Thursday 7 May 2020

My Red Hat by Rachel Stubbs - May Book of the Month

To celebrate the publication of our May Picture Book of the Month, My Red Hat, we've got a behind-the-scenes Q&A with author-illustrator, and winner of the Sebastian Walker Award for Illustration, Rachel Stubbs. 

1. What was your favourite picture book from when you were a child?

I loved The Elephant and the Bad Baby, by Elfrida Vipont and Raymond Briggs about a baby who has forgotten his manners and gallops down the road on an elephant - who wouldn’t want to do that?! Another favourite was New Blue Shoes by Eve Rice about a little girl who has a confidence crisis after buying some new shoes, something I can still relate to. The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord also totally captured me with its hilarious verse and imaginative drawings. 

2. What is the inspiration behind My Red Hat and/or Why did you choose a hat as the focus of the story?

I kept coming back to the image of a giant red hat in my sketchbook and loved its graphic shape and the different playful images I could make with it. It allowed me to experiment and have fun with colour and image-making without worrying about having to have a narrative or story to focus on, which I think was really important for me at that stage. I also loved how the size of the hat and its placement on the page could be used to alter the visual pace and sequencing of the images. In the end, it became a sort of character of its own, and I wrote a short piece of text inspired by those sketches, written in the voice of the hat to its owner - which gave me more of a structure to begin working with.

3. Are the characters in the book based on anyone personal to you?

Not intentionally, although the Grandpa character does look suspiciously like my Dad, who has a very lovely face to draw! 

4. What was your writing/illustrative process to the book? Did the writing come first or the pictures?

They kind of happened together. I came up with the original dummy book on my MA through a lot of visual play, but when it came to working on the idea with a publisher it was a bit like starting all over again as the basic structure needed a lot of work. I found it helped to start really small and made lots of very rough thumbnails on tiny ripped up pieces of paper. This made it a lot easier to discard ideas when they didn’t work and to see how the book would work as a whole. Once I finally had the structure down, I started on the final roughs, and then the final artwork. For the final art, I wanted to try and keep it as loose as I could - but this is always easier said than done! I used the linework from my final roughs whenever I could, cleaned them up in photoshop and combined them with layers of ink.

5. What is your workspace like?

I currently work from home in our spare room which feels quite luxurious, especially in London where space is so rare. It also has its downsides - I have to make sure I get out and see people so I don’t go completely mad! It worked well for this book as my son was so tiny, so it made working in the evenings easier if I needed to. I also love having a view of the trees.

6. What is your favourite thing to draw? 

I love drawing things from everyday life - particularly people, and their body language, expressions and outfits. I love going to our local parks and cafes to draw when I can, and experimenting with mark making and materials. Drawing from observation has also really helped my drawing from memory, and I find it fun to alternate between the two.

My Red Hat is available to purchase where all good books are bought. Why not also download our My Red Hat activity sheets, here