Picture Hooks: Getting the Hang of Illustrating Children’s Picture Books

picture hooks.pngNow in its third year, the Picture Hooks Conference is a chance to hear from experts in the industry of children’s publishing. It’s just one of the ways Picture Hooks supports emerging illustrators, along with their mentoring scheme, lecture series and master classes.

There were four speakers, each taking an hour to address different topics. Each speaker spent some time finding out where the delegates were in their careers, where their interests lay and what would be most useful to talk about.

tessaThe first speaker was Tessa Strickland, Co-Founder and Editor in Chief at Barefoot Books, a small, independent children’s publisher based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Tessa focused on the importance of co-editions and the American market, whilst giving insight into how she selects illustrators and tips on how to present portfolios.

She advised carefully choosing the tags you use on your digital portfolio, and that you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of knowing which adjectives describe your work. Know which age range your work is for. The market of 3-7 is particularly lucrative, so if your work fits into that category, make sure to note that on your website. She advised that life is short, and so you should become the kind of illustrator you want to be now. It’s good to be flexible but you should make sure not to lose yourself.

joelNext was award winning writer and illustrator, Joel Stewart. Joel has written and/or illustrated over 20 books, including Dexter Bexley. He also created and directed of over 50 episodes of The Adventures of Abney and Teal. Joel took us on a very visual journey of his work to show how he had learned from the things he worked on.

Learning about the complexities involved in creating Abney and Teal was fascinating, and noted that they spent three weeks just editing Abney’s ears. He mentioned the loneliness of being an illustrator and that he was still trying to deal with this himself. He said Abney and Teal taught him how much he loved to collaborate when it was with the right people. He spends a lot of time focussing on learning principles of illustration, something he wishes he was more interested in as a student.

andreaThe third speaker was Andrea McDonald, Editorial Director for Picture Books at Penguin Random House Children’s UK. Andrea spoke about how she selects illustrators, and also gave advice on portfolios, but focused particularly on how a picture book is planned and designed. She noted that books come to form in a myriad of different ways, sometimes the editorial department has an idea and it’s a case of finding a writer and illustrator, sometimes they have illustrations and need a story to go with it, sometimes the words and pictures come together.

She noted that publishing is all about relationships, and you should be looking for a publisher who shares your vision. Andrea thinks of picture books being read by parents to their children in bed, as play scripts for a bad actor. The space of the book is the stage directions and tells the parent whether to be quiet, loud, excited, grumpy. Andrea never wants to forget in the process of publishing that picture books are for children and parents to share. She’s looking to build relationships with illustrators and writers and for things with a strong, confident voice, something unique and a playful form.

The final speaker of the day was Nicki Field, Head Illustrator at Jelly London, a creative production agency which represents professionals working across a blend of disciplines. Nicki advised the delegates to get social. The market for visual content is changing and campaigns are reaching people through branded content on social media, so get your work out there, show that you can promote yourself that way.

What you make has to be true to you. You should keep evolving and developing, working on your point of difference, but make sure you love it. She advised knowing your value and gave instances of projects for charities where it was worthwhile, for a good cause, and exposure, to do work for free. However, it’s important to know when to turn jobs down if you don’t feel the pay is appropriate for your time. She advised delegates to collaborate and embrace other people’s skill sets and to shout about what they’re doing. Don’t be a wall flower.

A brilliant summary of the day. Live drawn by Clare Mills (@listenthinkdraw) – listenthinkdraw.co.uk

With opportunities to network and buy books during breaks, the Picture Hooks conference was a fantastic opportunity for those in an often solitary profession, to get together. Picture Hooks was set up by Lucy Juckes and Viv French because there was nothing like it out there, supporting illustrators and helping them learn to present their work. For further support, keep an eye out on the website for details of the upcoming mentoring scheme.


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