Tuesday, 29 November 2016

"ALL CHILDREN ARE GOOD" An interview with Peggy Barons, author of The Little Christmas Angel

I recently completed illustrations for a festive themed story called The Little Christmas Angel. Written by Peggy Barons and published by Carpenter's Son Publishing. I caught up with Peggy a few months after the book's release to see how she was getting along, and was pleased to see The Little Christmas Angel was a success! Peggy was kind enough to answer a few questions for you all so we could find out a little more about the process she went through. 

Hello Peggy! Wow, what a great response to your book! Your story is well written and engaging, it's hard to believe this is your first published book. Did you like to write as a child?

Yes, I wrote plays and my friends and I would act them out. I also  
liked to write poems and stories. But I was never very good at
drawing so I learned to use descriptive words instead.

Who did you look to for support and inspiration while you worked  on your project?

Actually, I looked to my own young adult children to help me  
remember what they loved about The Little Christmas Angel when they  
were little, and also to my two grandsons to see how stories  
interested them and what held their attention. I knew they loved  
finding tiny unexpected little surprises in the illustrations like a  
cow wearing a necklace or mice playing checkers - even if that  
didn't have anything to do with the actual story.

What would you say has been the easiest part of the process for you, and what was the hardest?

The easiest part was actually writing the story. We had a special little Christmas Angel that I found at a holiday craft fair that "flew" around our house at Christmas time and my four little children loved finding her in a new place everyday. When I decided to do this project, I imagined a back story for the Angel, starting  
with the original first Christmas, and then bringing her into modern times. It was fun!

The hardest part was finding a publisher. After several big publishing houses decided to pass, I found Carpenter's Son Publishing who was really great at helping to get this project off the ground. They helped connect me with toy manufacturers, book designers and a great illustrator, Izzy Bean.

Do you have plans for anymore stories or books?

Yes, - they are still in the incubation stage at this point, but I'm  
excited about two different stories I'm eager to tell. We're very  
busy right now though focusing on The Little Christmas Angel. It's  
already in it its second reprint and it was just released six weeks  

eBooks have become very popular lately, but you chose to keep your story as a traditional hardback book, why is this?

I love holding a real book in my hands - both for reading to little  
ones and even reading on my own. I had a Kindle for a while, but I  ended up giving it away. Parents today wisely try to limit screen  time for their kids and books, (real, physical books) are great for  that!

Well thank you so much for talking to us, and I hope your book continues to sell well!

The Little Christmas angel makes a great Christmas gift, you can purchase yours on Amazon.com 

Monday, 7 November 2016

'Bluebird' Children's Book Illustration - Speed painting

Bluebird Illustration Speed painting

I love watching speed paintings, and now I'm addicted to making them too! There's something very satisfying about watching a blank canvas transform before your eyes, I cant help but watch it over and over.

I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed making it!

This illustration was created for Laura Bullock's book; "Where Do You Live, Animal Friend?" and is available on Amazon here; Where Do You Live, Animal Friend?

If you need an illustrator for your children's book, you can email me at izzybean@izzybean.co.uk

Thursday, 30 June 2016

WORDS AND PICTURES - How to balance text and illustrations in an illustrated book.

When writing your children's book, you probably took a lot of time with your words; writing, reading them and then re-writing until you had crafted those words into a sentences, sentences into paragraphs and those paragraphs into a beautiful story that you can't wait to share with the world.

Then, like so many other authors, you let someone else handle the rest and they 'plop' the words onto the middle of a page in Times New Roman. Sigh.

I've worked as a full time illustrator for over seven years and one thing I have learnt is that exactly where and how you plop the words in a book makes a huge difference. The typography and placement is just as important as the illustrations. The two should come together and create a visually appealing page that reads naturally instead of clashing.

Here's some of my own DOS AND DONTS for making the most of your text. You can use these yourself, or pass them along to your illustrator or designer who can try them out for you. I'm always interested in hearing your thoughts too, so if you've got some ideas that I haven't mentioned, please feel free to comment below!

DO match your font to the story.

Try and pair your font with the nature of your book. For example; a story about a Princess who chews bubblegum might be light and rounded, but a book which involves monsters and dark forests may suit a spindly, spider-like text.

You can try more than one font and even mix them up as you go along, having different fonts for different actions or characters. Just be sure that whatever you choose, it is ALWAYS legible.

Here are some great websites for sourcing fonts - and some of them are free!


DON'T plonk your font down anywhere and leave it there.

You must think about the placement of your text. It's a long process that will involve lots of edits and tweaking until you get it right, but a good designer will never get annoyed with trying out different placements. When you think you've got it right - try another placement just in case!

Is your text on the same page as an illustration? 
Which one do you want to see first - the words or the picture? 
Does the text get lost in the colours? 
It is in the same place every page? 

One thing is certain - you must be aware of bleed and trim. The text should never be too close the edge of a page. 

DO test with other people to see if they can read it.

This seems obvious, but it's hard to test your own book properly when you already know what it says. Ask friends, family and other writers to read it out in front of you. Do they read it in the correct order? Do they stumble on words or struggle to find the next sentence? As beautiful and your layout might look, if it isn't easy to read by your target audience you may as well bin it now.

DON'T be boring.

Black, Times New Roman in a white box... yawn! 

What about red text? Text with a pattern? Text with a texture? Now there's an idea. How about text that curves around the illustration it is describing? If your text is being shouted, why not place it inside a huge illustration of a mouth? Get creative and try different things - if it looks good and can be read easily then make it work WITH the illustration instead of leaving them to battle for space. I'm not saying you can't keep a neat, monochrome theme if that suits your book; just don't automatically default to it without at least thinking about your options. 

DO your research.

Look at as many popular children's books as you can, and see if you can find common themes they all have. Assess their typography, the size of the font, where they place it... these bestsellers must be onto something.

Don't be afraid to try some of their ideas yourself - use them for inspiration! (Just be careful not to plagiarise anyones work, of course.)

DON'T have too much text on a page.

This is a common error that new writers make. 500-800 words is the recommended average for a 32 page children's book and it's like that for a reason - it leaves just the amount of text on each page.  Filling a page with text leaves no room for illustration and makes it feel cramped. If you need to say more, consider moving text to an adjacent page or cutting out a less important sentence. It's tough to cut your story short, but it will benefit the book in the end.

DO have pages without any text at all.

Some clients are horrified when I suggest this. No text on page 13? But what will they do?! What will they read?! 

This is a great opportunity to break your book up and make your audience pay attention as long as you use it in the right place. (You may not have a right place for it in your book, and that's OK too!)

The best tip here is to use it as a build up or passage of time and let the illustrations to do the talking for you. A story about someone digging a hole to the other side of the world may leave three pages of nothing but illustrations of the character digging... getting lower and lower until they disappear entirely... The next page that includes text should then have a big action or reveal as the climax;

...SUPRISE! He's now in China!

This is where your illustrator's talents come in handy. When there is no text on a page, you need to give the reader plenty to look at. Hidden items, background characters and lots of detail will make this trick work.

DO create your own font

While I appreciate this is not something everyone is able to do, it may be something your illustrator could do for an extra fee. Creating your own font has many benefits; If you can't find one that looks right you can create one to fit perfectly. No other books will have the same font which makes yours unique. Not using easily recognised or default fonts means some readers (and publishers) will take you more seriously and know you have put the extra work in. 

Finally, here is a list of words and what they mean. They aren't 'Dos and Don'ts' - but they will certainly help you discuss what you need with your illustrator and be able to understand what they are saying to you! I hope you enjoyed reading my tips and tricks to making words work for you. Now get writing that next bestseller - and good luck!

SERIF - Fonts that have little details or accents to make the words easier to read. "This is an example of Serif"

SANS-SERIF - Font's that don't have the little details or accents. On computer monitors we are restricted to dots per inch and so the details and accents are not as easy to scale down or read.  "This is an example of Sans-Serif"

TYPOGRAPHY - The way type is arranged to achieve the desired effect

TYPEFACE - A kind of type. For example; Times New Roman

LINE SPACE (SINGLE, DOUBLE, ETC) - The amount of space between the lines of text

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Developing a character and listening to feedback.

A live project example, complete with client feedback!

It's not enough to just be able to 'draw' to be successful in the illustration game - you need to hold a myriad of essential skills, two of which are; 

- being able to listen to criticism and, 

- making changes to your work based on that criticism. 

To demonstrate this ability in a real-world setting, I decided to share with you a recent character development project. You can see my sketches, plus the actual client feedback along the way and how it affected my work!

1. The first draft.

The brief was to create a character which will be used in a children's book as the main antagonist. Here's what I was given;

Could the girl be designed with brown hair and a pink dress? 

While this seems quite vague, I have already read the script so I know more about the character from her role in the story. She's a young girl who has a wobbly tooth. Here was my initial sketch based on the description given and my interpretation of the script.

2. The second draft.

I really like these examples from your website, would it be possible to combine these three together somehow? Perhaps with longer hair in pigtails? 

2. The third draft.

I like the twin tail look, but could we try the design as a cuter, younger, more rounded design? 

2. The fourth draft.

Great! Much better. Can we add the twin tails back?

2. The fifth draft.

Thankyou for the sketch. I think we're pretty close. Could we make the hair a bit more defined with it being a bit more pronounced and maybe some bobbles or flowers?

I think we've got it! Let's proceed to colour.

As you can see, most characters go through a series of changes before we finally settle on one to move forward with. Here is our character once we added colour, the client loved her!

This cutie will be featured in her very own adventure soon... watch this space!

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Illustrating a children's book character from sketch to finish - speed painting

Illustrating a children's book character

 From sketch to finished work - a 4 minute speed painting!

Illustrating is a very personal process and every illustrator will have their own way of doing it. So when I decided to record myself illustrating a new children's book character, I realised it might be a good way of showing my clients exactly how I work and give a little more insight into how the illustrations are created, from initial sketch to the final, finished illustration.

Although this video is only 4 minutes long, the entire process took just under two hours. Phew!

This was my first attempt at making a speed painting, and I didn't quite figure out how to add music or do anything too flashy, but I hope you like it!

For those who would rather not (or don't have the time) to sit through the full video, here's what the final illustration looked like. Cute, isn't he?!

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Little Meerkat's BIG PANIC! A book about learning new ways to stay calm, by Jane Evans

Little Meerkat's BIG PANIC!

 A book about learning new ways to stay calm, by Jane Evans

I've been working alongside child trauma parenting specialist and author Jane Evans for some time now, and full disclaimer here, I'm a huge fan! Her expert knowledge has been featured on Channel 5's My Violent Child and for a good reason - she really knows her stuff!

We collaborated on a book together last year called Kit Kitten and the Topsy Turvy Feelings so I was both honoured and excited when she asked me to join the dream team again on Little Meerkat's Big Panic.

This story follows Little Meerkat - a cute but anxious animal who panics when given responsibility. As with all of Jane's books, the story gives children with similar thoughts and feelings a chance to understand why their brain works in the way it does and how they can manage it. The text not only serves as a clear and helpful narrative but also proposes questions for the reader to ponder. 

"Little Meerkat flies into one big panic after waking up to find the whole meerkat gang has disappeared! Luckily, Small Elephant and Mini Monkey stumble across Little Meerkat during the big panic, and offer to help find the missing meerkat gang."

When the books arrived, I was thrilled at just how beautiful they turned out. Jane opts for square hardbacks published by UK based Jessica Kingsley Publishers with great results. They are excellent quality from the front right the way through to the very end and even the simple act of turning the pages felt great!

The story itself can be read by any child - not just those who would benefit from the lessons inside. The characters are cute and fun and each page is packed with questions and adventures accompanied with bright illustrations.

Combining her experience working with children and natural talent for story telling, Jane has created a product which is essential for helping children learn and grow and manage their problems instead of neglecting them, whilst still appealing to the need for a fun, colourful book. 

Want to know more about how the Meerkat brain features in this story? Take a look at Jane's fantastic Ted X Talk where she discusses the role the Meerkat, Elephant and Monkey brain effect us all everyday.

"My great expectation for the future is...

… that we will globally move away from raising children by shaming, bribing and punishing them and only use emotional connection, respect and compassion to teach them." - Jane Evans

If you'd like to find out more about Jane, her work and her writing you can visit her official website and social media.

Little Meerkat's Big Panic is available on Amazon or direct with Jessica Kingsley

Thursday, 7 January 2016

How to become a full time children’s book illustrator - a guide to starting your career

How to become a full time children’s book illustrator.

If you had asked me in 2006, while I was studying illustration at University, what I wanted to become after graduation, I would have said a T-shirt designer or an artist for the music industry or even a cartoonist for television. I would never have guessed I would become a children’s book illustrator - but now I see that it is my perfect job and I am suited to it for many reasons. My art style fits it well and I find it enjoyable and challenging in equal measures. I enjoy enriching children’s lives and putting complex emotions into simple faces. Children’s books are fun, dynamic and full of colour and energy - just how I like to draw! 

I get a lot of people asking about how they go from leaving University to full time illustrating. This guide is to help you take those first steps into your freelance career, but be warned! It's not going to be easy... 

Before we begin; I'm going to assume you're already drawing and have enough skill to illustrate children's books. If you don't, you probably want to spend a few years practicing or getting an art degree.

Understand that you will start out small and that's OK.

My first few jobs were done completely free. Several jobs after that were done for such a low cost, I was probably working for around £1 an hour.

It will take a long time until you can charge anything near a living wage, but you should use this to your advantage. Explain to your potential clients that you are just starting out and will work for free or very little - a lot of employers will not mind that your work is below standard if you are working for free and a lot are willing to take the risk to help you propel your career whilst also saving themselves money. Working for royalties is also fine, but assume you will receive none as authors rarely make enough to pay any. Try not to get caught up in developing your style, that will come naturally with time, instead try to get as much work done as you can so you may learn, learn and learn some more about what is expected of you, talking to clients, the process and how long it takes you.

Even if you aren't being paid though, maintain your professionalism and always keep good records. 

Don’t quit your day job just yet - work in your spare time, evenings and breaks.

Do work with indie authors, self publishers and friends or family. They might not be able to afford an illustrator yet either, and so the transaction may benefit both of you.

Get the essential tools.

Once you’ve got a few jobs under your belt, invest in the proper tools for your services. 

Learning to use the 'proper' tools now will give you the chance to master them from the beginning. Having the latest technology and knowing how to use it will give you a hand over your competition. Are you working digitally? Upgrade your computer to the best you can afford and you’ll find you work much faster - making you more efficient and saving you time and money in the long run. If you’re working with traditional methods - don’t waste time with bad quality. What’s the point in being the most talented painter if your paints are dull and your brushes leave bristles in your pictures? Everyone's tools will be different, but my current workstation consists of;

MacBook Pro with Adobe CS6
Wacom Intros Pen & Touch graphics tablet
An external hard drive to back up my work
A day to day diary for pencilling in deadlines and client meetings
An Epson printer & A4 scanner

Don’t think that clients won’t know the difference. Most of them can tell when something is produced professionally or not. Plus if they start asking for .psd files and you've produced everything in paint... you might just be creating problems for yourself.

Do buy second hand, or ask for items for your birthday or Christmas gifts if you can’t afford them yourself.

Get a professional website.

I doesn’t matter if you are the next Quentin Blake - if you work from a gmail account and link to your portfolio on Deviant art, clients will not take you seriously.

Buying a domain is so cheap that you have no excuse not to. I bought my domain and hosting from HostPapa but there are lots of options. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, in fact I’d recommend keeping it as clean and simple as you can and let your work do the talking! Along with it you should get a professional webmail to use for the sole purpose of your illustrating business. If you are lacking the funds, there are options to build one yourself using a template such as Wix, Wordpress or Sandvox. You can always upgrade it as you make more money. First impressions count, and your website home page will likely be the first thing a customer sees - make sure it has a good landing page that shows an illustration! And of course, it has to be fast and reliable.

Don’t mix business and leisure. Have a separate website and email for your personal use.

Do showcase your best work, and display your contact information clearly on every page of your website.

Start using 'work for hire' websites.

Whether you win jobs or not, it’s another platform to advertise yourself and meet potential clients.

People on 'Work for hire' websites like Upwork, Freelancer, Guru and peopleperhour.com list jobs that you can bid on and if you're chosen, the work is carried out on the website with the site taking a percentage of your payment.

Even if you don’t get a job right away, use it to practice your interview skills and connect with your audience. You can find out what clients are asking for, how much they are willing to pay and what your competitors are quoting. Eventually someone will give a newbie a chance, and you should use the opportunity to prove to them you’re the real deal by doing it well. Once you complete a few jobs, use the work and the feedback from your clients to show off to the next customers!

Don’t bite off more than you can chew at this stage. While you might think you can illustrate a 30 page book with 3D illustrations for the accompanying iPad app - it's not as easy as it seems and you don’t want to kick start your career by failing. Start with small jobs and work your way up.

Do try out for a few that may not be your ideal job (as long as you can actually complete them, of course!) You might stumble across something you’re good at, and you really enjoy doing! 

Reach out an contact your target audience.

This is a tough one! Advertising, networking, shameless promotion and persistent emails - it's all part of the job.

Where can a children’s book illustrator meet authors looking for an illustrator? How do you advertise yourself without spending thousands of pounds you haven’t made yet? You’ll probably want to start by writing yourself a cover letter, CV and preparing a small portfolio of your best work so that you can send it to your potential client. I change mine regularly to add recent achievements and keep things fresh, but here is a little template to get you going in the right direction until you’re confident enough to create your own from scratch. Make sure every email or message you send is written to the actual person in charge and not just ‘To Whom It May Concern.’ If you don’t know their name, find out!

“Hello June,

My name is Izzy Bean and I am an illustrator who specialises in children’s books and cartoons.

Since leaving University I have refined my illustration skills to provide a fast, precise and successful result for both personal and corporate clients. I work closely with the project leaders to ensure they get the best results possible. I typically work in Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, creating digital paintings or vector work and while I can provide a broad range of styles for every occasion, I also am comfortable with my own established style. I love a challenge and enjoy my work which is why I put 100% effort into every job, no matter how big or small.

I am currently looking for new projects and I would love to hear about any that you may have. My portfolio can be seen on my website, which is located at www.izzybean.co.uk and I have attached a few recent samples for you to browse.

Please feel free to ask any questions you may have and I look forward to hearing your reply,
Izzy Bean”

You should always have a digital portfolio ready to send even if you work with traditional methods. Scan your work onto computer and create a PDF of no more than 20 images which is small enough to attach to emails and browse on any operating system. As a general rule, your portfolio should start with your best piece, followed by your second best - then end on your third best. 

Some of the methods I use to reach out to my clients are;

- The Children’s Writers and Artists Yearbook - This book is almost a directory of useful contacts with some interviews and information included. Invest in a copy (even an older second hand copy) and contact the appropriate listings with your cover letter and portfolio.

- Sign up to children’s illustrator and author forums, websites and chatrooms - Yahoo groups and Facebook are both free platforms where indie authors hang out and ask questions. Some of them will need illustrators - this is your chance!

- Use the internet and directories to compile a list of local businesses who could use your talent. Contact them as a freelancer and even if they don't have work now, they may keep you on file for the future!

- Sign up as a business on LinkdIn, Twitter, Facebook and Google + . Use them not just to promote your work, but to follow other artists, connect with authors, publishing houses  and companies who handle children's books and learn from the discussions they have.

- Start a blog (like this one!) and interact with other blogs.

Don’t bulk out your portfolio with work that is less than your best. If you haven’t a lot of work to share yet - sit down and work on some imaginary projects until you have.

Do research your field of expertise. Assuming you already have a passion for illustrating for children (otherwise, why are you here?) you need to make sure you know your stuff. Read lots of children’s books. Read lots of blogs about childrens books. Talk to authors. Find out the common book sizes, page count, colours used, what format the files should be submitted in -  everything you learn will help you to be more efficient and professional!

Do good work.

Sounds obvious, but hear me out. Once you start to get jobs coming in, you need to be consistent and do them all to the best of your ability, in good time.

Being self-employed is harder than it looks. You have deadlines even when you’re in bed with the flu. Clients aren’t going to appreciate sub-standard or late work, no matter what your excuse is. Manage your time well, make sure your work is ALWAYS the best you could have done and ask yourself before you submit it - will the client be happy? Is it better than they expected? Will they say "Wow!"? 

Alongside ‘good work’ I would also encourage you to be good at communication. Be polite, clear and friendly in all of your emails and make sure you sign each email professionally without using emoticons or smiley faces and if you have to arrange Skype meetings it is important to be presentable as you would expect going into an office. Most importantly, talk to your client with respect and remain professional at all times, even if they get angry or lose their temper. It can be tough to hear negative things about your work when you try so hard but this is part of being self employed - you have to be good with people.

Don’t take too long to respond to emails. During the week I aim to reply within hours, at the weekend it may take longer or wait until the Monday morning.

Do back up your work every day. Imagine working on a project for hours only to lose it when your computer breaks! I use an external hard drive, but you can back up to another computer, DVD or the cloud - whatever works for you.

Get someone to find the clients for you.

Sign up to illustrator directories and find yourself an agency.

Agencies are companies who represent a number of illustrators. They help to get you work by acting as the middle man (or woman) and in return they will take a cut of the money you make. Getting signed to a (decent) agency is harder than you'd think as most agencies only represent well established illustrators that fit their clientele. A good agency is more likely to contact you first, but I would still recommend reaching out to them even if they turn you down - they might give you some tips on why they said no and what you could do to improve.

Until you’re good enough to be accepted, or if you’d rather do without an agent, you can sign up to any of the illustrator directories who are aimed at the children's illustrator market. These companies showcase your work for clients who can then contact you directly. You usually have to pay a subscription fee, but if it gets you work, then it may very well be worth it. I use childrensillustrators.com and SCBWI

Don’t get disheartened when you get turned down. Think about what you can do to increase your chances of being accepted next time, and use it to improve your work.

Do contact agencies more than once. If some time has passed and you think your work has improved then they might change their mind.

Keep doing what you love.

It may take years until you can illustrate full time, but if you love what you do and do it well, the years will be fun and rewarding.

Once you do make it, all the hard work and effort will have been worth it! You’ll be a better illustrator and a better person for it. 

I hope that has helped you think about launching your career as a children’s illustrator. Of course there is so much more to the job that i couldn’t possibly cover in one blog post but you may find the tips useful throughout your journey.

Next time, I will be taking you through the process of an illustration from start to finish - including the client’s responses so you can see a real job in action! If you don't want to miss out, sign up by entering your email to the right.

If you have any feedback or have any questions, please leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

Thanks for reading!

Izzy bean