Thursday 24 September 2015

Creating Albert and Little Henry

We went behind the scenes with author and illustrator Jez Alborough and found out all about how he created his latest picture book, Albert & Little Henry....

About the Idea
Everyone knows what it’s like to be ignored - it can feel as if your physical presence is not being acknowledged, as if you don’t exist. Albert and Little Henry came from an idea I had of translating this psychological feeling into a physical reality, so that a character who feels ignored actually starts to disappear, limb by limb. Hence my original title for this book: Has Anyone Seen Albert? However the image of a boy floating in the air with half his body missing just proved too weird to be used - its oddness distracted from the story, rather than helping to explain it.

I still felt there was something in the idea if I could just find another, more visually acceptable, way to represent the shrinking feeling that comes from being ignored. The word ‘shrinking’ gave me my clue - rather than disappear, the character could just get smaller and smaller: it would do the job of saying what I wanted it to say whilst also being visually arresting. Of course I had to find a setting, a reason for a character to feel that he was being ignored - that was when I had the idea of making him a boy in a family in which a new baby had just arrived.

About the Illustrations

As you can see from the early sketch of baby Henry above, Albert and his family were not always going to be dog characters - I drew the whole idea up in the human world and tried it in many different styles. (This illustration of dad with a tiny Albert was done with a brush line, coloured in with gouache paints.) However, after hundreds of drawings and many discussions it was decided that Albert should be an animal. Once I’d got used to the idea that Albert would be an animal, it didn’t take long to decide that he would be a dog. Dogs behaving like humans in a human world are somehow inherently funny - I have done this before in Some Dogs Do.


I’ve pulled out these three pictures to illustrate the development of the style. The first one is a thumbnail sketch, where I'm deciding, through scribbles, what goes where in the composition. You can just about make out that the character at this stage was still human. The second one (drawn in a brush line) comes from an early dummy of the book and was made before I had worked out how Albert would actually look. The third one is how the finished illustration turned out. The line is drawn with a dip pen which gives a wonderful, slightly scratchy, yet sensitive line. The danger with these pens is that the ink can suddenly leak out onto your illustration which adds a sense of danger! In this age of Photoshop and computer generated images there’s something wonderful about drawing with an implement which was used by the great illustrators of Dicken’s novels.

I used marker pens for the colours. Choosing the right shades is a vital part of the process - the wrong colours can ruin a good drawing. Here's a sheet showing me trying out colours, making notes along the way so I can remember every hue I’ve chosen.

Watch Jez Alborough reading Albert and Little Henry here:

Pick up a copy of Albert and Little Henry at your local bookshop.