Well, another long ol’ hiatus (traditional apologies…), but it’s all getting a trifle hectic here on the MA Children’s Book Illustration course…
Here’s a rather stressed-out looking seagull by way of illustration (pun fully – and inescapably – intended):
In addition to the escalating excitement-panic (currently standing at a relatively even ratio, but – I suspect – a mere hair’s breadth away from tipping squarely into the Full-On Panic percentile) re. the fast-approaching Final Crit, Assessment and Final Show (about which more, anon [well, below…]) – and not to mention the small matter of a certain epically-important international industry fair (Bologna Children’s Book Fair, 2015) – a couple of weeks ago Cambridge School of Art, in collaboration with Heffer’s Children’s Book Shop and the Centre for Children’s Book Studies, played host to The Cambridge Festival of Illustration, featuring a veritable smorgasbord of celebrated children’s illustrators speaking about their work, signing freshly minted books and braving the knee-high population of the city and environs in an assortment of workshops and similarly entertaining ‘events’.
Alas, I wasn’t able to attend all the events I might have liked to on account of some logistical/geographical ‘difficulties’ (i.e. I was, for the first couple of days of the week, somewhat stuck at home in Staines and, thus, not in optimal position to enjoy the – by most accounts – marvellous Sara Fanelli discussing her work, or Tuesday’s showcase of three recent graduates of the MA course, and verified stars of the current ‘crop’ of new, illustrative talent speaking about their work and of life after the course [it appears that such exists, after all…]: Victoria Turnbull – creator of the unspeakably beautiful Sea Tiger; Simona Ciraolo – Hug Me, brilliant and funny ; and Carolina Rabei – responsible for a stunning new rendering of Walter de la Mare’s Snow.)
However, I did have the very great privilege of catching appearances by both Axel Scheffler (The Gruffalo, Pip and Posy, and about a bajillion other illustrated titles for children, mostly authored by the rhyming-fiction-for-children-and-other-ditties juggernaut that is Julia Donaldson) and James Mayhew (the Katie series – which has just celebrated its 25th anniversary in print – Ella Bella Ballerina, and an assortment of other wonderful illustrated works). As students of the MA course, we are very lucky to enjoy the wisdom and considerable professional experience of James Mayhew in the studio, particularly now, in the Masters Stage of the course, so this event – held on campus, and immediately following a day of James’ teaching – felt rather more familiar and relaxed than that delivered by the slightly weary-and-jaded-seeming Axel, whose presentation I had experienced an almost identical (if rather more desultory) version of a couple of years previously when he had starred on the lecture programme for the course’s Summer School. As with, I imagine, most similar instances of professionals speaking about their work, the talks themselves were interesting and informative but mostly a trifle guarded – judiciously and, of course, admirably professionally – when it came to working relationships and the artists’ personal experiences of working with other parties within the publishing industry. There were, though, tantalising glimpses of the tensions that necessarily arise when a person’s artistic integrity is manoeuvred into a position from which it might be threatened or subject to inescapable compromise – a very real danger within the collaborative practise of picturebook-making, where the instincts and preferences of the various interested parties (e.g. sales team, publisher, designer, illustrator, author) may frequently collide… The importance of understanding the often-mercurial and fiendishly complicated Publishing Contract was also touched upon, with a warning to really scrutinise – and interrogate – the ‘Option’ clause at the end of the document, together with mention of subsidiary enterprises related to the book in question (e.g. film/tv rights, or merchandising), to avoid any unpleasant and protracted legal wranglings arising in the future… Wise words indeed.
The wonderful Marta Altés and Birgitta Sif, both graduates of the MA (Marta also finds time to shoehorn in some teaching as a part-time tutor for lucky, new MA students!), launched their respective new books at the end of the Festival week in Heffers bookshop – the gorgeous My New Home by Marta and Frances Dean by Birgitta – so I availed myself of *cough* a few books… And had them signed – woohoooo!!
The Bologna Children’s Book Fair has been a pretty hot topic in the last couple of weeks, with our entries for the Illustrators’ Exhibition being loving swaddled together in one giant Cambridge School of Art entry and despatched to Italy in the hope that some of us might make it onto those hallowed (whitewashed-MDF) walls next March – but that we’ll all be rewarded for our efforts with an entry ticket to the Fair. The principal appeal this year, though, is my eligibility – alongside my fellow graduating course-mates – to be included in the ‘Cambridge School of Art at Bologna’ stand, enjoying representation by the School and its tutors at the most prestigious and important industry event in the children’s publishing calendar. Participation in this incredible opportunity will necessitate a considerable amount of extra work in addition to that being produced on the course, so – it has been abundantly emphasised – is not to be undertaken lightly. However, it was at the Bologna Fiere (2012, as I recall…) that I was inspired – both through a meeting with Val Braithwaite (Art Director) of Bloomsbury and seeing the positively electric buzz around the CSA stand – to take the week-long Summer School in August and, from there, to (albeit in a slightly roundabout way…) embark on the MA proper: I’d love to be a teeny (one eightieth, approximately) part of the CSA story at the Fair in 2015 and encourage others to pursue their illustrative dreams, while also enjoying probably the best exposure, representation and art school-association in the world (I am not sponsored by Carling lager, by the way, in case that endorsement set you a-wondering…). We’re only in the very initial stages of preparation for the Fair at the moment, being much occupied with the Masters Stage project itself, artwork for our exhibition (end of MA show) catalogue, and fundraising towards financing this enterprise (show and catalogue – of which more, below…), but the students whom were showcased at last year’s CSA stand and a little more about the stand and course can still be viewed at http://www.csabologna.com.
In an effort to come up with something I might include by way of final artwork to feature on my exhibition catalogue page – and with the added fillip of contributing towards resolving how I might tackle the final artwork for the main body of the Masters Stage project – I have started experimenting with a few different approaches to injecting colour into the (constantly morphing) seagull project. This has included, in a shock departure from pretty much all previous form, Photoshop-born digital hue-application and, of course, other more traditional media (watercolour, oil-based pencil). However, I am a little reluctant to share much of the resultant imagery here on account of it being a rather-too-revealing demonstration of my emphatically novice Adobe skills… However, I thought I’d awkwardly shove an early digital effort in your, dear reader, general direction and tentatively invite thoughts/comments/ suggestions:
Now, after that little illustrative interlude, to the ‘more’ element of the course exhibition and catalogue…
Aside from the inevitable Final Assessment, the end of the course proper is the week beginning 9 February 2015, when we will host our Graduation Show at the Candid Gallery in Shoreditch, London, inviting publishers and agents to peruse our picturebook ideas and artwork at an exclusive Private View evening, and welcoming the general public – and long-suffering family and friends – to find out what it is we’ve all been doing for the past 18 months…! We will also be compiling and producing a show catalogue, which will be despatched to publishers up and down the country in advance of the exhibition, and which will feature all-important contact details and sample artwork for each of us.
Alas, neither of these enterprises can be covered financially by the university, so the pressure is on to raise the necessary funds (somewhere in the region of £8,000 in all…) ourselves: to which end we are fundraising our little socks off! 😀 Appreciating that it may take a little more than the customary sales of cupcakes, Christmas cards and prints – although we are, of course, doing that too (diabetes and ‘scalpel-finger-RSI’ ahoy!) – we have embraced the crowd-funding phenomenon and launched our very own Kickstarter project, which rewards backers with an assortment of products (tote bags, tea towels, screen prints and the like) featuring a ‘cat and dog’-themed design to which we have all contributed original illustrations (see composite rabble of cats & dogs, cleverly marshalled into a circular formation by the very talented Margarita Surnaite, below):
You can read more about the project, our fundraising goals and see the featured artwork at our Kickstarter page, here:
With the fantastic response we have received so far – the generosity of family and friends has been truly humbling – we have managed to smash our initial fundraising goal of £2,000, for which we are incredibly grateful: Thank you, one and all!! We have just one week left on the Kickstarter timeline before the project closes to backers, but are really hopeful of raising sufficient extra funds in these last few days (if we can just inch a little closer to the £3,000 extension mark…!) to offer some additional rewards to any new and existing backers for their remarkable kindness. I’d be delighted if you could find a few minutes to take a look at what we’re working on achieving with this project – and if you feel inclined to make a pledge (of any amount) in exchange for some of these special 2014/15 MA Children’s Book Illustrators’ themed products (including some original artwork and hand-made prints) I can guarantee it will be hugely appreciated! 🙂
Ok, no more fundraising chat (for now), I promise – but thank you for reading this far!! 🙂
Right, back to the drawing desk…