Friday, 14 July 2017

The making of Pink Lion by Jane Porter


A bold and colourful picture book with a heart-warming story about always being yourself.

Arnold blends right in with his bright pink flamingo family. Then a growling gang of lions stops by and tells Arnold he should be more lion-like, just like them. 


Poor Arnold tries but misses his old life. But then his flamingo family are threatened by an unwelcome visitor. Is this the moment when Arnold will find his roar?


Behind the scenes with Jane Porter

We’re excited to welcome Jane to the Picture Book Party blog for a behind-the-scenes on the making of Pink Lion

This is the story of how Pink Lion came into being…

Once a week I run an art class for under 5s. It’s a great joy to watch the creativity of young children – and a constant source of inspiration to me. This was never more true than the week we made robots. After constructing our shiny cardboard creations, I asked the group what they thought the story might be about today. “A pink lion,” said one boy, without hesitation.

That was the spark that set me pondering, scribbling and scouring museums for stone lions (the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford has a particularly fine one in pink granite). Brainstorming pink things put flamingoes in my mind, and I liked the idea that a pink lion might be adopted by pink birds and live an idyllic life with jelly for tea every day. For some reason it seemed natural to call him Arnold.
This didn’t offer much drama, however, which is where the growling gang of yellow lions comes in. When they meet Arnold they send into a state of confusion about his identity – the story was starting to have some direction. I made a series of small dummy books with all sorts of endings – in one, Arnold raced round making cold drinks with curly straws for the lazy lions, in another he went home to find the flamingoes had formed a stunt motorbike troupe.

I took the latest version on a camping trip to Wales, and one wet afternoon when there wasn’t much else to do I read it out to a friend’s little boy. His feedback was concise, and pinpointed the problem with dazzling accuracy – “It needs more roaring”. And that’s when the very nasty crocodile came in, putting flamingoes in peril and letting Arnold discover his inner roar.
The story was coming together – now for the artwork. “Make it look as if it took five minutes,” said my editors – good advice but so hard to achieve! It seemed to take about two years to make it look as if it took five minutes. I tried every material under the sun – coloured pencil, collage, gouache, ink. None of the pinks felt right, and they seemed to clash with the yellows horribly. Then one day I was browsing a book about Picasso, and noticed ‘household emulsion’ in the list of materials he used. That’s when it clicked – I bought a sack of tester pots from Homebase, with delightful names like Yellow Submarine and Berry Smoothie. I applied them with the worst brushes I could find, added a scribble of pastel pencil, then pen and Indian Ink for the details – and finally I had something I was happy with.

Now the book is finished. I’ll be visiting bookshops to do some storytelling and craft activities – and it’s the first time I will have done this without an author. So I’ve made myself someone to travel with: a pink velvet soft toy version of Arnold – he’s a proper luxury lion with THREE types of pink velvet from his inner ears to his paw pads, and raspberry mohair for his scribble cheeks. I’ve stitched little bags of baking beans into his paws, which gives him just the right amount of weight to be able to sit up on his own. We are looking forward to touring together! Although our family cat is rather jealous.

Pick up a copy of Pink Lion at your local bookshop. Plus take a look at the brilliant animated trailer that the talented Jane has created!
               

Jane Porter is an illustrator specializing in work both for and with children. Her work ranges from picture and novelty books to children’s maps, murals and hand-made books suitable for outreach work. She has worked for a number of organizations, including the National Trust, English Heritage, London Zoo, the Corporation of London, Historic Royal Palaces and the National Health Service. When she's not working, Jane is often to be found out on the River Thames in a coracle or skiff, looking out for passing bats, cormorants and wagtails. Jane will be making book shop visits, you can find details below.

Sheen Bookshop on Friday 28th July, 10.30-12.30 

Waterstones Clapham Junction on Saturday 5th August, 3pm

Heffers in Cambridge on Saturday 19th August, 2-4

The Apple Store in Regent’s Street on Saturday 26th August at 2pm

Tales on Moon Lane, Herne Hill in the afternoon on Monday 23rd October.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

PLAY - an Illustrated journey from the Idea to the finished book



Bobo the chimp is back in this perfect picture book for every little monkey that doesn't want to go to bed yet!

From the award-winning creator of Hug, Tall and Yes comes another classic picture book for the very youngest children. Using only a handful of words, Jez Alborough skilfully tells the bedtime tale of Bobo the chimp in Play

The sun is still up and this little chimp wants to play with his jungle friends, but then the sun goes down and he’s all alone… The perfect bedtime read for every playful little monkey!

Behind the scenes with Jez Alborough

We’re excited to welcome Jez to the Picture Book Party blog for a behind-the-scenes on the making of Play

As a young child I heard the myth that babies arrive in the world fully formed, brought in the beaks of storks. Some people think that this is how books arrive in the minds of authors: appearing as fully formed ideas that only need to be transcribed onto the page to turn them into a book. This is not the case in my experience.

My new picture book, PLAY had an especially long gestation period: I first tried the idea out about ten years ago. It started with the idea of Bobo being put to bed by his Mum and wondering where the sun goes at night while he sleeps. This sets him off on a long journey chasing the sun around the world, trying to catch up with it to find an answer to his question. This is a long trip for a baby chimpanzee to take, so I thought Bobo would need some help from his friends along the way. The pencil drawing above shows Bobo getting a lift in the beak of a Pelican, below you can see him being carried across the ocean on the back of friendly whale. (Everyone wants to help Bobo; wouldn’t you?) 



I like drawing in black and white, your brain magically converts shapes and textures into a visual language of dashes, squiggles and dots. Here you can see Bobo arriving on the other side of the ocean, meeting the Pelican who’ll take him further on his journey.



Once I feel confident with the layout of each scene I work them up a little using colour. At this stage my sketches are only about three inches wide. Drawing small stops me getting caught up in details; it boils the picture down to its essential elements of shapes, colour, light and shade.

You might be wondering why the idea took ten years to turn into a book, especially as the idea is so simple. Simplicity is actually part of the answer: I find that the simpler the story, the harder it is to make it work. When I showed my sketches to an editor the response I received was: “Nice pictures, but the story’s not quite working.” As much as it pained me to admit it, I had to agree. The overall premise of the chase after the sun was strong but somehow I couldn’t quite translate it into a satisfying story. It was frustrating; I had the title (‘SUN’), I had the pictures, but no satisfying story to tie them together.

As time passed and I worked on other books those Bobo sketches niggled me. I felt in my bones there was a book in them somewhere, waiting to be discovered. About seven years later I pulled them out of a drawer in my studio marked ‘SUN,’ re-entered the world of Bobo and gave the idea another try.

Here’s a photo of my studio around this time; strewn across my desk you can see the pages of the dummy I was trying out. I make small-scale dummies at this stage (about a quarter of the size of the final book) because everything is in flux and rather than adapting a drawing that I need to change, I can just as easily start a new one. Working like this engenders a relaxed attitude in which nothing is sacred; by letting go of what’s not working and starting again I have more chance of finding what does work.







These new efforts found me a new editor who could see the potential in the story; she also saw the problem in it, but thankfully she was able to identify what that problem was. The other books in the Bobo series stayed in the reality of Bobo’s world: for example in ‘HUG’ he was looking for his Mum, but that search was in locations he could feasibly walk to. In my new idea, Bobo’s journey after the sun meant he travelled around the world. This afforded wonderful opportunities for illustrations but it didn’t quite fit with the convention of the series.

I tried to resolve this problem of stylistic incongruity by having Bobo fall asleep: this allowed him to make his epic journey around the world in a dream. Although this addressed the problem of believability, my dream sequence simultaneously created a new issue in that it would alienate my target audience. Bobo stories are written with the very young in mind and three year olds haven’t yet grasped the idea of what dreams are. If a story confuses your audience, obviously it’s not going to work, so the dream idea had to be abandoned.

My editor came up with the solution: it was all a matter of scale. She suggested that Bobo didn’t need to go round the world to chase the sun; he could simply travel to the other side of the lake and up a hill, because that was the limit of his world. (I drew the sketch below to illustrate the limits of Bobo’s world). It’s interesting how every story has its own world and a logic which fits that world.



Sometimes, in order to crack the story you have to make conscious what that logic is. It’s like when you play a game, you have to know the rules within which the game operates: only then does the game make any sense. With this guiding principle of ‘keeping within Bobo’s world’ in place, I could finally get stuck into the mechanics of my story and make it work. In the process some of my initial ideas fell away to reveal a much simpler story. For example, there was a shift of emphasis; the story no longer focussed primarily on Bobo chasing the sun; now it was more about him wanting to play. The sun only comes into the story because when it sets and the jungle gets dark, Bobo has to stop playing and go to bed. (With this change of focus the title naturally shifted from ‘SUN’ to ‘PLAY’). I realised that Bobo didn’t need to find out where the sun goes at night (when you think about it, that’s rather a big question for someone so little!) – all he needs to know is that when the sun sets behind the hill and everything gets dark, it’s ok because Mummy is there to look after him.


I made one more small dummy to check the new version of the story was working – you can never really tell until you see it played out on the page. In the example above you can see Bobo getting a lift from the pelican, looking back on the journey he’s made across the lake to the hill on the other side. (The reference to the moon was cut: in a book featuring the sun as a character it seemed like a complication which didn’t add anything to the story.)


At last I was ready to produce a final, full-sized dummy: this is where I really get to grips with how the pictures are going to look. Once I’ve determined the size of each panel and I know what needs to fit into it the job is all about laying the story out. It’s a bit like a puzzle; I just keep moving those shapes of the characters, trees, hills and rocks around until the relationships between them feels natural. Next I start working into the picture more, adding texture, light and shade. Below is a sketch of Bobo sleeping with his Mummy; the pose of the feet clasped together was taken from a reference photo of a chimpanzee.



Colouring the drawings is the last stage; it’s a very important job because if I choose the wrong colour it can ruin a perfectly good drawing. How do I know what’s the right colour? Trial and error. I have hundreds of bits of paper with colour washes on and I hold them up to my drawing and see how the colour fits with what’s already laid down. The colours that come in the bottles are rarely the exact colour that I’m looking for, so most of these washes consist of two or more colours mixed together. Here’s how the finished illustration of Bobo and his Mum sleeping turned out.



I’m often asked how long it takes for me to create a picture book; in the case of PLAY it was ten years! Most of that time the idea was shelved in a drawer, in between I would occasionally take it out and have another attempt at making it work. The actual artwork took six months to complete.
It’s ten years since my last Bobo book (‘YES’) was published. I hope you think it was worth the wait.

WIN Play
To celebrate the launch of Play we’ve got five copies of the book to give away! To enter just answer this question:

In Jez's new book what is the name of the little chimp?

a)       Bobo
b)       Nono
c)       Soso

To enter, just email competitions@walker.co.uk with 'PLAY' in the subject line, before 10th August 2017. Terms and conditions apply.

Join in the fun and download our free Play activity sheets.

Pick up a copy of Play at your local bookshop. You can find more fun and activities on Jez's website at jezalborough.com.