Projects

Space: My next frontier

It has been many months since my last blog post. A lot has happened in our house, including a rather hefty total kitchen and pretty-much-the-entire-downstairs of our house update; Sidney, my eldest, has started primary school. Harriet is out of nappies and embracing pants, and I have taken to journaling in a big way.

So what, of all of these things shall I begin by writing about? Well … None of them today. After fab success with my first self-published picture book, Reynard the Fox, I have been looking for a new book project to work on. I want to go through the traditional publishing route this time; get myself an agent, and work with them to get my book to print.

For a long time, I had planned to create a bedtime book about British Birds – something that would entertain and educate both grown-ups and little ones – as I adore the birds that feed in our garden. My favourite books to read to my children are the ones that entertain me as well as my little listeners. However, I finally admitted to myself that though I feel this a worthy project – to break into the mass market with a book only marketable in Britain – would probably not be my best idea.

Then an idea presented itself in the best way possible. Sidney, not far off 5 now, loves Space. He has a couple of Space books, which are both lovely (including one I have already designed for a client) but have a little too much information for him to take in. They are aimed at children aged 7-11. Here, I noticed an enticing opportunity!

After doing some searching, I couldn’t see a Space fact book aimed at pre-schoolers, or first-readers. So, my new book is going to be exactly that. The text will contain bite-sized facts that children can easily absorb and remember, with colourful, engaging illustrations of our amazing universe, and it will work both as a bedtime book or something that can be dipped in and out of. The fonts will be easy to read for first-readers and I hope it will engage children to learn and find out about Space.

I am really excited about this concept, as I know that it could also work as part of a series. I have written a first manuscript, and am working up three sample spreads to begin sending out to potential agents.

When I was last writing my blog posts I used to mention imposter syndrome, and also talk about my mindset and lack of self-belief. In the last 9 months, I have begun to see that we all have the power to achieve our dreams if we really want to. My dream has always been to be a children’s author illustrator. I am firmly on that path now, I have published one title myself, which I am so proud of. Now I am looking to take the next step on that career path, and find an agent and a publisher who believe in me too.

Shall I use this final sentence to go all Law-of-Attraction on you … Oh go on then, why the flip not!? … As I was looking for my next fab, big, book idea, the Universe, which clearly has a sense of humour, presented itself to me. Thank you, universe 🙂

Design tips

The Brief: a de-brief!

Its taken little while to write this latest post. I have been working very hard on some design deadlines – having probably taken on one too many overlapping projects. And  after Harriet’s stomach virus from three weeks ago, she then came out in a horrendous cold, which then developed into tonsillitis. Then after a week of penicillin she was raring to go, and now has Hand, Foot and Mouth (it sounds Victorian, and is a bit like chickenpox). Needless to say, our house is full-on at the moment!

Indeed, what should have been Noel’s birthday tea a couple of weeks ago, turned into a not-very-hungry supper for himself and Sidney, whilst Harriet and I spent the evening on the children’s ward of our nearest hospital for her to be checked out. Not very cool. But all is now well, thankfully, apart from the Hand, Foot and Mouth (Insert swearword).

My top tips to writing a successful art brief

So in the non-existent down-time I have had recently, I’ve been mulling over what design tips to offer up, and I reckon that coaching you on best practices for briefing your designers and illustrators could be great ways to:

  1. Improve the quality of your finished product
  2. Potentially speed up your approval process
  3. It might even save you money too!

Whether you are commissioning artwork for a book, a logo, a business card or branding for your mobile diner – getting your initial briefing right is first and foremost going to get you a good working relationship with your designer or illustrator. And if you get your design team on board, you stand a much higher chance of your artwork coming in on schedule and to budget. So here are my top tips to writing a successful art brief:

Choosing your person
Hopefully you have chosen your illustrator or designer based on something in their portfolio that you like and would like to assimilate yourself. But instead maybe they have been recommended, or they are someone that you know and they have volunteered their services. Whichever way, a good place to start is by looking at their portfolio and picking some examples of their work that you like. You can also show them examples of other work that you like. Styles of drawing, particular colours used, fonts that you are drawn to. This is a great way to show your designer what you are thinking of. Pinterest is a really handy way to show designers your ideas. Its visual and can provide a great way of creating a fantastic mood-board, which can itself become a pretty solid version of a brief.

Schedule
This is a key feature of your initial discussions. Most good designers and illustrators will be busy and in demand, so it can be a little unrealistic to assume that they can jump onto your project straight away. Depending on the scale of what you are asking, you may need to wait a month before they can even get started. You might have an idea of how long something will take, but your designer will be able to give you a realistic response of their availability. In my experience, not rushing things through is always a better approach to getting the results you want.
Outline the timeline that you have, but be prepared to adapt.

Budget
Like with planning your schedule, the budget is something that needs to be established early on. Different designers and artists will have different approaches as to how they charge for their work. Some charge by the hour, some charge by the project.
I tend to charge by project, and break it down for my clients into sections, such as Cover and page count. I have a set fee for cover design, and then charge per page for the interior. My page interior fees are calculated by the level of detail and work involved per page. Within my fees I also include three rounds of amends, and any/all final file production.
When you are commissioning, don’t be afraid of what your budget is. If your designer or illustrator is happy to work for you and you have agreed your fee, then you are good to go!

Outline
Ok. The fun bit – the stuff you need designing or illustrating! If you are commissioning a number of artworks, or a full book, it can be helpful to open your briefing with an outline of the content. You should include the target audience, page sizes, the format the content will be in. You can draw attention to key ideas and themes – anything that the designer needs to watch out for throughout. You might also introduce them to characters here, and explain their importance in the work.
Outlining your brief is also a good way for you to be able to explain what your project is in a concise way – it might even help you iron out any sticking points you are grappling with – as you find a way to summarise your work.

Detail
Now’s the time to get to the nitty-gritty! Your designer or illustrator should now have a solid understanding of the sort of work you are asking them to do. So you can now give them the details you require.
Some authors and editors give little art direction, and some give lots. Your designer should be used to working to both styles. If you are happy to give your designer or illustrator a free-reign, that can work really well. I would suggest you ask them to supply you with a few pages or artworks to check you are happy with the direction they are going.
Alternatively, lots of direction can potentially mean a slightly quicker turnaround, as it means slightly less thinking time required on the designer’s part.
Neither method is right or wrong – as you get your project underway – you will find your own level of involvement. My best suggestion is to encourage your artist or designer to ask lots of questions and that way, any issues can be worked out early on.

However you choose to put your art-brief together, I hope you find these suggestions useful. It really is worth putting the time into writing your brief – life will run much smoother for you if you do! (Smoother life = happy life = #lifegoals)

Best of luck in your projects – and I shall try not to leave it so long next time!

Sarah xx

Projects

“Oh dear, Oh dear,” said the tiny mole

Well. Those few words put together and read out loud are among one of the most emotive passages in my memory. The story of The Little Mole is famous in my family, and was always told to us at bedtime by our Nan whenever we used to go and stay.

“Don’t bother me!” the white rabbit said

Several years ago we also recited it out loud at her 80th birthday party to a room full of bemused faces and giggles. Now, 9 months after we said goodbye to her, I am still transported to a little bedroom in her old bungalow in Bettisfield, Shropshire, listening to Nan’s soft voice telling us about that lovely little mole and why he was so upset.

10_the-little-mole-b

I promised several times that one day I would illustrate this story, and now, finally I am. It is a gorgeous poem about a little mole, and a fairy who gets stuck in his mole-hole. There’s a white rabbit, and a brown rabbit, and a happy ending. Perfect!

A little brown rabbit popped up from the gorse,

“I’m not very big but I’ll try of course!”

I have often thought about how I would illustrate this story, and I have mostly only fretted about how I could possibly ever do it. It is so embedded in my mind, I have always worried that if I ever tried to draw it, I wouldn’t be able to bring the characters to life in the way they are stored in my memory.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

10_the-little-mole-a

I have nearly finished creating all the roughs for this new book, and actually, the characters in their simple line form, have mostly flowed out. I haven’t had to spend hours researching what they should all look like, and what kind of characters their faces have, or how big they are. I just know. What a joy.

But he caught the fairy tight by the hand

And he helped her get back to fairy land

The poem itself however, is something with a bit more mystery. Very little is known about the origins of The Little Mole, also known as Grey and White, and it is thought to be written by a poet named Charlotte Druitt Cole, who’s work was published in several children’s poetry anthologies in the 1920s and 30s. Whenever I research this poem, I see that others are looking for it too, knowing it as I do, simply from hearing it being recited over and over. How wonderful, the power of rhythm and rhyme – that a story so simple can transcend time this way. Also, in case you were wondering, I don’t think there will be any copyright issues with this poem – Charlotte Druitt Cole died in 1943. Also, I will in no way be claiming that I wrote the poem – instead I see myself as bringing this perfect poem to a host of new bedtimes.

I don’t have a full timeline of when I hope to publish this book yet. It will take a while I think. I have quite a few other book projects that I am working on at the moment, and will probably be pretty busy with them until December. But that is ok! I always promised that I would do it, and Nana Eileen, do it I am.

Design tips

Colour me Autumn

The days are starting to shorten, and the evenings are getting chillier. Things are definitely Autumning up around here, and as the colours and the light are changing too, I felt this Autumnal theme could make for a good post about colour.

I genuinely fell in love with colour, and the incredible power that it can have

Colour is something that is very important to me. During my first year at Camberwell studying Illustration, I spent an entire term learning about colour – how it works, how it can be manipulated, and generally loads of great things about it. It was during this elective that I began developing my monoprinting technique, which ultimately led me to create Reynard the Fox in the way that I did. I genuinely fell in love with colour, and the incredible power that it can have, so I am going to share some of that love with you – and perhaps it will help you to make choices in your own books and business branding, maybe even your home interiors too!

One of the loveliest ways that we can see the light around us changing at this time of year, is the way in which leaves on the ground reflect much more light than dark grass and grey pavements or roads. Yellow leaves especially can seem to light the world from the ground up. The atmosphere is given a warm, often matte and a smoky sort of look. Look at these two images:

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Next time you are walking along a tree-lined street, or park full of trees, really try to notice the light around you. Look and see where the light is coming from.

Thinking about Autumn’s wonderful colour palette is a happy, indulgent place for me

As a parent to young children, the part of me that used to love the onset of Autumn, and the re-introduction of my scarf cupboard, now instead sighs at the onset of the snot season and the amount of tissues that I will find in my pockets at the end of every day until March. (Does really big sigh). So thinking about Autumn’s wonderful colour palette is a happy, indulgent place for me.

Whenever I am designing anything, thinking about the colours I use is a crucial stage. Something that is slightly too yellow, or a purple that is too heavy can really affect the success of a page. But it is not the heavy purple that is doing the damage. Or the yellow that is too yellow. Instead, it is how that purple or yellow is acting next to the colours that sit alongside it. A colour can totally change its appearance based on where and how it is placed. Take a look at these oak leaf graphics:

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Both of these leaves are the exact same tones and shade, but they appear completely different depending on what colour they are placed with. When placed on the deep burgundy, the oak leaf appears to be much brighter than when placed on the pale blue. When you are choosing colours for your brand, or even your bedroom wall, it is not always about choosing ‘the exact colour’. It is about choosing a colour that looks the way you want it to, when it is placed in context alongside something else. Here is another example:

08_colour-me-autumn-graphics3

Again, its tricky to see that both words are the exact same tone of yellow. The top one, sitting on the cool shade of green looks like a colder image, and the yellow itself looks a more ‘muddy’ yellow. The lower graphic generally feels warmer, with the heat of the burnt orange. Yet the yellow text actually looks ‘cooler’.

one colour used on two different backgrounds, could have a very different meaning

If you are clever about your colour choices, and you choose three colours to be the core colours for your business, those three colours could actually become many more than three, when used alongside each other. And therefore, one colour used on two different backgrounds, could have a very different meaning.

Autumn is a special time of year, even though it brings with it the onset of Winter, and also SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), something I can definitely relate to in the slog that is January and February. In order to help combat this, let us think about the joy of colour, and how this time of year can actually bring a warmth of yellow, orange and deep burgundy that is a true feast for the eyes. I am going to try and spend a few moments of every day observing the light and colours outside … And maybe I’ll pull out a good scarf or two – just for a treat!

Design tips

Designing everyday tasks …

… Otherwise entitled, “How to fill a blank page”

I think about how things look all the time. We are very slowly renovating (sounds way more glamorous than it is) our Victorian house, and because I work from home, am home with the children a lot, and rate myself quite highly on the introvert scale … I spend a lot of time in our house. So I spend many hours imagining how our house should look: what shape the furniture needs to be, what colours will lighten everything up, and how can we make modest rooms feel big. This is something I genuinely love to do – daydreaming how I’m going to turn a fairly ordinary woodchip-covered cottage-house, into a smart, minimal, dreamy, LivingEtc-worthy super-cool period house. (This will become my life’s work, I suspect …)

The way I approach my design work is the same. What is the text going to tell people? How am I going to make this copy turn into the most beautiful, cool and engaging book that I can? Do I need other people to help me, or can I do this all myself?

These questions can be related to anything, when designing or creating a document is involved – be it a marketing poster, a website, an invitation, a book, a business card, even a set of instructions. So below I have listed a few key things to think about the next time you have a document to design:

Who is this piece for?

Who is my end-user? Is it a customer or client? Is it a child or a parent? The answer to this question should determine how you choose a suitable font. It should also help you decide what images are appropriate, and the format of the content you are creating. It may influence what colours you use – do you want to attract men or women, or both?


Logos or branding

If your document is a piece of marketing, you will want to show your brand logo or name – this helps to build your brand story. It also helps people engage with you and your brand, and will help them understand who is behind the content. The more they can see your branding, the more they will remember you.


Fonts

Fonts indicate a lot without many of us even noticing. They are a bit like clever cats, having the ability to make us see and do things we didn’t even realise! A well-chosen font will mean the difference between people reading your content, and giving up after the second line. If the font is for full paragraphs of text, you probably shouldn’t choose something too decorative and twiddly. If it’s a font for a picture book, have a look at the illustrations, and try to find a font that reflects the shape of the drawings – if the characters have very round faces, a font with very rounded letters will match really well.


Images

When I am organising any poster or page in a book, it is always a good idea to see what images you have that you can use. Get them on the page and see how big they can potentially go – this can help you build a shape to your layout. It can also be a good way of shaping the direction of your text.
Likewise, images can be used as graphic holding devices for your text. If you don’t have any photos or illustrations to use, creating graphic holding devices (eg. a cloud shape with your text inside) can be a great way to create a shape and narrative to your page.


Hierarchy of information

This is a big one for marketing content. Understanding what information is most important will guide the font weights and sizes you use. Titles and sub-headers or introductions should be clear and pull the reader/customer in. Underneath that, your main copy, or body copy should be clear but can be smaller as there will be more of it. The hierarchy of information will tell your customer the key information they need to know – make sure key facts are clear, maybe bulleted and not hidden.


Colour

This subject seems a little extravagant after all the other headings. I love to use colour, but often work in black and white, with maybe one colour – when I am first building my layouts. This helps me to get the order of content and the shapes on the page correct. Once I am happy with a layout, and the text is reading well, then I start to introduce colour.

I hope you find these suggestions useful. Over time I will expand on all of these. Taking the time to implement these ideas will really lift the way your content is presented, and therefore enhance your brand, book or business. … As well as making you look like a cool hipster-design dude … Win-win I reckon! x

 

Projects

Believing in your own story

Sometimes I wonder if it is pride mixed with a little (or maybe even a lot of) vanity that makes me so determined to publish my own book.

I am passionate about my book, and I believe that it is good.

I have been turned down by several traditional publishers with a picture book, and now my best option is to publish myself.  But if I’ve been rejected by traditional publishers so many times, perhaps I should accept that maybe my book is just not that good? Perhaps it isn’t, and maybe I should listen?

However, I am determined. I am passionate about my book, and I believe that it is good. I believe that children and their grown-ups will enjoy reading it, looking at the pictures, and mimicking the funny words that are housed within it. I understand that it is a little niche, and unusual, but at the heart is a rhyming story and some very colourful pictures.

What’s got me thinking is why I am so determined to publish this book? This is a book that I began at art college, and have revisited many times – 12 years altogether! If I just started working on a new book, I could easily address some of the points that hold this one back. I have ideas for three more picture books that I want to do. Maybe I should just apply myself to those?

But I’m not. And here’s the for why. It is nearly ready. It will take me a very long time to get a whole new book designed, written and illustrated, even if I know what it will be. Also … And here’s the big one. My husband and I both work as hard as we can. We regularly have to dip into my tax pot to make it to the end of the month or pay the childcare fees, or make the next purchase to continue doing our house up. So essentially an extra revenue stream, however meagre would be handy!

I am determined to make this book work for me.

And I would of course be lying if I pretended that I’m not hoping it magically becomes a bestseller – we’re all allowed our dreams, right?!

I suppose the point is, that I am determined to make this book work for me. I don’t need to publish it for my own vanity, I want to publish it because I want to earn some money from it. I could here compare myself to the Brontë sisters, or Jane Austen, or Beatrix Potter, or J.K Rowling, or indeed any ambitious entrepreneur. Indeed, what do all these people have in common (besides all having written some of my favourite prose)? They were all determined to make their creativity work for them.

Sometimes I think it is crass for a Creative to say that they wish to earn money from being creative. Surely all us Creatives just do it for the love? Well – Spoiler alert! – No, actually. We creative bods also need to pay the food shop, or the childcare fees, or need to knock down the dining room wall.

So, I am choosing to believe that my book is good enough to pay it’s way. I am choosing to believe in my story, so that we can maybe get the Industrial-Rustic kitchen-diner of our dreams a little quicker! And that is definitely a story worth believing in.