Oo, I am so excited about today’s guest on my blog. Picture books, as you are aware, are a beautiful marriage between illustration and text, both blending together to reveal the story to the reader and listener. Today’s illustrator achieves this harmonious relationship with such grace you wouldn’t notice where words end and pictures begin.
- Illustrator or author/illustrator?
- What’s your nationality and where have you lived and how has this influenced your art?
[JC] I’m an author/illustrator living in England. I’ve never lived anywhere else, so I think I must have a very British perspective on life. I was in Brighton as a student (aka London-by-the-sea), but aside from that I’ve spent my whole time in the rural Westcountry.
- Tell us a little of your beginnings as an artist.
[JC] I loved drawing and making things when I was a kid, and I always had a project on the go, – nothing has changed there. If I’m not writing or illustrating, I’m stitching maniacally.
I went through school thinking that art could only ever be a hobby, but I chickened out of science and maths after A’levels, and did an Art Foundation Course for a year as a fill in. I LOVED it, so I went on to study Illustration at Brighton University (where I met my husband, Tim Warnes), and had a lot of encouragement from Alan Baker (my tutor) to give professional illustration a go… so I did! If it hadn’t been for him, I’m not sure what I’d be doing now.
- What does your workspace look like?
- Your husband, Tim Warnes, is also an illustrator. How much do you collaborate, both on projects together or critiquing each other’s work?
[JC] My workspace is very untidy because it is quite small, and I’m often working on a couple of books at once. I have a few pots of drawing implements, a couple of tubes of paint, layout pads and paper – that’s all I need aside from an ancient photocopier! I use it to jiggle my drawings to make them fit together. I’m not very computer literate, so it’s all literally cut’n’paste for me!
I share the studio with Tim. We have desks facing in opposite directions so that we get some space from each other, but it’s very useful to be able to ask his advice – especially towards the end of a painting when I can’t tell if it’s finished or not. He’s also very helpful with his blue pencil when I’ve been struggling with a character drawing; he acts
as my agent/publicist; he knows all about computers; he is our accountant; website manager; Daddy daycare… oh dear, I look very fluffy in comparison.
We don’t ‘collaborate’ as such, but I’ve illustrated two of his texts, and have written a story that he’s illustrated to be published next year.
Tim prefers listening to music, but I can’t concentrate unless Radio 4 is on in the background, so guess who’s won control of the remote?
- I am in love with Bear and his friends. As you have illustrated many of Karma Wilson’s books now, how has the collaborative aspect developed over the years?
[JC] As far as the Bear books go, just after my oldest son was born I was given the chance to illustrate ‘Bear Snores On’. I couldn’t believe my luck- it was by far the strongest text I’d ever been offered. I painted it in between feeds, and I remember how precious that time was.
Karma and I have a very long
distance relationship. She is a great author to work with because once the text has left her very capable hand, I’m allowed to do pretty much whatever I want. I’ve read her descriptions of Bear and his friends on her website, but they are completely different to the characters I have in my head. It’s very interesting!
We have a new project together in the pipeline, but I’d better not say too much about that yet. Trade secrets you know…
- Do you have a fun school visit moment you could share with us?
[JC] Occasionally Tim and I go into schools to talk to the kids about our work, and to encourage them in their reading (and art). We’ve learnt that little children often don’t know the difference between a question and a comment. Once I was trying to enrapture a class with my drawings of rabbits and I asked for any questions. A little girl put her hand up to say that her rabbit had died. Then I heard about someone else’s guinea pig, and before too long we were grieving for hamsters, cats, ponies, Grandma’s dog, neighbour’s fish, Grandad….it all escalated before I’d even registered what was happening.
- Do you have any favorite animals you adore to draw?
[JC] I’ve just recently rediscovered the joys of having a sketchbook, so now I can’t get enough of shopping centres so that I can secretly draw people from behind my coffee cup. I’m not sure that I want to illustrate people though, I’d rather stick to animals. No one knows what a bear looks like when he’s decorating a Christmas tree, but they’d pick up on the weakness of my drawing if I tackled a human.
The market is very risk averse which is why I’m constantly commissioned to paint bears, mice and rabbits, but I’d much rather have coatis, or ostriches, or wild boar, or anything a bit more unusual. I had a lovely project with Scholastic last winter with all sorts of disparate animals that was really fun.
- Do you belong to any organizations that have been particularly important for your career?
[JC] I’m a member of the Society of Authors, and they are really helpful when it comes to contracts. Their lawyers have explained a lot of jargon, and have helped us to renegotiate some clauses.
- Can you share a current piece or two with us, and the process of producing them?
[JC] I’ve recently finished the art for a Walker Books project, but I can’t show you too much yet!
I’ve written a book this Summer for Little Tiger Press about two bears at Christmas, and I’ve packaged up the roughs this afternoon. I’m pleased with the characterization, I think I’ve got a bit better!
I do hundreds of very rough drawings from reference first, then I sift through them to find useful poses to spark off compositional ideas, then I refine, refine, refine the characterization, muck about with them on the photocopier, cut and stick them roughly into position, draw them up so that they are presentable, and only when they are approved can I get on with the painting.
I don’t do any colour sketches. It’s as if my head can only handle one thing at once. When I’m writing, I only think about text and pacing. Once I have a final text, I switch into visual mode and start drawing. Only when all the roughs are approved can I consider the colour.
I work in acrylic paint. I’ve tried other things, but acrylics suit me very well. I never know what I’m going to get at the end, so I can’t do watercolour painting at all! Acrylic is good because there is a lot of freedom to change your mind as your picture progresses. I am wedded to about eight secret colours that I use over and over again, but my palette is only ever limited to four per book. I don’t need any more than that.
- What advice would you share with an artist fresh out of art school who wants to become a children’s book illustrator
[JC] Draw, draw, draw etc! Drawing is good because it makes you notice details.
You must do your research before approaching a potential client to make sure that you’re not wasting your time or theirs. A good way to start is in a bookshop. Find work that’s similar to yours, and note the publisher. It’s easy to find information on the internet about how to present your portfolio, but it’s worth phoning the company to get a name to add to the address. Many designers are wanting to ‘discover’ new talent, so if you can get a designer on your side…. you could be in.
When Tim and I started out, we showed our portfolios to as many people who would look at them, and we are still working with some of those original contacts. Most people rejected us, a lot gave constructive criticism, some put us ‘on file’ and came back to us later, and two publishers offered work. It look simple written down, but it took a long time, and persistence.
It’s important to be easy to work with, friendly and professional. There are many creative people who are gifted artistically, but not all of them can meet a deadline, or take criticism well. It’s very hard having your work discussed dispassionately in front of you, so you have to be thick-skinned, and flexible about your style. Ultimately childrens’ picture books are market driven which means that the The Sales Team is king!
- Five Fun Ones to Finish
What word best sums you up?
If you could live anywhere for a season, where would you go?
[JC] South Cornwall.
What is your favorite smell?
[JC] Blackcurrant leaves, ripe tomatoes, baked oranges, clean washing !!!!
Cats or dogs?
If you could spend a day with one children’s book character, with whom would that be?
[JC] Aslan (sublime) or Chalk and Cheese (ridiculous….hold on, I spend EVERY day with Chalk and Cheese)!
You can discover more of Jane and Tim’s work here: