“Children should be seen and not heard!”
Do you know this saying? It’s what adults said to their children in the olden days, to make them be quiet and behave. Imagine how you’d feel if this was said to you every day. “Children should be seen and not heard!” Would you want to be sweet and good, and well-behaved? Or would you want to go wild and RUN RIOT?!! Perhaps you’d find a way of going wild in secret.
If you read my book, ‘Seen and Not Heard,’ you’ll see how the children of Shiverhawk Hall secretly found lots of wild mischief, fun and freedom.The idea for the book started to emerge in January 2012. I was visiting an art museum and I found myself staring at a very old, very grand portrait of four little sisters. Here it is:
Look at the girl second in from the right. Now look again, for a little bit longer….
There’s something slightly mischievous about the expression on her face, isn’t there? Is she trying to tell you something, do you think? Maybe she’s trying to say, “You may think I’m as good as gold, dressed up in this uncomfortable gown, holding this bunch of grapes as still as I can, looking my very sweetest… but as soon as you are gone, I am going to eat all this fancy fruit, run around with my sisters and swing on this big curtain!”
Well, those were the sorts of thoughts I had as I looked at the painting. I knew that at night time, when no-one was around, those little girls wouldn’t stay still in their frame for a moment longer!
Another painting I saw at the art museum was this Victorian portrait of a little girl:
Doesn’t she look dainty and delicate? What do you think she was really like? I wonder how long that pretty hat (called a ‘mob cap’) stayed on her head when she wasn’t sitting still for a portrait…
If you haven’t guessed already, this little girl was the inspiration for one of the characters in my book: Lily Pinksweet! Below is an early drawing of Lily, next to the final drawing which appears in the book.
I must have decided along the way to get rid of the mob cap. I think it was because I wanted Lily’s ringlets to bounce and twizzle as wildly as possible when she was running around Shiverhawk Hall (when no-one was around, of course).
A couple of months after my trip to the museum, I went to another interesting place. It was a very old house called Benthall Hall, in Shropshire. Here it is:
A bit spooky, isn’t it? My ‘Shiverhawk Hall’ was inspired by this wonderful house.
Under the eaves on the top floor of Benthall Hall is a nursery, where generations of Benthall children would have gone to bed, had lessons, and played quietly with their dolls and teddy bears. When I visited, the nursery wasn’t open to the public, but a member of staff kindly let me have a peek. My favourite thing about the room was a lovely old rocking horse.
Here are some of the children who lived at Benthall Hall long ago. Don’t they look sweet, and good?
I think the girl at the bottom is dying to get out of her frame. She looks a bit weary.
I visited a few other museums, houses and galleries while I was making the book, and made sketches of children in portraits from various eras, thinking hard about the poses they tended to be in, and looking closely at the details of their costumes. I collected all of my pictures together and put the pictures on to pinboards, to have in front of me while I worked. Like this one:
After lots of drawing and thinking, my cast of characters emerged: eight children, a dog, a cat and three white mice. I made a sheet of character studies (below); this was very helpful to have in front of me when working out the drawings for the book. I didn’t want to forget what each child looked like!
The story for Seen and Not Heard took a while to get right. I made lots of tiny drawings, called ‘thumbnails,’ and I scrawled ideas for text around these. I worked out a sequence for the thumbnails to go in, and then made a rough version of a book, called a ‘dummy book’. I made several dummy books before I felt the story worked properly. You can see some of the dummy books in the picture above.
At one early stage in the ideas process there was a governess character (who would have taught the children in their nursery). You can see her on the right hand side of the photo above. However I soon decided that I didn’t want any adults in the story… But adults do have a background presence in the book, in their own grand portraits on the walls of Shiverhawk Hall. And here’s what the Shiverhawk children thought of those portraits:
All of the artwork in the book is drawn in pencil, with a little bit of charcoal here and there. In the photo below you can see some of the drawings, in my studio. You can also see some essential studio equipment: an angle-poise lamp, a cup of tea, baby wipes and loo roll to clean my grubby hands (which are often black from pencil and charcoal), and large clear plastic bags to keep finished artwork protected from tea spillages!
When the pencil drawings were finished, they were scanned and then I coloured them up digitally, using Photoshop. I had tried out colouring the pictures in watercolour paint, pencil crayon and pastel, but decided that digital colour was the right method for this project. Here is a photo of one of the illustrations half-way through drawing… and next to it, finished:
So there you go… I have revealed some of the secrets and ideas behind ‘Seen and Not Heard.’ It was lots of fun, but hard work too, with many early starts and late nights. Sometimes, late at night, when I was drawing and tired, I am sure the characters winked and whispered to me!
And as for those twins, the De Villechild girls…
Well… their secrets stay secret.
Well… their secrets stay secret.
Seen and not Heard is available from all good booksellers.
Have a go at drawing your own mischievous self portrait with this free downloadable activity sheet.
The paintings in the art museum I mentioned were ‘The Daughters of Sir Matthew Decker, Bart.’ painted in 1718 by Jan van Meyer, and ‘Cherry Ripe,’ painted in 1879 by John Everett Millais. You can see them at The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.