Monday, 7 November 2016

Intriguing details in picture book illustration, by Paeony Lewis

I adore spotting details in the illustrations of picture books. Occasionally an author might suggest a visual extra to the publishing editor, but unless it’s vital to understanding the story we’re not supposed to do this because we’re writers and not illustrators. It’s frowned upon by editors. Plus even if we do suggest something, the illustrator usually takes it one step further. 

An alarm clock, clock tower and watch from No More Yawning
written by Paeony Lewis, illustrated by Brita Granstrom (Chicken House)
For example, although I suggested it might be fun to have clocks scattered throughout No More Yawning, to show bedtime getting later and later, the illustrator, Brita Granstrom, went beyond this. Brita included a wall clock, alarm clocks, a clock tower and watch (and maybe something more I still haven’t spotted?).

When I’m in schools I tell the children that illustrators often add wonderful little extras into the pictures that aren’t in the writer’s story. So when I read Hurry Up, Birthday I ask them to look out for  Muncher the rabbit who's always eating. I never suggested this to the illustrator and it’s a delightful extra by Sarah Gill. Illustrators are really good at this stuff! 

Muncher is the one in the foreground, eating the berry
in Hurry Up, Birthday written by Paeony Lewis,
illustrated by Sarah Gill (Piccadilly Press)

Six more images of hungry Muncher, illustrated by Sarah Gill, from Hurry Up, Birthday

All this got me thinking and I asked three lovely illustrators if they had any examples of 'extras' in their illustrations, or even images that have a hidden personal meaning. Here's what they said and it shows there can be so much more to an illustration than just the writer's story. With thanks to illustrators Mandy Stanley, Bridget Strevens-Marzo and John Shelley.

Mandy Stanley
"Occasionally, I'll add a small bug or similar if it's appropriate to the theme of the book. Roo the Roaring Dinosaur features a little red ant – the publishers noticed this 'secret' and decided to make it a feature for children to spot throughout the pages!" 

Can you spot the red ant? From Roo the Roaring Dinosaur,
written by David Bedford, illustrated by Mandy Stanley (Simon & Schuster)

From the back cover of Roo the Roaring Dinosaur.
The publisher noticed Mandy's ant on each page of the
book and turned it into 'spot the ant'.

Out of all the books illustrated and written by Mandy, including her Lettice the rabbit stories, Rufferella is still one of her favourites. 

Rufferella, written by Vanessa Gill-Brown,
illustrated by Mandy Stanley (Bloomsbury)
"Rufferella has more personal ‘extras’ than most of my books, partly I think because the style is detailed and I can slip them in easily. Also, I worked on this project with my sister and it felt playful to include a few little items that she would recognize as well."

Mandy's grandma is shown knitting as she sits on a park bench.
The park is Chapelfield Gardens, Norwich.
Rufferella, illus by Mandy Stanley

Other items featured include: Mandy's bathroom at the time of illustration;
a set of three framed pictures that were on the wall of Mandy's niece's bedroom;
a chevalier mirror belonging to Mandy's mum;
and a magazine rack made by Mandy's husband for her sister.
All from Rufferella, illustrated by Mandy Stanley
Sometimes illustration extras can be particularly poignant, as is the case with the final example from Mandy.

 From Three Little Kittens (Time for a Rhyme)
by Mandy Stanley (Harper Collins)

"Around the time my dad died, with much emotion, I added a few tiny anchors here and there in books as a tribute and reminder of him. He was a sailor when he was young. He loved to use the anchor image as his maker's symbol on anything he had made so in Time for a Rhyme: Three Little Kittens, published by Harper Collins, a ladybird holds on to an anchor rope, sailing a tiny paper boat in the rhyme, 'One, Two, Three, Four, Five' - it's a tiny detail but it means more to me than the whole illustration."

Plus there’s another tiny detail, that might be tricky to see. However, look closely because….  

"I made the string that wraps around the 'o' of the anchor say 'Ken' (my dad). It made me chuckle because I almost decided to make it describe his initials 'KGB' - Kenneth George Brown. The initials on his suitcase would often cause great interest at airport security, etc.!"

Sneaking 'KGB' into a picture book could have led to lots of interesting conspiracy theories! 

Bridget Strevens-Marzo

From Knock, Knock! written by David Bedford,
illustrated by Bridget Strevens-Marzo (Little Hare)

"This illustration is part of the left-hand page of a book I did (well over a decade ago!) with author David Bedford, called Knock, Knock! The main mousey character’s last minute efforts to get dressed are interrupted by a banjo-playing dog, a rabbit trumpeter and more. The scene remains the same on all but the final spread, with a gatefold door flap on the right of each page giving children a tiny glimpse of who is behind the door.

To avoid monotony page by page, I had the mouse getting dressed and odd instruments building up on the far left. I also came up with a small ongoing visual story around the bird family outside the window. But I still felt it needed a bit more, for more 're-reading’ fun so I added a coat hanger and rack which gradually fills up – and plants that get knocked over (not shown here). On top of all this, comes just one ‘extra’ I sneaked in that only my two children and a few might recognize - a small photo of a black and white painting (with a just a hint of Mickey Mouse ears in it) by my former husband and lifelong friend, the artist Mick Finch."

"I don’t generally place hidden stories or secrets  into my pictures, though my recent Shakespeare book has a hidden theme in that every single spread in the book contains Shakespeare himself - sometimes  he’s obvious because he’s the central part of the picture, but on some pages he’s hidden amongst the crowd. A Shakespearian Where’s Wally! That was just a fun addition bonus theme."

Where's Shakespeare?!
From Will's Words, written by Jane Sutcliffe, illus by John Shelley (Charlesbridge Publishing)

"It’s not often I plan these kind of things. However I do populate my image with personal references and objects around me, things which only I and my sharp-eyed associates know are auto-biographical."

"This is from my latest book, for the Japanese market Yozora wo Miage-yo (Look up at the Night Sky) and shows a typical Japanese family apartment. This too though is full of personal stuff (see the close-ups below). I took photos of such an apartment when I was researching the book, but I also have memories of my own old place in Japan, which was a similar modern condominium apartment."
Illustrations by John Shelley

"That’s my personal brand of olive oil,
but also the Japanese tea container next to it is mine."


"The baby character is ‘Brat’, a character I designed that was merchandised and promoted in Japan in the early 2000’s, it had a web comic and went on a lot of t-shirts and other apparel. I still have this collector’s figurine on my studio shelf. 
Also from my studio shelf are the juggling balls (never managed to learn properly) and the two Japanese picture books behind are my books."

"In this spread from Crinkle, Crackle, Crack - It’s Spring! the room is filled with things from my daughter’s room - the piggybank, the giraffe, the bear, the fish, the mirror, the dressing gown thrown over the bannister, the globe, the things on the wall etc. - all sourced from my daughter’s room. The Lautrec poster of Aristide Bruant is one of my oldest memories when I was at primary school - it was on one of the classroom walls and always fascinated me, the first time I experienced a poster or French art (this was around 1969!). for some reason it just suddenly came back to my mind when I was painting this picture."Crinkle, Crackle, Crack - It's Spring! written by Marion Dane Bauer, illus by John Shelley (Holiday House)

John says self-portraits are common in illustrations and here are two examples.

"That’s me on the scaffold of course." From I Wish I Could be a Ballerina written by Rosie McCormick,
illustrated by John Shelley (Inky Press/Backpack Books)

"I used selfies on an iPhone to pull some faces for Will’s Words - smartphones are great for doing hand references!"  From Will's Words, written by Jane Sutcliffe, illus by John Shelley (Charlesbridge Publishing)

Thinking about it, the way illustrators sometimes add personal extras to their illustrations is similar to what a writer will do in a story. A story may include memories, or is inspired by a person, place or object, or perhaps include the particular character traits of a friend or family. Our life experiences underpin our writing and sometimes we don’t realise it until later. In one instance an editor suggested I tone down a character because they’d be unbearable to live with. What the editor didn’t know was that I’d already toned down the character and it was based on… (sorry, I’d better not say!). 

Finally, there are also instances where picture book illustrators add in their own fun, visual extra which is aimed at the adult, not the child.

From Gilbert the Great, written by Jane Clarke,
illustrated by Charles Fuge (Simon & Schuster)
Can you spot the allusions to Jaws?
For example, I’ve read the excellent Gilbert the Great picture book(s) many times but never noticed something. The author, Jane Clarke, told me that illustrator, Charles Fuge, added allusions to Jaws for adults to appreciate. The wreck is named 'The Orca' and the barrels feature in Jaws 2. I’ll admit that although I adore the book I’d never have noticed this extra because when I watched Jaws at the cinema I spent most of the time with my eyes shut!

I’ve always thought I was somebody who looked hard at illustrations, but now I’m going to look harder. I suspect I concentrate too much on reading the written word, unlike young children who listen to the story but only look at the images on the page. Children are often more visually literate than the adults. Though the personal items included in illustrations will remain a mystery, unless we're told.

If you have any favourite ‘extras’ or know a story behind an illustration, we’d love to hear about it in the comments' section below. Happy looking!

Paeony Lewis


Andrea Mack said...

What an interesting post!

Jonathan Emmett said...

Great post, Paoeny. I think many of the best illustrators embellish their work with independent visual narratives and intriguing incidental details like the ones featured in this post. I'm currently doing a second picture book with illustrator Elys Dolan and it's something she excels at.

Rebecca Gomez said...

I love this post so much. It's always fun to spot those little extras. One of my son's favorite books when he was little was CHICKS AND SALSA, and a big reason for that is the little mice featured on every spread (selling sombreros, etc). I my own book, WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? the illustrator, Keika Yamaguchi, added several little animal "characters" that were not in the text. It gives the book another fun little layer!

Penny Dolan said...

A while back, I heard Debi Gliori describing how, in her Bear books, the mother Bear is shown reading a book, whose often-feminist title is relevant to the point of the story.
Great post, Paeony!

Moira Butterfield said...

How fascinating! Thank you everyone involved.

John O'Leary said...

Nice post! I hid a bone and fish-bone on every spread in one of my books – the two main characters were a cat and a dog. The publishers turned it into an added activity when they found out. Among other things, I’ve also slipped in objects personal to me, my kids, people I didn’t like (acts of revenge), cross references to other books, and a secret message to my wife!

Pippa Goodhart said...

What fun!

Paeony Lewis said...

Thanks, Andrea.

Paeony Lewis said...

Thanks, Jonathan. It's like going on a treasure hunt. Finding the not-so-obvious details woven into the visual story.

Paeony Lewis said...

So glad you enjoyed the post, Rebecca. Thanks. I'll look out for the books. I remember looking with my children at 'Mouse, Look Out!' (Waite/Burgin) for all the subtle shadowy clues and although the words could be read in seconds, the illustration took longer.

Paeony Lewis said...

Many thanks, Penny. I'm intrigued to find out more - you'll have to tell me some time!

Paeony Lewis said...

Thanks, Moria. It was so kind of the illustrators, who had very little notice. I was going to write it myself and then realised they'd be far more interesting!

Paeony Lewis said...

Thanks, John. I adore hearing about your mischievous illustration details, but I so want to find out more. Secret messages and acts of revenge?!!

John O'Leary said...

Well, for example, in 'Pirate Treasure Hunt' I portrayed our neighbour at the time in an unflattering light as one of the pirates. He has a musket strategically positioned in his trouser belt and all his speech bubbles refer to keeping quite. In real life, he used to bang on the ceiling at us whenever our youngest made too much noise – he was a baby at the time (our youngest, that is). The secret message to my wife is more a declaration of love – it’s hidden in the leopard’s spots in one of the spreads from ‘Watch Out in the Jungle!’

Paeony Lewis said...

Brilliant! A quiet-obsessed neighbour is transformed into a quiet-obsessed pirate - sounds well deserved! And what a romantic you are, and still must be as a leopard doesn't change it's spots...

Juliet Clare Bell said...

Thanks, Paeony, I love the hidden things and references in picture books, and the added extras. I've heard about some interesting revenge-type illustrations that have snuck in -but not in any of my books! On school visits if I'm reading Don't Panic, Annika! the children always love when the dog is imagining catching the drips off Annika's ice cream when they're reunited... and I didn't even include a dog in the story! He was so much part of the illustrations that I actually wrote him into a potential sequel (which didn't end up happening).

Assendo Books said...

Thanks for sharing wonderful article...
Assendo Books