Sometimes I write my own books. Sometimes I think up ideas with friends and we build the story together. This time, I was going to write my own book except my editor, Pauliina Malinen, slipped these pages over to me and asked me to have a look. Nah, I thought, I'm going to write my own story. But I'll have a look anyway. ...And it was GOOD! And SO funny! And I could see so much potential for added stuff in the artwork. Who is this Alan MacDonald chappie?, I wondered. I knew David Roberts creates his Dirty Bertie books with Alan (like, 40 books!), and anyone David works with must have something good going for them. (I loved Dirty Bertie Snow!.) So I wrote back to Pauliina and said 'YES!' Right away, I started scribbling notes in the margin.
The next thing to do was design the characters. Most importantly, how would the main character, Prince Pip, look? What about his dad? His mum? Do they have pets? It's a funny book, so I thought I might make the King look a bit silly, wearing ALL his medals, all the time. And Pip, I wanted him to be small and quick, so he could hop about.
The Queen, in contrast, is much more stately. I'd been drawing lots of pugs for a previous book, so I thought I'd try corgis in this book. And when I drew them with stare-y eyes, they looked so freaky that it made me laugh. So I made them all looking forward at the reader, all of the time, and they're a bit nuts.
Next, I painted a colour version of Prince Pip, tryingto decide what his pyjamas would look like, as he hops out of bed, excited about his birthday and going to put on his favourite pants (which turn out to be MISSING! ...ALL his pants, in fact).
Now the great thing about picture books is we usually know exactly how many pages we get to fill. Sometimes there are slight variations, but generally this is the preferred format because it wastes the least amount of paper when they cut the big sheets of paper at the printers. I print out this template and do very, very rough sketches of what might go on each page. (Here's another article I wrote about this, with a link to a template, if you're making a picture book.)
These little boxes are called the 'thumbnail roughs' (because sometimes they're as small as a thumbnail), and they really are very rough. But it's enough for me to remember how I imagined each page.
I have a chat with designer Strawberrie Donnelly, and we decide how we're going to divide up the text onto the pages. I scan the thumbnail roughs into Photoshop, make them the size they're going to be on the book page, and do slightly more detailed digital drawings, leaving room for the text. (I don't draw very well with my Wacom pen, but it's good enough for Strawberrie to get the gist. And I add a bit of grey here and there to make the pictures more clear.) Some of the pictures changed, but most of them are pretty recognisable from what's now in the book.
And then I go back to working on paper and sketch out the whole page in pencil. (I draw it at 110% of the final size, so I can get in a bit more detail and in case we need to move the picture around just a little to fit in the text.)
When Pauliina and Strawberrie have approved these pages, I then get out my fancy big watercolour paper, cut it to size, and trace over the pencil lines with ink and dip pen. I don't draw every single line - some I'll draw in paint - but I like having some basic lines to anchor my picture.
And then it's time to fill in the whole page with paint! Sometimes I work digitally but Scholastic UK love it when I do real paint on paper.
This page probably took me two or three full days to fill.
A lot of that is because there are so many details!
I like the idea of Prince Pip's parents framing some of his drawings of pants. Oo, and spot the stowaway corgi!
While I'm painting, I sometimes check how the picture will look in the book by putting a frame around it. I paint further than the edges of the picture to give the designer some wiggle room, or in case the printer doesn't crop the paper absolutely perfectly. (This extra bit around the edges is called 'bleed'.) Sometimes I get distracted about how things look in the bleed, and the frame is useful to remind myself of what people are actually going to see.
Then I deliver all the pages to Pauliina and Strawberrie at the London office of Scholastic UK. (Here they are!) Strawberrie sends the pages away to be professionally scanned, then they send her test pages so she can make sure the colours print just right and the glow-in-the-dark ink is lined up correctly. This time she asked if I wouldn't mind experimenting with something. She wanted to try out a new kind of flourescent ink, and I thought, 'OK, why not?' When the printing proofs came back, I opened them and the brightness almost flattened me! I started laughing. Usually when I paint something, the reproductions in the book aren't quite as bright as the original artwork (which is a bit sad). This time they were WAY BRIGHTER! But since it's a funny book, I thought the crazy in-your-face colours actually worked to make it even funnier. I loved it!
(Thanks for taking the risk, Strawberrie!)
And big thanks to Alan MacDonald for writing such a good text! Together we made the story, and I hope you'll enjoy it! You can download some free Prince of Pants-related drawing and colouring activities here from my website. And if you want to review it online anywhere, I would be super-chuffed. :)
You can buy it (hardcover or paperback) at your local indie bookshop, Gosh Comics, Scholastic bookshop, Foyles, Guardian bookshop, Telegraph bookshop, Waterstones, Hive Books and Amazon.