Saturday 30 March 2019

10 Things You May Not Know About Working With An Illustrator Until You Try, by Sophia Bennett

My latest book came out on World Book Day this month. The Bigger Picture is the first non-fiction title I've written: the stories of over 30 great women artists from the last 150 years, including many who are still practising. Because it was commissioned by the Tate, several of the artists even gave interviews. If you want to know what Yayoi Kusama has to say to 12 year-old would-be artists, check it out.

But the best bit for me was realising a long-held ambition: working with an illustrator. To be specific, Manjit Thapp, who created the look of the fabulously colourful spreads.

I knew a few of things about working with illustrators. These included:
  • You don't need to find your own illustrator. Publishers love putting the right illustrator on a project and they're really good at it, so you can leave it to them. 
On this project, Manjit's role was so important she was (rightly) hired for the job before I was.

  • You may not even meet your illustrator. The work goes through the editor, so he or she (usually she) will manage who does what when. This is sensible and practical, but sad. 
I haven't met Manjit yet. I'm meeting her next week for our first festival event together and I can't wait.
  • Pictures can tell so much of the story. When you're writing, all sorts of humour, expressions and character personalities can be captured in the images alone, freeing you up to write the bits where only words will do. 
This was less of an issue in The Bigger Picture, but when you look at the spreads your first impression of the artist's work comes from Manjit's choice of colour and tone, and the little details in the illustrations. Even though it's a book for teens it's still very much a picture book with words, not a text with pictures.

Here are 10 things I didn't know (but now do):

Your illustrator will have more Instagram followers than you. Way more. Live with it.

You will now want her to illustrate all your backlist and keep picturing how amazing it would look.

Nothing beats seeing a line in your text taken, and understood, and turned into a drawing.

It's a back-and-forth process: seeing the words on an illustrated page often makes you want to go back and change them.

But you have to work to strict deadlines because there's a production line going on here, people.

It's very technical! For example, the text of a full-colour book needs to be black. It's different in the US, but in the UK if a picture book (even one for teens) is going to make any money for the publisher it needs to be sold in translation. This means the text has to work in different languages. Because colours are printed in layers and it's cost efficient only to change one layer, and that tends to be the black one. If you have colour-on-colour you will see where the original text was removed and replaced.

You may also need to save some space around your text, because for example German tends to take up more space on a page than English. 

Therefore, as well as an illustrator, you generally need a designer who knows about printing issues like this, and how best to accommodate them. Ours was Margaret Hope, and she was an integral part of the team too. (And I never met her either, dammit.)
When your book finally arrives in printed form it will be beautiful, and you will want to stroke it. It will even smell good.

If you are lucky enough to finally meet and do events with your illustrator, your PowerPoint slides will be awesome. Manjit created the look of ours for the Stratford Literary Festival next month, and they are gorgeous. Literally, we could just sit there and watch them scroll by and the event would be fine.
You can buy The Bigger Picture at the Tate's online shop, by the way - and all good bookshops! It's written for readers from 10+. 

1 comment:

Sue Purkiss said...

It looks and sounds wonderful!