This year I had the honour of working on Barbara Swingler's first picture book. It was a personal project, with the initial print run only for family and friends, but that was no reason to give the project less love than I would give a commercial project, and I had a lot of fun. Barbara was great to work with, open to suggestions and discussion and interested in the process of creating a picturebook. I know my vision for the project was different to her initial one, and it was great that she was able to see past her original ideas and work with me to come up with a final product built on the ideas that both of us had.
Excitingly, this is the first book I have worked on that has been printed in hardcover - with a lovely matte laminate. It looks lovely!
The story involves a group of children asking their Grandfather what is in his large black suitcase. He teases them, telling them that it contains all of his favourite things, including, among others, a cafe, a pumpkin patch and a football team. The children are sceptical, and he eventually admits that the suitcase in fact contains the folding bike that he takes on cycling holidays, and leaves on a new trip, promising to be back soon.
I thought the story was charming, and wanted to involve the children - Barbara's own grandchildren - in each scenario. Barbara's initial idea had been to just have single-page illustrations showing each thing in the suitcase, with the text on the opposite page, but I felt her story had the scope to be integrated more with the pictures, and I'm glad she was open to that idea. As the book was essentially for her grandchildren, I wanted to show them in the book as much as possible. We didn't want things to be too realistic, but Barbara provided me with a few photos of each child so that I could draw them with at least a partial likeness. I'm told the kids are pretty sure who is who, so that's good!
To separate the real world and the world 'inside' the suitcase, I illustrated all of the suitcase spreads with only the children and grandad in colour, and the background and any other figures in black and white, to tie in with the black suitcase, and had anything Grandad said within that particular scenario in a speech bubble, rather than as traditional text.
By having the detailed backgrounds just in linework, not only did it separate the real and the imaginary, but it also cut down on the time I spent on each spread, which was important, because the longer I spend, the more it costs, and I always try to work with my clients to keep costs down if possible.
To ground the children in this imaginary linework world, and to keep the story moving along, every suitcase spread features something that is heading off the right-hand page and which appears again in the next spread. In the case of the cafe spread, there are ants on the floor, which reappear in the next spread, the pumpkin patch:
It was sometimes difficult to incorporate six children and Grandad in each spread, and to give them all something to do and something to interact with in the background, but I enjoyed the challenge.
When the text was divided up, we found there really wasn't anywhere to show the bike actually assembled, so we added a vignette at the end, with Grandad on a new adventure.
My next blog post will show the process behind one spread of this picture book.