There can be no better pairing for a book written about sheep than with an illustrator who lives in the heart of the British countryside surrounded by them! Danny’s illustrations for ‘Counting Sheep’, written by Pippa Chorley, are not only alive with humour but full of expression that only someone who knows their subject well could master.
We sent debut picture book author Pippa Chorley the task of dragging Danny away from his beautiful and inspiring country setting to find out a little bit more about the artistic mind of this wonderful and distinct children’s illustrator.
Pippa: I know you particularly love to draw animals Danny, what is your favourite animal to draw and why?
Danny: Tough question. I would have to say a tiger. A Siberian Tiger if I'm allowed to be specific. I've been obsessed with tigers since I was little. They're just beautiful. A dream of mine is to see and draw a tiger in the wild, but the odds of that happening are unfortunately slim due to their decline in numbers and isolation in small areas away from people.
Pippa: Dare I tell you Danny, that I have actually seen tigers in the wild, in India? We were lucky enough to live there for 3 years and go on safari a number of times. It was truly a wondrous moment and I hope you get to realise your dream very soon too.
I am sure you thought that I was pretty crazy when I first approached you with theidea of drawing a whole book full of sheep. What is the most bizarre thing you haveever been asked to draw by someone (besides lots and lots of sheep!)?
Danny: Ha! With a book titled ‘Counting Sheep’ I had a pretty good idea it wasn't going to be based on just one sheep. I dunno, those sheep do get up to some crazy things! However, my son did ask me to draw a digger with shoes on the other day. I tried to decline the job but was forced into doing it by his tears. I did it. It was rubbish.
Pippa: It sounds like your son has a great imagination. There is a children’s book in that idea for sure!
When you are not drawing for writers like me, what do you like to draw for yourselfin your free time? Do you have other hobbies too?
Danny: I like to go on long walks, preferably amongst forests and alongside rivers and usually have a sketchbook with me. When I find a nice spot where the scenery is inspiring I'll get the inks and watercolours out and see where it takes me. It's a great way to practice. I find if the drawing is not for anything or anyone in particular, then I take more risks and make mistakes that a lot of the time tend to make for a more interesting image. Other hobbies include listening to music/going to gigs - I'm a big fan of 60's garage rock, folk rock and blues music. I'm in to my sports too, especially football.
Pippa: Living in the British countryside sounds pretty inspiring. Does it influence yourwork? If you could work anywhere else in the world, where would it be?
Danny: Definitely. I tend to use a lot of natural colours in my work and there's no doubt a large variety of contrasting colours can be found in the unpredictability of British weather. I'd love to work in many parts of the world. Freelancing whilst travelling through Africa would be at the top of the list.
Pippa:I know illustrating ‘Counting Sheep’ was pretty great (ha, ha) but what would be your ultimate dream project?
Danny: It was pretty great. However, drawing that many sheep did keep me awake at night. Bit ironic that, right?! My dream job... if David Attenborough wrote a book and wanted me to illustrate it, or, even better, needed an artist to accompany him to visually document his/our travels together. I know, I'm a dreamer.
Pippa: Dreaming is what made our book come to life Danny – never stop dreaming!
What is the most useful piece of advice you could give to a budding artist out there?
Danny: It can be really tough starting out as an artist, it was for me anyway. But if you create art that gives you a buzz feeling, then there's a chance others will experience it too.
Pippa: That’s great advice! What is your all-time favourite children’s book you didn’t illustrate and why do youlove it so much?
Danny: This is a tough question as I could give you a whole list! If I was to narrow it down....
‘The Enormous Crocodile’, written by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake. Iwas fascinated by this book as a kid. The croc was frightening yet humorous andloved how this came across in Blakes illustrations. This was the first bookDahl and Blake worked on together and as most know was the start of a magicalpartnership in children’s literature.
‘The Giving Tree’, written and illustrated by Shel Silverstine. Even though first published in 1964, it's definitely more relevant today than ever before. So much truth in this story that's sensitively written for both children and adults to understand.
‘The Gruffalo’, written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler. I just love the trickery of the tale, the way the words dance of the tongue and characterful illustrations.
Pippa: Some real treasures in there! Would you ever like to write your own children’s book as well as illustrate them?What would it be about?
Danny: Oh, yes! Watch out.....oh, and that would be telling.
Pippa: O wow! That would be amazing! You heard it first here #OntheScenein19 folks!
For more information about the wonderful wild world of Danny Deeptown, please visit his Instagram site @dannydeeptown or his official website.
Claire Sedovic is an illustrator based in Iowa. She’s been been making art since she was old enough to hold a crayon, but by age six, she knew she wanted to be an author/illustrator. Her debut picture book is Odd Animal ABC’s, written by June Smalls and published with Blue Manatee Press. Today she’s been generous enough to join On the Scene in ’19 for an interview.
So Claire, inquiring minds want to know…
Were there any challenges to overcome when illustrating Odd Animal ABC’s?
I think the biggest challenge for me was seeing the big picture. I am a detail-oriented person, so while it was fun to delve into the minutia of animal spots and stripes, hooves and antlers, I had to keep in mind how each spread would look in relation to the other pages and the book as a whole. Planning the page layout beforehand certainly helped, but throughout the entire process, there were still necessary changes to help move the visual narrative along.
Which illustration are you most proud of in the book and why?
I’m really happy with how the cover turned out. I actually made four other iterations of that illustration before deciding upon what you see now. When I look back at my initial sketches, I realize that part of the project alone helped me develop as an artist. And in a very short amount of time!
Well, that cover turned out great! I know illustrating Odd Animal ABC's was pretty great, but what would be your ultimate dream project?
It was great! But eventually I’d love to bring one of my own children’s book ideas to fruition as both an illustrator and author.
What is your favorite part of the illustration process?
Definitely the finishing touches. It’s the simple addition of a darker pencil stroke or a little pink to an animal’s cheeks that really make the illustrations come alive.
When you are not drawing for writers like me, what do you like to draw for yourself in your free time? Do you have other hobbies too?
As I just alluded to, I have always dreamed of not only illustrating, but also writing for children. I am currently working on two of my own picture books ideas in fact. And I’m also a certified yoga and barre instructor.
What is the most useful piece of advice you could give to a budding artist/aspiring illustrator out there?
The best advice I have heard is to simply make the art that speaks to you. You could spend your entire career chasing trends and trying to fit in with what’s currently popular in children’s literature. Rather, spend the time developing your own style. Regardless of whether or not it’s the ‘popular’ style, if you work from your heart, it will be evident in your art, and people will value you and your work for that reason.
I think that advice works for authors too. What is your all-time favorite children’s book you didn’t illustrate and why do you love it so much?
Gosh, this is such a hard question, I have so many favorites! I’ll go with one many of you may not know- The Children in the Jungle, written by Leif Krantz, illustrated by Ulf Lofgren (1961). This was actually one of my mom’s favorite picture books as a child and I too grew to love reading (with my grandmother) this clever story about a bunch of bored kids who paint a jungle on their bedroom wall and then enter the picture. They manage to paint their way out of a number of scrapes, including escaping from a very hungry tiger!
Would you ever like to write your own children’s book as well as illustrate them? What would it be about?
Of the many story ideas I have, two are now full manuscripts. The first, Marcella’s Butterfly is about a girl who makes a new friend on the first day of kindergarten, but on a class field trip learns that this six-legged companion may not always be by her side. And in the second, Olive & Olio and the Great Pasta Race, Olive mixes, kneads, and stretches dough in an attempt to make the longest strand of spaghetti to win the town’s annual contest and her Nona’s approval.
Those sound amazing! Can’t wait to see your author/illustrator books hit the shelves. What is your current favorite picture book out in the shops at the moment and why do you love it?
Again, so many good books out there, but the one I most recently read and then had to purchase is The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld. I am constantly amazed by the ability of authors to distill tough topics into something not only understood by, but also enjoyed by children. This book does it all with very few words and adorable illustrations. It made me cry!
By Susan Edwards Richmond
I’m here with Stephanie Fizer Coleman, who has generously agreed to be interviewed about her perspective as an illustrator of children’s books. When Vicky Holifield, our editor at Peachtree Publishing Company, told me that Stephanie Fizer Coleman had been selected to illustrate my debut picture book, Bird Count, I immediately went to her website. The first thing that caught my eye, besides the wonderfully whimsical illustrations on her home page, was a tab that said simply, “100 birds.” I felt instantly that she would be the perfect illustrator for this book—and that feeling has continued to grow throughout our publication journey.
Hi, Stephanie! Welcome to the On the Scene in ‘19 blog and thank you so much for speaking with me. I feel so fortunate for our collaboration on Bird Count. Your birds really bring the story to life. Not only are they accurate in color and dimensions, but they each seem to have their own personalities. Could you tell our readers a little bit about your interest in birds, and about the “100 birds” project featured on your website?
Hi Susan! I’m so happy to be chatting with you about Bird Count.Growing up in a rural area fostered a love of nature in me from an early age, but my earliest memories of noticing birds revolved around my grandmother always happily pointing out “Mr. and Mrs. Red Bird” and “Robin Red Breast” along with other favorites. She was a special lady and I often think of her when I’m drawing birds, even vibrant tropical birds that Gram’s probably never even knew existed!
My 100 Birds project came into being a couple of years ago as a way for me to explore my artistic style. I chose birds as my subject matter for a 100 day style experiment, because I knew I wouldn’t tire of drawing them and that I would find nearly endless inspiration in them.
One of the things that impressed me most about your initial sketches for Bird Count was how each spread seemed to have a unique design, which made it exciting to turn the pages and discover what elements you would use next. Can you describe how you come up with and carry out a vision for a picture book, and for this book, in particular?
Generally, my ideas are slow to develop so I’ll start with pages and pages of random sketches that will eventually lead the way.
For Bird Count,I started by doing sketch studies of all the birds the reader would be spotting throughout the book. At the same time, I was perusing references of snowy rural scenes while making notes and scribbles about the setting.
Next, I worked up a series of thumbnail sketches, small sketches with bare bones elements, to get a sense of the book’s flow and to see if my ideas would work.
Finally, I sketched all the various birds, characters, and settings in a sketchbook then scanned everything into Photoshop where I did a final version of the sketches to send off to our wonderful art director, Nicki.
I love the characters you created for Bird Count of Ava, her mom, and Big Al! Could you talk about the process of conceiving and developing characters for a picture book?
Thanks! I knew right away that Ava would have gorgeous wavy hair in an unusual color, so the Bird Count character development started there. As with sketching the book spreads, character development is a slow process for me.
It begins with notes about the characters, information gleaned from the text, and ideas I have brewing about each character including personality traits and quirks. Because Bird Count takes place in winter, I spent time looking at photos of winter apparel as well.
Having made all the notes and put off the toughest part of the process as long as possible, I grab a stack of copy paper and my favorite pencil and get started with character sketches. It’s a process that involves lots of scribbles that even I can’t decode later, a few good drawings that make me think I might be on to something, many cups of tea, and a bit of talking out loud to myself.
Ava’s character arrived fairly easily this time, but Mom and Big Al took a bit more coaxing!
The Bird Count cover featuring Ava with her binoculars is getting a lot of attention. In fact, Peachtree decided to choose it for the cover image of their fall catalog. Congratulations! I feel so lucky to be along for that ride! How did you choose that image, and what do you hope to convey to your readers in a picture book cover illustration?
How wonderful to have the art featured on the fall catalog cover!
You know what though? I can’t even take credit for the concept because our wonderful Nicki came up with it! She mocked up the idea using a bit of my sketch from the interiors. I worked up a more complete sketch and added some hand lettering to give it an extra special feel.
I hope readers see that cover and find themselves wondering what she’s looking at!
What other projects are you particularly proud of or excited about, and what are you working on now?
The most wonderful thing about my career now is that I’m illustrating the books I would have loved when I was a child. There’s something special about that and about being able to share my love of nature with a younger generation.
There are some amazing book projects on my drawing table at the moment, including a sweet story involving peacocks and another bird-centric book from Peachtree that I’m particularly fond of at the moment. I can’t wait to share them with the world!
What else would you like our audience to know about you?
It might surprise readers to know that I didn’t start drawing until I hit my mid-20s, that I first pursued a career in dance, and then finished a BA in history before I realized I wanted to be an illustrator. Some folks know exactly what they want from life right away and some folks, like me, take a circuitous route with learning experiences around each curve.
Following the dream of a creative career can be a challenging journey but I’m a firm believer that practice, a strong work ethic, and a general stubbornness are the best vehicles for that journey.
I’m grateful for this career I’ve built over the last few years and am especially grateful to have illustrated Bird Count, a book that held a special place in my heart from the first moment I read it.
Gareth Llewhellin, illustrator of From A to Z with Energy!, lives in Somerset, England, with his wife and two boys. He works from his home studio alongside his assistant, Herbie the Jack Russell. After studying illustration at Bournemouth College of Art and Design, and working as an in-house illustrator, Gareth took the plunge to freelance seven years ago and hasn’t looked back. (From Gareth’s bio in From A to Z with Energy!)
Describe your illustration style in ten words or less!
My style follows my love of pencil sketch and pastels.
What drew you to illustrating for kids? Can you tell us about your artistic journey?
I started copying pictures of Snoopy when I was 5 years old. I was obsessed with him! This moved quickly onto Mickey and his friends, me creating my own characters and then many years later onto University where I studied Scientific and Natural History Illustration. My imagination always got the better of me, though, and I pulled away from the tightness and restraints of illustrating exactly what was in front of me and I reverted back to the world of make believe and to where I am today, illustrating children’s books!
What is your favorite part of the illustration process?
My favourite part of the process is probably the longest part - adding the colour! Watching the artwork come to life as I put down the colour and transforming the pencil visual into a bundle of energy and emotion.
There are many action scenes in the picture book From A to Z with Energy! You shared with me that your two sons modeled some of those actions. Can you tell us more about that process?
My boys are a constant source of reference and ideas. From watching them play together and run around to seeing their emotions of joy, stress of school or sadness, it is all there for me to take ideas from. They also give me their opinions on colour. Whether a character looks too young or too old for the script, their opinion is always to hand!!!
I had the boys running, jumping, cartwheeling around the garden and in the house to give me ideas to take into the book. Angles of hands, feet, perspective….I was constantly bugging them to pose for me— haha.
Which illustration in From A to Z with Energy!are you most proud of, and why?
My favourite spread in From A To Z with Energy! is the Letter R! My younger brother was in a wheelchair from birth and he was always racing around in his chair, even when he wasn’t supposed to be doing so. He was constantly in my thoughts when I created this artwork.
One of the many reasons the illustrations of From A to Z with Energy! stand out is your rich and vivid use of color. Do you have a favorite color you use in your work, and why?
I love ALL colours!!! I try to compliment the tones within an artwork whether it be a fun and vibrant design or a more subtle and emotional artwork. The colours are always led by the scripts, but I just love every colour going, so impossible to pin it down to 1!
What other illustration projects have you done in the last few years?
I have been super busy over the last 2 years with back-to-back books covering so many subjects. That’s the beauty of my job, the variety is huge and I am never quiet or twiddling my fingers.
When you are not drawing for writers, what do you like to draw for yourself in your free time? Do you have other hobbies too?
I am a huge cycling fan and if I’m not out riding my bike, I am running my cycling art business producing prints covering all aspects of cycling from then and now. If not either of these, I’m usually out and about on an adventure with my wife and boys.
Can you share a photograph of your creative work space with us, and tell us aboutyour typical work day?
My studio! I’m lucky enough to have a studio in the garden so I can see all the flowers and birdlife going about its business. I often find myself distracted by it, nature is certainly very busy!!!
I start the day with a pot of coffee and answer emails before I start the artwork of the day. I like to have the day’s work prepped the night before so I can comedown to the studio and get going straight away.
Our dog Herbie is my studio assistant and always loves a cuddle. He sleeps on my knee whilst I work, which is lovely in the winter when it's cold. He’s so warm!!
What is the most useful piece of advice you could give to a budding artist/aspiring illustrator out there?
Always keep drawing with a pad and pencil would be my number 1 tip. The Mac is a great addition to the creative world, but you can never reproduce that feeling you get from moving the pencil across the paper. It connects you to what you are creating.
Please tell us 3 fun facts about yourself!
Follow Gareth at garethllewhellin.com
Today’s blog features Wendy Leach, the gifted illustrator of I CAMPAIGNED FOR ICE CREAM: A Boy’s Quest for Ice Cream Trucks. Along with advice for aspiring illustrators, Wendy shares with us why yellow #2 pencils and little white mice appear in so many of the picture books she illustrates.
What is the most useful piece of advice you could give to a budding artist/aspiring illustrator?
Can you name three artists who inspire you? Three! That’s hard to narrow down. If I had to choose: Caravaggi, Rene Magritte, and Richard Scarry.
As parents, much of what we do is also inspired by our children. Was becoming a mom what drew you to illustrating for kids or have you always wanted to be an illustrator?
I have wanted to illustrate children’s books since second grade when I created my ﬁrst story about a sleepover in a museum. However initially, I didn’t pursue illustration as an adult, but having a child changed that. As a parent, there is a lot I want to teach my daughter about life starting with knowing that she can be anything she wants. But I realized I wasn’t really doing what I wanted, which was to write and illustrate children’s books. I knew that had to change. I had to ﬁgure out how to lead by example so she would truly believe my message to her.
What is your favorite item to draw and why?
As far as an item I would have to say yellow number 2 pencils. They just seem to show up in my work a lot!
What is your favorite part of the illustration process?
The end! I enjoy seeing all the images come together polished and in color and turning them in to the publisher always feels like the last day of school before summer vacation.
Since I CAMPAIGNED FOR ICE CREAM is nonfiction, you had to draw several real-life characters. Did you find this more or less difficult than drawing characters in fiction books?
Both have pros and cons, but I do feel a bit more pressure when illustrating real life characters. It’s nice to have a general idea of what the characters look like, but there is more of a chance of disappointing someone when you’re drawing a true-life character.
Did you need to do any research in order to illustrate I CAMPAIGNED FOR ICE CREAM?
I had never been to a township board meeting, so I watched several of my city’s board meetings online. All of which were extremely thrilling! I looked at meeting notes, at images for community buildings, and other township boardrooms for interior ideas. I also ate lots and lots of ice cream—you know, for research! 😊
Were there any challenges to overcome when illustrating I CAMPAIGNED FOR ICE CREAM?
I would say the biggest challenge was creating the meeting scenes with so many people in the audience. It was difficult keeping everything consistent and showing the audience from diﬀerent viewpoints.
After I CAMPAIGNED FOR ICE CREAM debuted, you asked me if I had found the little white mouse you hid in one of the illustrations. Can you tell me how your tradition of hiding a white mouse in each of the books you illustrate came about?
I found these adorable little white mice at IKEA. My daughter and I built them a house and made them costumes, furniture, etc. We also played a game where they hide around the house and have to be found. Then one day, they just showed up in my illustrations! I decided to continue the tradition in each of my books as a gift to my daughter.
When you’re not illustrating for authors, what do you like to do in your free time? In my free time I draw a lot. Most of the time it’s characters and stories I’m imagining. I also like to garden (actually I like to visit the garden store), bake, and eat!
Before we sign off, can you share three fun facts about yourself with our readers!
I bet your daughter loves to draw on the living room walls with you! Thank you for joining me today. I wish you all the best in all your endeavors.
To find out more about Wendy, visit her website http://www.artofwendyleach.com/ and follow her on Instagram @wendy_leach_illustration.