I’m delighted to welcome the super-talented Julia Patton to my hellopipski blog. It will be fascinating to find out how an illustrator of picture books operates! Julia has illustrated many books such as Mind Boggling Numbers by Michael Rosen and Professor McQuark and the Oojamflip by Lou Treleaven, and she also writes and illustrates her own books such as Drat That Fat Cat and Unstoppable Max.
Hi Julia! Can you tell us how you got into illustration?
I knew ever since I was very little that I wanted to draw. I spent every hour cutting and sticking inside my hand-made sketchbooks. This eventually lead me to choose my undergraduate subject in Textile Design which was very fine art-based. I then spent many years creating greeting cards and wrap for international stores.
My interest in children’s picture books was reignited when I began sourcing books for my own small boys. I fell in love with picture books and I knew it was time to go back to big school myself. I swiftly enrolled on the MA Illustration program at Edinburgh University and had my first picture book Unstoppable Max was published a year later.
I work in a rural woodshed in the wilds of Northumberland which is terribly romantic and perfect for a creative mind; however it’s freezing! ‘Character building’ I’ve been told…
How do you like your workspace organised?
I’m a rather spoilt creative as I have two studios, one indoor and one in my woodshed. I mostly dwell inside the woodshed overlooking my vegetable garden. Inside I’ve got an enormous 6′ double-skinned, hand build desk (with a wide shelf in between where I have all my papers, and portfolios to hand).
From left to right is the ‘messy desk’ where I can gradually move along from the sticky, painting area, getting gradually to the dry media zone. I have children’s picture book reference library here and in my inside studio inside where I keep my digital suite.
I love to have all my pencils in colour order, everything neat and tidy until I’m painting then all the rules are broken. Mess rules. This is sometimes when the most loveliest accidents occur. I have an eclectic music collection playing from movie soundtracks to Yo Yo Ma to Radio 1. The closer the deadline the louder the music, it keeps me from getting distracted. I work everyday including weekends from 9-4 and then in the evenings late if I needed to as I have two ever hungry boys who need their Momma.
What’s your favourite medium to use?
I work with traditional media and adore oil paint, watercolour and pencils which I work in collage and hand-printed text that I then scan into my computer to finish. I work with every genre of character if it be an anthropomorphic frog or space pirate princess.
My own childhood was heavily influenced by Richard Scarry because of all the funny details I could find, this was later replaced by Heath Robinson with his hypnotic contraptions and fabulous inventions. I adored, and still do, Dr. Seuss’s wonderful books. Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? is a favourite of mine. Now I read every picture book I can get my hands on. I’m initially attracted to the artwork but love deconstructing the narrative.
I am now mostly illustrating my own books that I’ve written, which is simply wonderful. As I’m writing the narrative and visuals unfold simultaneously, I struggle to get the pencil scribbled down quickly enough. I usually create a character and then give it a title and figure out what possible journey it/they could go on.
The most important issues to remember are the the story arc and being mindful of our splendid diversification. There are just some stories that need to be told. I believe every child should be able to see themselves, identify with the themes and hear their voice within a picture book.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a story called Oh, Bartelby! which is a very humorous tale of one very long, clumsy sausage dog and his little friends who live in bookstore. No spoilers! Aesthetically it’s more hand-drawn book than my other work with a heartwarming message.
What responsibility do you feel you have as the illustrator of children’s books?
As I’m writing, the narrative and visuals unfold simultaneously, I struggle to get the pencil scribbled down quickly enough. I create a character and then give it a title and figure out what possible journey it/they could go on. I usually have about 5-10 stories ‘growing’ like baby seedlings inside my A-Z sketchbook, which is where my visuals and story ideas live. At any time I can get a call to meet with prospective publishers who’d like to work with me an I show them my A-Z and discuss which story they like the idea of, and we create that book together organically.
The story arc and being mindful of our splendid diversification are super important. There are just some stories that need to be told.
I believe every child should be able to see themselves, identify with the themes and hear their voice within a picture book. I’m an incredibly privileged creative because I’ve got a huge support system around me. I believe my responsibility and role as an author and illustrator is to illuminate words, suggest the magical and interpret the unspoken.
What’s the best thing about your job?
I’m an incredibly privileged creative because I’ve got a huge support system around me: My darling agents in the UK and USA numerous superb publishers globally, and my fellow creatives via social media who keep me smiling.
I may dwell in a rural woodshed but I’m never far from advice, support, love and humour to keep me motivated!
Many thanks to Julia for taking the time to join us. For those of us facing the challenge of writing picture books, this is just the inspiration we need!
Find Julia on twitter @julia_patton and see more of her work here.
Thanks for joining us today,