Yesterday I arrived home after a long weekend at the incredibly beautiful Holland House in Pershore. I was there for a picture book retreat to improve my writing and play with prints and to learn all I could from the amazing Helen Stephens and Gerry Turley, Mike Brownlow, Alice Bartosinksi (Egmont Books) Sarah Frost (Hodder) and all the other creatives who had traveled there for the same reason.
Our first night was spent sharing our favourite stories. Helping to promote your books is a big part of the career now. If you are able, you are expected to get out there to read and talk about your books and work so just getting to do this was such good practice, especially if you’re quite shy like myself.
In the morning we attended a talk with Helen which was so inspiring. She gave us a thorough insight into how she worked, from developing initial ideas up to final artwork.
Helen’s roughs are gorgeous and I feel very privileged to have seen them and her final artwork with my very own peepers. ‘How to hide a Lion’ is one of my favourite stories, I got so absorbed into the story that I forgot the beginning which made the ending so satisfying.
Like the child who ate an original Maurice Sendak sketch because he loved it so much, I would of tried my best to do the same to this! It was so beautiful.
* If you haven’t already seen that quote, I will pop it at the bottom of this post. It makes me laugh every time I come across it.
Helen’s sketchbooks are incredible too. This was one of my favourite pages and made me instantly want to go out and begin drawing EVERYTHING, which we did a little later on…
The next talk was with Gerry Turley. I was so excited to hear from Gerry as I am just getting into print myself and wanted to know all about his process. Below is one of his Linocuts (I would have eaten that too if I’d been able!). Both Gerry and Helen draw from life which gives there work such authenticity, that’s something I had not done since leaving university and something most definitely that I will be doing from now on.
Feeling inspired we all went out to sketch. I drew in the gardens and, inspired by one of Helens drawings from ‘The Big Adventure of the Smalls’, I added a little something extra in mine too…
Here’s a close up of bear.
Later that afternoon we had an optional printing class led by Gerry so I decided to use my sketch for this. There is something so satisfying about Linocut, you have control over the design but you never know how the end result will be until its printed and the inconsistencies are great and add texture. I still love using watercolour and so added in my bear afterwards and I’m really pleased with the outcome. The life drawing made me realise that I have got too design focused in my head, for example if I had drawn this tree from memory it wouldn’t have had the life that this one has. It probably would have been straight and have neat little branches, leafs etc so I’m so grateful to Helen and to Gerry for reigniting my love to just go out and sketch. I think and hope it’s going to enhance my illustrations from now on.
Over the weekend we had talks by two commissioning editors, Alice and Sarah, who I mentioned earlier, about book ideas, pacing, structure and what makes a successful picture book. I also got a 30 minute slot to show and discuss a story with Alice which was incredibly helpful.
The final night we all got together to look at everyone’s portfolios and Helen very kindly signed my books.
We all had the opportunity to purchase prints too. I couldn’t resist this bear by Gerry and I will have such fond memories of my time there every time I look at it.
One of the most useful tips I picked up was to just get everything down on paper. Draw and write everything you think of, even if you think its rubbish, you never know what might develop from it and you can always revisit ideas years later which then may spark your next picture book idea.
Overall I got everything and more out of the course that I had hoped to. I left with a much clearer head and full of inspiration. I met such lovely and talented people in such beautiful sunny surroundings. A big thank you to all for making it a great weekend and especially Anne-Marie Perks and Bridget Strevens-Marzo for making it happen.
I hope we can do it all again next year! :-)
* “Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters - sometimes very hastily - but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”
- Maurice Sendak.
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