Dames Handsome Explains the process of Illustrating his Gamelit Series Fairy Knights

Tell us about the art and collaborating with your illustrator.

Warwick Wilson is a friend of mine and also a brilliant creator of children’s content. He draws, he makes videos, he creates music, and is even a voice actor in a number of children’s productions, as well as a professor of early childhood development. So after I wrote my book after I sat on it for months with no real plans for it and shared it with people here and there, almost always getting great feedback, I decided to publish and I went to him to see about getting him to make a cover. He read it, he loved it, and he responded by asking if he could make illustrations for it as well. I was flabbergasted and it’s been an adventure ever since. He reads the stories, tells me where it works and where it needs more work, and he draws pictures of the most tremendous scenes then turns over to the cover, banging out prize after prize every time. It is a great partnership and a lot of fun.

When asked to recall some of the world’s most well-known children’s books, from Allan and Janet Ahlberg’s Funnybones to Nadia Shireen’s Billy and the Beast, many people would recall the books’ striking pictures first.

Children’s picture books are crucial to illustrators’ work, but there are many distinct styles of book illustration, all of which are essential to a book’s success. For fiction publications, full color cover images are required, as as mono illustrations throughout the narrative or chapter header art for younger titles, and full color art is required for picture books.

How does an art department go about finding an artist with whom they wish to collaborate?
“Finding the perfect style for a specific title/author/genre and book – whether it be fiction, picture book, non-fiction,” explains Ben Hughes, deputy art director at Puffin.

‘When we’re looking for something specific or fresh, we go to Instagram, Twitter, and sites like Behance. ‘We also go to degree shows.’
Ben has direct contacts with agencies and artists, but he also looks for fresh talent in a number of locations, including: “When we’re looking for something specific or fresh, we go to Instagram, Twitter, and sites like Behance.” In addition, we go to degree fairs.

“In children’s literature, we’re constantly on the lookout for fresh voices and styles with a commercial bent. The goal is to make a cover that stands out from the rest of the books on the shelf.”

Illustrators should have a portfolio of work, which Ben recommends being updated on a regular basis with new work. If an artist is new to the business and hasn’t yet been hired, he may provide advice on what to include: “I believe one of the finest things a novice artist can do to earn their first work is self-initiated covers – your own spin on a series or a classic.” To demonstrate your versatility, try a variety of genres.”

Create a portfolio that reflects your unique flair.
Nadia Shireen, an illustrator, believes that a portfolio should only feature work that you are pleased of. “Include things that represent what you actually like drawing, rather than trying to slavishly mimic styles or illustration fads,” she recommends.

“We’re all inspired by each other, which is vital and wonderful, but you’re also hoping displaying your natural inclinations so that you get assignments that fit you and that you love.”

“Make sure you’re not repeating yourself, and keep in mind what publishers actually want to see samples of.”

“It’s important for publishers and agencies to understand that you can draw youngsters.” If you wish to work in middle school or older literature, some black and white works are useful. It’s also a good idea to show movement — characters actually doing something rather than merely posing still.”

How much creative control do you have as an illustrator?
The art department and the artist work together to create book illustrations. If you’ve been picked for a project, it’s because you suit the art department’s vision, and you’ve earned their trust.

Charlie Transforms into a Chicken Ben was immediately taken by Sarah Horne’s portrayal. “I don’t believe we altered anything about the Charlie she built.”

“I had given her snippets of text and rudimentary descriptions before telling her that when Charlie’s character is stressed, he transforms into an animal, but he has no choice over whatever animal he transforms into.” She was the only one who gave the animal Charlie’s parts. So he has the same haircut as the flea, and the snake’s pattern is the same as his jumper’s design. It’s fantastic.”