black ink. I drew the words and speech bubbles on a separate layer and added those in Photoshop, but you get the basic idea here. (The reason the text has to be added separately is because the book will be translated into different languages, and they'll need to remove the English words.)


Final pencil art

4. Adding colour: After I scanned in the pencil art, I started building up layers of colour in Photoshop, and the occasional collage bit, such as the kitchen linoleum (which is from a photo of the kitchen in the house where I grew up!).


Final colour art

This is the stage where I e-mail all the double-page spreads to Ness (300 dots per inch, full size), and she adds the final text and creates the InDesign file to send to the printer. This time we sent the files to Toppan Leefung in China, who printed and bound the books, using Forest Stewardship Council certified paper from responsibly managed forests.

Want to try some drawing yourself? I’ve posted lots of tutorials for each book on my website. Learn how to draw a bunny! More free New Neighbours activities here. (Feel free to use them at home, in schools, libraries, hospitals, care homes, etc.)


And buy indie if you can! Lovely Stephen Holland and his team at independent bookshop Page 45 in Nottingham sell both the hardcover and paperback editions of The New Neighbours, ship internationally and have been incredibly supportive from the beginning. So if you want to buy it from them, that would be fab!

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hay festival 2018

Being a children's book illustrator is such an odd experience. You go into it, thinking you're going to be sitting at your desk all day, working in your pyjamas. But then you get put on stage to 'talk about your book'. So last weekend I went to the Hay Festival, in Hay-on-Wye in Wales, to do that thing I do.


Photo by Paul Musso, Hay Festival

Going on stage to present my books is a bit scary, but also kind of exhilarating. Most of all, you want to give everyone a good show, and make them glad they came along. This year I did an event combining two very different picture books: The New Neighbours (with David Fickling Books) and Dinosaur Firefighters (with Scholastic UK). The thing that unites then is they're both set in worlds where I've taken out all the people and replaced them with fun animals, so that's how I played it: Bunnies vs Dinosaurs.


Photo by Sabina Maharjan, DFB

I always worry my step-by-step drawing lesson will be too tricky, but the audience did admirable jobs following along and giving their drawings of a bunny and a Diplodocus their own unique personalities.



It's so fun seeing how kids interpret characters; sometimes I get really good drawing tips from them on making pictures more energetic or funny.



These two kids came to the booksigning to show me the drawings they'd done based on my book with Philip Reeve Jinks & O'Hare Funfair Repair. So wonderfully detailed!



Thanks so much to everyone who came along to the event and got books signed, it's such a great encouragement when people want to read the books I've spent so much time drawing.



After the stage event, I did a couple hours at the Illustrator Hotdesk in the Make & Take Tent. It was a nice chilled-out drawing session; I drew the outlines of these buildings, then sat at a table and kids came up, picked a house, and decided which new neighbours were going to live in it, and how their home might look. Here's illustrator Sarah Dean who was helping in the tent, holding up our finished poster.



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