This month, we're very excited about Bye-Bye Baby Brother!, a gorgeous new picture book all about new babies, busy mums and a little girl with a very BIG imagination! In the exclusive guest blog post for Picture Book Party, author-illustrator Sheena Dempsey tells us all about how she came up with the ideas for her debut picture book...
Bye-ByeBaby Brother! began as a quick MA project that took only a few weeks to put together, but it was a long journey before it became the final version that it is now. It all started with the idea of a bored little girl at home trying to get her busy mother’s attention and going to all sorts of lengths to do so.
The baby character was introduced early on, without intentionally choosing a universal theme, I thought, how absolutely annoying must it be to have a usurper baby come along when you are three years old? Although I’m the youngest in our family, it’s easy to imagine the frustration.
My initial draft had some slightly sinister humour and I think that was what attracted me to this idea at first, the scope for mischief. How many ways could Ruby rid the family of her baby brother and have her mother all to herself?
There were several pictures trying out different ideas in this first draft, feeding him to Rory (Ruby’s dog), throwing him away with the rubbish, hiding him in the coal bunker, flushing him down the loo and putting him into the washing machine.
The trouble with this line of thinking is that it’s too risky to depict these things happening in a picture book as some disturbed children may try to imitate the evil deeds in real life and then there would be all kinds of horrible lawsuits and the world as we know it would end. So I had to come up with less dangerous ways for Ruby to get rid of Oliver that couldn’t actually be re-enacted in real life. I drew and re-drew several different scenarios, some were vetoed for still being too dark (e.g. hiding Oliver up the chimney) until we settled on the four that are in the book. The style of drawing changed and became softer to suit the content and the overall result is a much younger book and a gentler story with more emotional depth, hopefully at not too much of a cost to the humour.
On my Masters course, it was drilled into us by one of our course tutors that doing proper roughs is paramount. His refrain for the year was: “Work everything out in the rough first, the angle, the composition, all the details before you do the finished drawing”. However, this vital piece of information just fell out of my head and for some reason that remains a mystery to me, I didn’t really do proper roughs for Bye-Bye Baby Brother! I did very loose, rough ones which didn’t really cut the mustard when it became time to make the final artwork. I was jumping from thumbnail type drawings to final artwork and I made things very difficult for myself, especially as I was so new to illustration. So that was one nugget that I learned about myself and can pass on – if you hand-draw everything, very detailed and finished-looking roughs to work from for final artwork are extremely useful. It’s all a learning curve.
To make my final artwork, I use a lightbox (well, it’s a glass desk and an Ikea lamp which works even better) to trace over my (now-very-detailed) rough drawings. I draw very lightly in pencil on hot-pressed paper and then go over it with pigment liner pens and then rub out the pencil. Then I paint everything in with Schmincke and Lukas watercolours.
I work from home in my flat in southeast London.