1. CONCEPT: It all started with this drawing, which has lots of the elements of the story in it.
2. STORY: I originally wrote the story on my phone, then typed it up when I got home. My agent Jodie Hodges sent it along to my editor at Scholastic, Pauliina Malinen, together with the single picture I'd drawn. And as soon as Scholastic gave me the go-ahead, I started making little notes on it and sketching possible layouts.
3. CHARACTER: I spent awhile trying to decide how Unicorn would look. I know a lot of unicorns look glorious and magical, but I wanted him to look a bit more comfortable and bumbling. He's dressed warmly against the sea breeze in his favourite purple jumper.
4. LAYOUTS: After Pauliina, Designer Strawberrie Donnelly and I agreed on how Unicorn, Mermaid, Narwhal and Jellyfish would look, I started doing thumbnail roughs of all the pages.
5. TECHNIQUE: Artistically, I wanted this book to be a little different to the books I'd done previously (Dinosaur Firefighters, There's a Shark in the Bath, etc). So I started playing a bit with brown wrapping paper to see if I might do something digitally with scanned textures.
Then I thought, what am I doing?? I hate doing all my artwork on a computer screen, I'd much rather muck around with real art supplies. So I started playing around with tissue paper collage. But... wow, was it MESSY. Bits kept smearing, sticking to my fingers, then bits I didn't want to wrinkle would wrinkle, and other colours would disappear into the glue. And when I scanned it, all the pinks came out white. So I had to go in and recolour them digitally and, by the end, I thought, this is ridiculous. This double-page spread looks all right, but I knew I couldn't keep it up for a whole book.
So my next move was to try to capture some of the look I was trying to get with the collaged tissue paper scraps, but using watercolour inks instead of tissue. I was also trying to pick up on the look of some of the patterns I find in African wax print ankara fabric (the material I often have made into dresses).
I'm also a big fan of a Russian artist named Aristarkh Lentulov (1882-1943), and I love the way his composition lines cut boldly across his paintings. So I tried to throw that in, too, to give my picture more movement and life.
I'm usually very dependent on black outlines, and I still used them, but I tried to push myself to rely more on coloured shapes instead of lines. With the inks, it could be quite tricky when the paint bumped up against another colour and it bled. These pictures took quite a long time to paint, trying to get those clean edges.
Painting this whole book was a huge experiment for me, it really pushed my painting abilities to the limit. I've never been very good at capturing light effects, but I think I did catch something here, I'm really pleased with the look of the light rays piercing through the water.
When I was little, I used to love to dive down in lakes and I'd spend ages in my magical little world down there, looking up toward the surface. I also believed I could breath underwater, and I don't actually remember this being make-believe; I only remember one day I couldn't breathe underwater anymore and it made me sad. I very much wanted to be a mermaid.
6. COVER: THE COVER. Covers are wonderful to make, but also a terrific pain, because almost the entire success of the book depends on the front cover. So everyone gets a bit jumpy if they don't look right straight away. Here are nine version of the cover I made, at various stages of sketchiness. The closest I got was that middle one, which Strawberrie ended up using as a back cover image. By the last two, you can start to see that I was turning into a Grumpycorn myself.
But the Sales team just weren't happy. They got the idea to call Unicorn 'Dave', and we went through a couple versions of that cover. But his name wasn't Dave, and I would have had to go and name all the characters if one of them had a name, and I liked them having more simple names like a folk tale - Mermaid, Jellyfish, Narwhal. It seemed funnier to me in the context of the story; names felt over-fussy.
I tried to work with the new design, and Strawberrie played around with new lettering and backgrounds, until someone hit on the name 'Grumpycorn'. I fought it at first, because I thought it implied that Unicorn was grumpy all the way through the story. And he's not grumpy at all in the beginning, he's all excited and enthusiastic, until he gets frustrated. But then he IS grumpy, and so eventually I was won around, rather grudgingly. I thought, well, at least it seems like a kind of funny reverse-take on the usual unicorn gloriousness.
7. STEPPING AWAY: A couple months later, after I'd been away from the story for awhile, Scholastic tweeted about it and suddenly it felt like Grumpycorn had been the right title all along. Sometimes designers are right! Here's the hand-drawn/hand-painted artwork I gave Strawberrie, and after she'd given it lots of digital background enhancement and gold foil. It's very shiny!
GRUMPYCORN is available in hardcover and paperback through supportive and reliable independent bookshop Page 45 (with a special bookplate edition for the first 100 orders!), via Foyles, Waterstones, Hive Books, Amazon, and of course you can request it at your local bookshop or library!