Earlier this week, a crowdfunding campaign was launched to finance a new version of The Mabinogion for young people. These are the earliest prose stories of Britain and have been hugely influential on storytelling across Europe. With contributions from 11 acclaimed Welsh writers for children, the new book promises to be an epic retelling for a new generation. Each tale will be written in English then translated into Welsh by Bethan Gwanas and will feature glorious illustrations from the incredible Max Low.
The book is being put together and edited by Children’s Laureate Wales, Eloise Williams and Matt Brown who will also contribute a story each. Matt posted this video to explain more about The Mab.
The book, which is not yet a reality, is seeking publication through Unbound, a crowdfunding publisher. Readers choose a reward – everything from a signed copy of the book to author virtual visits – pledge their money, and wait for the project to be 100% funded.
At Family Bookworms we are giving this project our full support and backing and would encourage you all to visit the unbound website to donate if you can. As one of our worms says:
Eloise Williams, Children’s Laureate Wales and author of 4 novels set in Wales, told us, “As far as we know, there isn’t another collection like it! We have so many amazing people working on the project and we are so excited to bring the stories to everyone.”
So let’s take a look at the amazing cast of contributors and hear directly about their involvement, their excitement and their motivations…
The Mab will feature illustrations by Max Low.
It’s been a real pleasure to be involved in #TheMab launch. Please head over to Unbound to donate if you can. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the funding target over the coming months.
Thanks to all the authors and illustrator for giving us some exclusive content. While we wait for The Mab, and if you have any money left after donating on Unbound, you can head over to your local bookshop and buy a book by one of the contributors. Here’s our recommendations*:
*Firefly Press will publish Daydreams and Jellybeans by Alex Wharton in Spring 2021.
**Images on this page (the author profiles) were made by EW Graphic Designs and are not to be reproduced without permission.
Popular illustrator and artist Valériane Leblond has written her first book for children, as well as painting the images that bring the story to life. Valeriane was brought up in Angers, France but moved to Wales in 2007 and now lives in a farmhouse near Aberystwyth. Valeriane speaks French, English and Welsh.
The Quilt (Y Lolfa) is a beautifully illustrated hardback offering a message of hope and hiraeth. The picturebook pages are captivating taking us from rural Wales at the turn of the 20th century to the New World via Liverpool. We love the colour palette and how this changes as the family enter America (reminiscent of Kyffin Williams’ tone in his Patagonian paintings) and the buzz of Liverpool is Lowry-esque in it’s industrious hustle and bustle. This truly is a stunning book and we felt compelled to get in touch with Valériane to find out more.
Could you tell us how you became an artist?
I’ve always enjoyed drawing, painting and being creative in general, so it happened quite naturally. I had another job for a few years before being able to go full time though.
What was your own journey to settling near Aberystwyth?
I had a Welsh boyfriend that I met at University in Brittany and I followed him home here to Ceredigion. I didn’t know much about Wales at the time, but I felt welcomed here, and I fell in love with the place and its people. Now I’ve got three sons who were born here, I’ve learnt the language and I feel that I can make a contribution through my art.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading a novel called Le Principe by Jérôme Ferrari about the physicist Heisenberg. It’s sometimes a bit too clever for me!
The Quilt is an incredible achievement. How long did it take to complete?
Thank you! It must have taken 6 to 8 months to write, and about 3 months to illustrate. I was working on other projects while writing, but I worked full time on the illustrations.
What attracted you to the story?
I always wanted to illustrate a story about a Welsh quilt, I think it is a fascinating craft, visually and historically. And I’ve always been interested in movements of people, especially to North America as my father was from there.
What are your methods of illustration?
I have several techniques, and I love varying and experimenting. I always use a sketchbook to draw roughly the silhouettes and plan the compositions. For The Quilt, I worked with gouache and coloured pencils on paper, and to obtain the muted palette and the sepia overall tone I dyed the paper with brown ink before painting.
The story absolutely suits your illustration style – particularly the period and lifestyle – is this just coincidence?
No, it’s not just coincidence. Being both the author and illustrator has been a very interesting experience: the text has been feeding the illustrations, the illustrations have been modelling the text too. There are pictures that I just wanted to paint for a book some day, like the double page with a small ship in the big ocean, and this was the perfect opportunity.
Did it involve a lot of research?
Yes, there was a lot of research involved. I got help from the historian Menna Morgan in the National Library, and from quilt expert Jen Jones of the Welsh Quilt Centre and I used pictures and paintings from different archives as references for the illustrations.
What’s the most interesting thing you learned from your research on The Quilt?
I loved learning about anything food-related : what people ate on the ship, the ‘discovery’ of different food like watermelons, pumpkins, sweetcorn in North America. I would love to explore further the relations between food, home, and place in the future, in a book or in my art.
What was the inspiration for the design and colours of the quilt itself?
I needed a quilt design that would be realistic for the period. After talking to Jen Jones I realised that a bold black and red flannel quilt would suit the story, and I used an existing quilt from her collection.
There is a symmetry between the family’s new life in America and the life they leave in Wales. How did you go about making these connections?
I wanted to show that places have a lot in common rather than insist on the differences. I’m interested in the idea of “home”, and it is a universal theme we can all relate to, whether we are grown-up or not, wherever we live or come from.
Do you consider yourself an artist or an illustrator?
It’s difficult to answer, but I would say both. When I work with another author, I am definitively an illustrator, but for The Quilt, I might tend towards being an artist!
The Quilt is a fine example of a picturebook where the images give as much information as the words. Do you have any favourite picturebooks?
My all-time favourite is The Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall and Barbara Cooney. The text is beautifully written and works by itself, and Barbara Cooney’s pictures are extraordinary. I also love Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. When pictures go beyond the text it literally creates a new dimension.
The book was published in Welsh first then English. Are there any differences between the two versions? Which language did you originally write it in?
I wrote it in French, my mother’s tongue, first. Then I re-wrote it in English, and finally in Welsh. I also worked on the pictures before finishing the text, so it’s difficult to say what is the original version! I think the Welsh text might be more poetic, but it might be down to the language itself!
Can you tell us something about your next book/idea/future plans?
I’m currently working on a language book with Rily Publications, which involves thousands of small pictures, and I’m also about to start on a very exciting book about Siani Pob Man, an eccentric woman who lived on the beach near New Quay in the 1900s’.
If you weren’t an author/illustrator what would you do?
Maybe a teacher? Or a researcher of some kind? There are a lot of things I would enjoy doing I think!
Thank you / diolch / merci Valériane for answering our questions. The Quilt by Valériane Leblond (£5.99, Y Lolfa) is available now from your local independent bookshop. You could also order it direct from Y Lolfa.
Here is a unique book, the first in a series, that aims to tell the story of baroque music to a new, young (8+) audience. It’s an eye-catching and engaging volume and educational too. Further books on classical, romantic and modern music styles will follow.
The books have been put together by Mark Llewelyn Evans, himself an opera star with a successful career and wealth of experience with Welsh National Opera and other UK-wide companies. Mark is the creative director of ABC of Opera; an organisation offering educational workshops around the country (more info here). Established landscape artist Karl Davies has ventured into the world of illustration and has brought the words to life with incredibly sparky artwork in this colourful and vibrant book.
Mark Llewelyn Evans says: ‘I was 14 when I saw my first opera and was blown away by the whole experience. To this day opera still captivates me, and I wanted to introduce the next generation to this incredible art form in a unique way – one that would not only engage them with the beautiful music but also with the genius composers who created this world. I wanted each composer to come alive, step out of the book and into the hearts of the children. With 97% of the children we have met through the ABC of Opera workshops asking to meet the composers, we knew it was time to open the doors to The Academy of Barmy Composers.’
With Karl Davies, Mark has created a storybook that takes us back in time to learn factual information about the baroque period and its composers. Jack and Megan find a forgotten trunk in an old music hall which takes them back to 1597. They meet the inventor of opera, Professor Peri, who introduces them to the likes of Monteverdi, Handel and Purcell. The narrative text, in many ways, makes this an accessible book to a wide audience. Little footnotes and wry nuggets of explanation adorn the pages making it great fun. There follows some extremely informative pages at the back of the book where fact-seekers will revel in learning about other baroque composers, baroque instruments, operatic voices and more!
Opera is defined as a story set to music and this thrilling history of baroque music is aptly wrapped in a story that will delight and educate in equal measure. We can’t wait to read the rest of the series!
On this page, we list published authors and illustrators from Wales. These brilliant folk are either born in Wales, raised in Wales or established in Wales. If there’s anyone missing, please let us know.
Daddy Worm thought that an A to Z of Welsh authors would be a great way to develop knowledge of children’s writers – particularly as he is a teacher and is now better informed in those all-important discussions at Book Club.
Research by the Open University has shown that a teacher’s knowledge of children’s literature is highly significant in developing children as readers who can and DO choose to read. You can read more at this link.
A Huw Aaron Lauren Ace Sophie Anderson Dan Anthony
B Laura Baker P.G. Bell Zillah Bethell Jon Blake Karla Brading Stephanie Burgis
C Anne Cakebread Elen Caldecott Phil Carradice Karin Celestine Lucy Christopher Horatio Clare Nathan Collins Tracey Corderoy
D Huw Davies James Davies Karl Davies Nicola Davies Helen Docherty Thomas Docherty Diane Doona Jonny Duddle Heather Dyer
E Fran Evans John Evans Mark Llewelyn Evans
F Claire Fayers Catherine Fisher Helen Flook
G G.R. Gemin Maria Grace Robert Graves
H Maggie Harcourt Rebecca Harry Sam Hay Eric Heyman Graham Howells
I Rhian Ivory
J Gilly John Catherine Johnson Cynan Jones Jac Jones Tudur Dylan Jones
K Sarah Kilbride
L Valériane Leblond Emma Levey Caryl Lewis Gill Lewis Rob Lewis Siân Lewis Helen Liscombe T Llew Jones Jenny Løvlie Max Low
M Paul Manship Sharon Marie-Jones Wendy Meddour Elin Meek Daniel Morden Ruth Morgan Jackie Morris
“Ceri is a cat, and Deri is a dog. Ceri has stripes and Deri has spots. They live in a small town near a big hill and they do everything together. They are best friends.”
So begins each of the four Ceri and Deri books by Max Low – an opening reminiscent of the comforting familiarity of Lauren Child’s Charlie and Lola series. Across the four books, Max, a graduate of Hereford School of Art, ensures that friendship and fun is at the heart of the duo’s adventures. The latest two titles have just been published by Graffeg and they are beautifully produced.
There is an immediacy and vibrancy to Max’s illustrations that radiates so much joy and youthful energy I want to hang the pages on every wall in the house. It’s fresh and fun and I love the way Max plays with shape and line and limits his palette to shades of the same colours. He makes some bold choices too – a favourite page has to be the illustration of the sea in The Treasure Map.
The stories have an educational edge too – not that these are text books, but reading these books with young children will support their understanding of directions (Treasure Map), time (No Time for Clocks), counting, sharing and design. The emphasis, though, is most definitely on fun.
In The Treasure Map, the two friends follow directions in search of pirate treasure, helped along the way by their companions. In Build a Birdhouse, we see Max at his imaginative and creative best as Ceri and Deri design a perfect (read: wacky and wonderfully weird) house for a homeless bird. It’s in this book that Max hits on a universal truth: “No one actually uses dining rooms do they? So let’s fill it full of balloons!”
Playful, engaging and full of humour, the Ceri and Deri books are fabulous picture books made for sharing. Max Low is an extremely talented illustrator and we can’t wait to see what comes next – which is another book, ‘My Friends’ due to be published by Otter Barry in July!
Helping Hedgehog Home is the ninth book in this wonderful series of tales about the felted creatures undertaking simple acts of kindness. In this installment, Hedgehog is locked out of her home when a fence is erected. In an attempt to make a return, she builds a hot-air balloon to sail over the garden obstacle. Unfortunately, she crash lands into Grandpa Burdock’s domain who then tries to ‘help her home’.
All of Celestine’s books overflow with kindness, but this one is extra special. I think it has something to do with the character of Grandpa Burdock – he is keen, talkative, enthusiastic and ever so lovable. Hedgehog is fed (freshly baked bramble biscuits and a cup of tea!) and taken care of while Grandpa thinks of ways to overcome the fence. Karin Celestine has a wicked sense of fun and mischief – seen in the inventive drawings of Grandpa’s suggestions. Hedgehog is naturally concerned when she hears of the ‘hedgehogapult’. Thankfully, Granny Burdock returns at the right moment with a far more sensible solution for returning Hedgehog to her home.
Helping Hedgehog Home made us giggle; it made us fall in love with Grandpa Burdock; it encourages us to show warmth and kindness to neighbours; it tells us of the importance of taking time to sit and stare; and, thanks to the informative pages at the back, taught us some groovy facts about hedgehogs.
Helping Hedgehog Home was enjoyed by the whole family and we were delighted to meet Karin at a workshop as part of the Cardiff Kids Literature Festival a few weeks ago. She kindly gave us some time to ask her some questions. We began by asking about the name ‘Celestine and the Hare’:
“Celestine was my great grandmother – I come from a line of strong Swedish women – Karin is my mother and her mother was also Karin, and her mother was Celestine. I have a bust of Celestine in my studio, which I inherited from my mum, and she’s always looked over me as a matriarch – reminding me of the line of strong, adventurous and very creative women. I was looking for a name for my business so Celestine appealed and I also like hares – they are magical and I particularly love the mythology associated with women shape-shifting into hares. I’d also made a hare which sits next to Celestine and it was as simple as that – Celestine and the hare.”
Karin also uses a pen name (we’re not quite sure what her real name is!), which came about by mistake. She explains, “I had been dithering over what to call myself and I went to an event where they had mistakenly made a name badge for me saying ‘Karin Celestine’ and I thought ‘That’s quite nice!’
The Karin Celestine books came about after Karin had been making the felt animals and selling them, but as she was making the characters she gave them backstories and invented silly narratives. “I did a calendar and cards for Graffeg and they asked if I had considered writing a story. I was also encouraged by Jackie (Morris) to have a go. It was strange because I had never been encouraged in school to write – in fact I was told I couldn’t write and was the worst at crafts! So I wrote ‘Paper Boat for Panda’ and cried as I submitted it.”
Whilst the felted creatures get up to all sorts of hijinks and tomfoolery (especially in the films and photos Karin shares on social media), the books turned out with added empathy, “I have a huge thing about kindness – it is so important; kindness and mischief – that’s my strapline and the books turned out gentler. And because I’d been a teacher there are messages – I’ve slipped things in that I know children need to hear.”
Nine books on, and Karin brings us her new story about Hedgehog. She told us, “There is more humour in this one, but still with an ecological message.”
“A lot of the environmental issues in the news can be too big and too frightening for young children – as a child you can feel completely helpless to do anything about it. I remember the ‘Save the Tiger’ campaign from when I was younger, and short of buying a membership to the World Wildlife Fund there was nothing I could do – and for me, that’s not very positive. I want everybody to feel they are able to do something to help.”
In the back of all of Karin’s books there are some craft activities, many with an ecological theme – building bug houses, weaving, making suncatchers. “We should all be back garden eco warriors – the activities are something that any child can do and feel good about. They then grow up thinking they can make a difference.”
Making a difference is exactly what Karin’s books inspire through the actions of Grandpa, Grandma, Bert, Bertram, Emily, Small, Panda, King Norty, Baby Weasus and all the tribe. Kindness and mischief and making a difference.
To buy copies of Karin’s books with personalised dedications, visit her website where you can find lots of other information and activities. Huge thanks to Karin for giving her time so generously and thank you to Graffeg for the copy of Helping Hedgehog Home, given in return for an honest review.
For more Weasel Wednesday and Choklit stealing, follow Karin on Twitter or Facebook.
Last weekend saw the start of this year’s Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival and we were delighted to make the journey south to see a few events. The programme for the book-fest is brilliant, with a mix of new and established authors and illustrators appealing to a range of ages. It’s fantastic that the festival, now in its seventh year, celebrates Welsh authors and illustrators so strongly – and yet it has nationwide appeal. Taking place in a number of the city’s iconic buildings, this young festival is well-supported and feels prestigious.
Over the course of the weekend we saw four of Wales’ finest – starting with the wonderful Catherine Fisher who spoke at length to a keen audience of avid readers. Her latest book, The Clockwork Crow (Firefly Press) was shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Award and has recently been nominated for the Tir-na-nOg Award, for books with an authentic Welsh background. In the plush surroundings of Cardiff Central Library, Catherine spoke with passion about her love of fantasy; memories of her father reading Alice in Wonderland aloud; and her discovery of Tolkien.
She also told the enraptured gathering not to ask her about plotting or where she gets her ideas, or even why she writes for children! She writes what she writes, and what comes out are children’s books. Her ideas “just appear”, and she has “no idea” what is going to happen in the story when she sits down to write it. She doesn’t plan – but feels the thrill of the reader as the story forms on the page. Later, we asked Catherine if this meant that there was more focus on editing her books, and she told us that she does this as she writes. She tends to go through the book twice more, “fine-tuning the language” and making details crisp.
After reading from The Clockwork Crow, Catherine Fisher revealed that it would now be the start of a trilogy. The Velvet Fox is currently being written and will hopefully be published around October 2019. In that book, the crow will not be returned to his normal form and so a third book will be required to make that happen.
The Clockwork Crow has already been a big success and both author and publisher are hopeful that there is more to come. Thank you to Catherine for granting a private audience for a short time to ask a few questions, the final one of which was “If you could have any super-power, what would it be?” This led to much discussion and a book recommendation for Noah to read HG Wells’ ‘The Invisible Man’. In the end, Catherine decided that, provided she could avoid the difficulties that The Invisible Man had (not being able to hide his clothes, or disguise his drink from descending his food pipe) she would like to have that magical quality.
Next up was Gavin Puckett and his wonderful “Fables from the Stables” session at Cardiff City Hall. Gavin spoke about how having a child gave him the impetus to write. Several years ago, whilst driving, Gavin had heard a radio show posing the question, “Which sports are carried out backwards?” Puzzling this over, Gavin had driven past a lone horse in a field and thought to himself, “What could make a horse walk backwards?” Fables from the Stables was born!
Gavin’s session was fun and interactive, geared towards his 5-9 audience. The children and adults enjoyed the quizzes and were treated to a reading from Gavin’s latest book, Hayley, The Hairy Horse. Having been educated on the varied uses of horse hair, we were left on the proverbial cliff with the reading ending enigmatically: “Would the lovely, hairy Hayley lose her whole tail?!”
Mummy found herself volunteered (thanks to Nina and Kit) to represent a rock star in the Hendrix the Rocking Horse music round. Standing in front of a room full of children and adults, holding an inflatable guitar, with stripy socks on her wrists and red knickers on her head, was not how we had imagined our weekend to run. By the 5th tune Mummy became more accustomed to her role and rocked out with a reasonable amount of energy to “Peppa Pig” and “Old McDonald”.
Thanks to Gavin for a really fun and engaging session. The books have all been hits for the younger bookworms and the grown-ups found plenty to chortle at too!
Saturday afternoon was given over to The Girls by Lauren Ace and Jenny Løvlie. This session had a distinctively chilled out flavour with the audience encouraged to snuggle up with the fabulously enticing pile of cushions covering the front of the room. Girls made chairs, beds, cars and lounged comfortably whilst Lauren and Jenny spoke of their inspirations and ideas behind the illustrated story.
The importance of friendship was at the core of the session. The illustrations are beautiful, complimenting and enhancing the impact of the deceptively simple text. One of the great joys of The Girls is its ability to engage readers, regardless of age. Certainly the Mums in our session had as much to talk about as their daughters. Both Lauren and Jenny spoke of their own friendships and how growing up – either in a busy world of family and friends, or in a remote Nordic village (being the first child born in 12 years, amongst a population of 30!) – is shaped by the people we surround ourselves with. We were all delighted with the prospect of a follow-up, The Boys.
Nina and I enjoyed drawing our own best friends and the whole group were delighted to share names and descriptions of friends, who were then turned into perfect little drawings before our eyes. Løvlie’s talent is in her ability to translate human spirit into art and her humble “I’m an illustrator, it’s what I do,” understates her great talent. Løvlie delights in her work, describing how her soul lifts as she enters her workplace, where she is surrounded by what sounds like a remarkable hub of creatives. Lauren has started writing more recently and finds the outdoors to be the best location for harvesting her ideas.
The two women have an obvious bond, derived from this first collaboration. We were lucky enough to have a chance to speak with them both after the session and their warmth and enthusiasm for life in general was pretty intoxicating.
Following a well deserved rest (and a visit to a few Cardiff cafes, bookstores and record shops), and a good sleep, we returned the next day to meet Karin Celestine and her tribe of felted creatures. It was a real pleasure to meet Karin and spend some time with her afterwards, but none of us (Daddy worm especially) could contain our joy at meeting Bert, Bertram, Granny Dandelion, Grandpa Burdock and the gang. There was so much adoration in the room for these creatures, who under Karin’s leadership bring kindness, compassion, love and understanding in a world often blighted by worry, intolerance and cruelty.
Karin read from Bert’s Garden (Graffeg), a simply wonderful tale about the über-kind Bert who loves having a sit in the garden, with tea and biscuits, and welcoming visitors with beautiful produce. He is caring towards all creatures in his garden, including the slugs and snails and the bugs that wake him in the night. In the story, he provides a new home for some beetles who are enormously grateful for somewhere cosy and dry to live. The assembled group of 4-7 year olds were then encouraged to get stuck in to making bug houses, and were all delighted to take them home with a sticker and a packet of seeds.
The ninth book from Celestine and the Hare, Helping Hedgehog Home, is due for publication later this month and completes the Tribe ennealogy (yes, we looked that up – it’s an art work in nine parts). We had a wonderful chat with Karin* after the event and asked her a bit more about Hedgehog. She told us, “There is more humour in this one, but still with an ecological message.”
“A lot of the environmental issues can be too big and too frightening for young children – as a child you can feel completely helpless to do anything about it. I remember the ‘Save the Tiger’ campaign from when I was younger, and short of buying a membership to the WWF there was nothing I could do – and for me, that’s not very positive. I want anybody to be able to do something to help. Similar to today’s event – anyone can make a bug house and make a difference and that’s what we did.”
*We’ll publish a full interview with Karin later this month to coincide with Helping Hedgehog Home.
In the back of each of Karin’s books there are some suggested craft activities that readers can engage with – such as making a bug house. In the new book, as the Hedgehog tries to find her way home by making a hot air balloon, readers can try their hand at making one from papier mâché. Do not worry too much about Hedgehog’s escapades, because as Karin revealed to us, “Granny saves the day in a very simple and sensible way.”
It’s fair to say that we had a brilliant weekend in Cardiff thanks to the Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival. A truly fabulous festival with a wide variety of events for all ages. The second weekend continues to feature amazing authors and we’re sad that we can’t get there ourselves. If you get the opportunity, do take a look at their website, even just to keep yourself in the loop for next year.
We received complimentary tickets to the above events thanks to Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival. They also helped us to arrange conversations with the authors.
Nathan Collins is an illustrator born and bred in South Wales. He graduated from Swansea College of Art, with a degree in Illustration. He works with traditional and digital media. In 2018 he illustrated the Anthology of Amazing Women (20Watt) and also produced new cover art for new editions of The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs (Piccadilly) – the Lewis Barnavelt series. The third book in the series will be republished with new artwork by Nathan on 21 March.
What are you reading at the moment?
The “To Read” collection is certainly building up lately, I recently completed a handful of classic stories that I’ve always wanted to read such as The Jungle Book and Peter Pan. I’ve also been sinking my teeth into John Bellairs’ series lately with it being an on-going commission; the magical themes are right up my street.
Could you tell us how you got into drawing?
It’s hard to say; drawing was always a go-to hobby of mine as a kid and it just continued from casual doodles to now working on commissions. I remember loving Maurice Sendak’s book ‘Where the Wild things Are’, and obsessively drawing creatures from the book along with my own additions; some of them probably made my parents a little worried.
Where and when do you work?
I work in a little humble studio space at home, I do miss being part of an open studio space with other illustrators but I’m just as productive here at home. Working hours tend to be all over the place, but I work mostly everyday. On days when I do get to chill out, I’m probably still thinking about the next illustration idea or sketching for fun.
How would you describe your illustration style?
The past year I’ve become a lot more comfortable in my style. I like to illustrate with clear and simple shapes in mind, always thinking of ways to make the silhouettes a little easier to read. I also play a lot with textured brushes too, recreating traditional mediums in digital brush form and painting digitally.
Did you always want to be an illustrator of books for children?
Not really, I never had a set direction on which creative field I wanted to fully dive into. It took a lot of time for me to decide what to study at university – when I finally settled on illustration it became really overwhelming the different avenues you could go down. But after looking at what I enjoyed most in my final year and what my style lends itself to, it was an easy decision – picture books was the right fit for me.
How do you go about creating an illustration? What are your methods?
I’ll always start with sketching in my sketchbook, loosely playing around with thumbnails making really messy doodles that probably only make sense to me. After settling on a composition I like to move the sketching process to the computer and create a black and white tonal rough that’s much clearer. I concentrate a lot on this part because it makes the later colouring stage easier.
We love the Anthology of Amazing Women, which you illustrated. Who were your favourites to illustrate in that book?
So many! I could easily ramble and end up listing pretty much every amazing lady featured in the book, but to narrow it down to a few I’d have to say Aretha Franklin, Emmeline Pankhurst, Margaret Hardenbroeck Philipse, Mary Anning and Frida Kahlo. All were really fun challenges to capture their likeness in my style. Aretha Franklin and Frida Kahlo were also personal icons that I really wanted to make sure to nail perfectly for this book.
You’ve also illustrated covers for the John Bellairs ‘Lewis Barnavelt’ series. What was the process in designing a cover?
It always starts with a brief and a helpful rough from the design team over at Bonnier. I’ll dissect the brief and from there, like I’ve mentioned earlier loosely sketch thumbnails, character designs and key featured elements for the cover. I’ll settle on a final composition and create a digital rough ready for initial feedback. At this point there’s usually a few changes to make before moving onto the coloured rough and then the final.
Were you aware of any of the other illustrated covers for the books (particularly the rather gruesome pen and ink drawings by Edward Gorey)?
Yes! It’s certainly a little strange to be working on a project like this when I remember some of these covers from my childhood, particularly ‘The Ghost in the Mirror’; it was slightly intimating to illustrate this series since Edward Gorey is such a huge name and a personal favourite of mine!
Which books, authors, illustrators and artists inspire you?
Again, this could be a long list! I’m madly in love with Carson Ellis’s work, her stylistic choices are perfect and I’m just obsessed with her ink work, which is a strong influence texturally to me when it comes to working on internal black and white illustrations for books. Rebecca Green is another illustrator I strongly admire; like Carson the forms she draws are simplified perfectly and she plays with unique colour schemes in the same way as Ellis.
Are you inspired by Wales?
I’d say I’m pretty inspired by Wales, especially by the environment. I grew up in a small village surrounded by forests and hills and it became the main subject for a lot of my early work, even today I feel like I’m in my element when there’s a lot of greenery or foliage to illustrate.
What are your illustration ambitions?
In general my goal is to always better myself from the last illustration I made and to improve in so many different ways. But one goal I’d love to focus on this year would be to fully develop a picture book written and illustrated by myself. Mainly just as a fun project and for the portfolio but hopefully later down the line get something published that I’ve created from the start.
Looking back over your instagram snaps, your more recent work is focused on people, but you also draw birds and beasts (and we spotted goblins!). Do you have a favourite thing to draw?
I have without really realising it focused on people lately; I have a new found love for character design solely based on people, whereas before I shied away from drawing people and mainly focused on mythical creatures or woodland animals. A lot of the times I’ll often find inspiration from people in pop culture, TV shows and mainly books, but who knows I think a few more goblins might make a comeback along with a few more animal illustrations.
Are there plans for more published illustrations? What can we expect from Nathan Collins next?
Yep, I have plenty of plans for more published work in the future. At the moment there are still quite a few more books in the pipeline from the John Bellairs series, I’ll still be working on over the next few months, which I cant wait to show everyone!
Thank you to Nathan for taking the time to answer our questions. The Anthology of Amazing Women, written by Sandra Lawrence and illustrated by Nathan Collins, is published by 20 Watt and is available to buy in your local bookshop or online.
The third book in the Lewis Barnavelt series, The Letter, The Witch and The Ring, will be published by Piccadilly Press on 21 March.