Thursday 22 October 2020

Rain Before Rainbows - Guest Illustrator Post

 It is a real treat to invite David Litchfield onto the Picture Book Party blog to tell us all about the making of his new book, Rain Before Rainbows, written by Smriti Halls.

Rain before rainbows. Clouds before sun.
Night before daybreak. A new day’s begun.

A girl and her companion fox travel together from a place of loss and despair, through uncertain times, towards the hope of colour, light and life. Along the way, they find friends to guide and support them. Together, they build a glorious future and discover there is a way out of the darkness, into the light of the rainbow. A book with immense hope at its heart, this is a positive message for anyone who’s ever gone through a tough time.

Guest Illustrator Post - David Litchfield

How did you decide on the look of the book?

 Myself, Smriti and the Walker Books team discussed the idea that the book should start out very dark with very little colour. As you turn the page and the story progresses we wanted to add more colour and light until the last spread is an explosion of colourful hues and joy.

I also wanted to keep the characters quite small on the page throughout the book. I felt that the locations and landscapes The Girl & The Fox are passing through were a very important part of the narrative so I wanted to give them as much space as possible.

All of the textures that make up the backgrounds came about from experimenting with watercolours and acrylic paints. I spent a messy few hours just covering pages and pages of paper in different colours and letting them bleed into each other. I then scanned these into my computer and overlayed them on Photoshop. So a lot of the textures came about by chance really. It’s a fun way of working and it’s exciting to sort of not know exactly how it is going to look and not be 100% in control of the outcome.

 Tell us a little bit more about your illustration process.

I mainly work in my studio in Bedford. I share it with a chap called Sam Gilbey who is also an illustrator. We have very different styles and work on very different projects, but it's great to have someone to run ideas past and discuss work with.

For most projects I produce a new set of these textured pages. I like to have a new set for each new book so that each story looks and feels fresh and unique. So for the first part of a project, I will spend time just having fun with paint and other materials.

At the same time I will be sketching out ideas in my sketchbook based on the text of the book. This is where the characters start to form and the imagery for each page starts to develop. I love working in sketchbooks as there are no rules at that stage. Those drawings are just for you and can be as scruffy and as messy as you like. These are important stages as you can freely get the ideas in your head onto the paper without fear of any criticism or judgement.

Once the idea started to hone itself through these sketches I start to put together a slightly less scruffy ‘rough’ version of the whole book. I then speak to the author, the Editorial team and art director and go through what I have done and take on board their suggestions too.

Once everyone is happy with the rough I then make a start on the final art for the book.

That’s a general rundown of how it usually works. Each project is always slightly different but always along those general lines. On average a book will take 3 to 4 months to create from the first sketch to the final piece of design. 

What is your favourite thing to draw?

I loved drawing The Fox in Rain Before Rainbows. In the story, The Fox is a calming presence throughout and gives the girl confidence and hope. I actually found The Fox quite a calming thing to draw as well. His expression doesn’t change too much throughout the book and he just seems incredibly chilled indeed (apart from in 1 or 2 highly dramatic scenes in the book). I love the texture on his fur. Again, this came about through experimenting with overlaying textures and I think might have even been a bit of an accident. I was seeing what he looked like with different painty textures that looked a bit like fur and I accidentally overlayed the pencil drawing of plants. I discovered that he looked really cool with these plants almost tattooed on him, so I kept it.

A happy accident definitely.   

What was your favourite spread to illustrate?

Oh I have a few actually. The misty dragons spread was incredibly fun to draw. It is just so dramatic and action-packed. The Girl and The Fox look incredibly tough in this spread. Like two warriors fighting off evil.

I also like the sea spread for similar reasons. It’s really action-packed.

But, my favourite spread is towards the end and is the image that is split into 4 sections. The girl is sowing seeds and The Fox is just sitting peacefully watching the sunrise and the seasons changing.

There’s a real calmness and quiet contentment to them both that we haven’t seen in the story up to this point.

I can imagine them being in that scene for a long time not saying a word to each other but just feeling happy enjoying those quiet moments together. 

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

I remember the exact moment I first saw Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. I was 6 years old in my Primary School and our teacher Mrs Bunnage gathered us all together on the mat to read a story. She held up Where The Wild Things Are and I was instantly transfixed. The drawings were like looking into a brand new world and were something totally new and exciting to me.

Sendak’s very unique etched style of drawing but also these crazy characters and colourful locations were - and still 100% are - completely mesmerising to me. I was totally taken out of school, out of my little town and transported into that magic world that Maurice Sendak invented.

I think that was the moment I saw how powerful drawings can be and also how books and stories can transport you to a completely different place.

My mum bought me a copy of Where The Wild Things Are soon after that first reading. I still have that copy too. It’s very old now and mainly held together by sellotape but it is still a very treasured possession of mine.

- David Litchfield

A special thanks to our guest illustrator this week, David Litchfield!

Rain Before Rainbows is now available to buy from all good booksellers.