I know before anyone asks if I’ve gone mad then the answer is most certainly NO! Children’s books in all their colourful, imaginative, educational other world inspiring glory are full of design. Can you see the connection? I wonder how many times you have read a book to your little one and studied the art work, I know I have. Pondering questions of what inspired the illustrator and how they came up with their brilliant concept that will be treasured at bed times by so many small people. Even to the point of connecting with a child so much that this is what they end up doing themselves when they grow up.
Design is everywhere you look and I was fascinated when I was asked to take a look at three new very unique children’s books based on their design ethics. The books in question are Handstand by Lisa Stickley, An Animal ABC by Alice Pattullo (to be released on 13th October 2016) and a re telling with a twist on a classic tale Sleeping Beauty: a mid century fairy tale illustrated by David Roberts and retold by Lyn Roberts-Maloney. Rather than me review each one I thought that I would ask the author illustrators about their creations as they know far more about design than I!
1. Where did the design influence come from when putting the book together?
Lisa ~ I wanted to create a ‘fresh air’ feeling for this book so I embraced the naivety and simplicity of coloured pencil and oil pastel often used in my work. Combining this with mono-print and injections of colour by way of collaged pattern I hope it evokes a feeling of unfussiness and ‘only just cut grass’, which is exactly what I think of when I remember ALL of the handstands I used to do when I was little. Books on Saul Steinberg, David Hockney and William Scott were regularly perused when I was creating Handstand too.
Alice ~ I’m generally very inspired by mid-century artists and illustrators like Edward Bawden, Eric Ravilious, Barbara Jones, Enid Marx, Barnett Freedman….I could go on! All of these artists crossed the (invisible) line between ‘art’ and commercial illustration and I like to think that I am doing this with my own work now. I am also very interested in the print aesthetic of 1930s/40s lithographed children’s books, like the Puffin picture books (of which a few of these artists produced designs for). I particularly love the limited colour palettes which force an ingenuity when it comes to layering colours – so you make the most out of the few you have. I wanted to adopt this technique and stick to just 4 colours throughout the whole alphabet, emphasing different colours in different animals to make it look like I had a wider array than I really did.
David ~ It came from the idea of how the culture of the 1950s envisaged the future. Sci-fi films, robots, comics and cartoons were all an influence on the look. I also looked at furniture, fashion, surface patterns and textiles of the period. Russian architecture was also an influence as it seemed to have a futuristic look to it.
2. Who or what inspired you as a child?
Lisa ~ I was always a maker and a doer from a very early age, with huge encouragement from my aunty who is a great sewer and knitter. When I wasn’t cart wheeling myself around the garden I would be painting, playing at shoe shops, baking cakes or making things.
When I was a young teenager I remember having a Dryad mini screen-printing kit, and my first print being a ‘flower power’ type flower in two colours on a white pair of shorts! I used that little screen for years after that, and ended up printing some of my very early labels with it onto cotton binding tape.
My art teacher at secondary school was also a huge influence. She was the most wonderful lady and I remember how she would sit at her desk before class sharpening all her coloured pencils with a penknife. She used to set up the most fantastic still life compositions for us to draw and opened my eyes to the world of Art and design. I had found my happy place.
Alice ~ I was brought up in a creative household. My mother is a textile artist (who has also actually just released a book with Batsford – ‘Textile Collage’ by Mandy Pattullo) and my father is an architect, so I guess they were the initial inspiration that led me down a path towards a creative profession. Myself and my brother were always encouraged to draw and paint and be creative at the kitchen table and were regularly taken to galleries and museums. I remember a visiting a particularly influential exhibition as a young adult of Shirley Hughe’s work – seeing her sketchbooks and inspiration and how they translated into her picture book work was really pivotal in pushing me in the direction of ‘illustration’ as a career.
David ~ I was very much inspired by music, particularly Kate Bush. I also loved fashion and dressing up.
3. Can you tell me a little about your design background?
Lisa ~ I trained as a printed textile designer at Central Saint Martins and The Royal College Of Art. Having originally founded Lisa Stickley in 1999 (from my bedroom, using the original Cash’s labels my mum used to sew into my school socks, and subsequently said screen printed ones above) I was lucky enough to sell my first ever products to Paul Smith, Designers Guild and The Cross. Since then I have collaborated with the likes of Burberry, Harrods, Liberty, Tate, Selfridges, Heals, Boots, Debenhams, John Lewis and Japanese stores Ships, Hankyu & Isetan.
I opened my first shop in 2007 in South London, which, behind the scenes, doubled up as a bustling print studio and creative hub. I have designed and developed lifestyle brand concepts, and have produced and sold home-wear product and accessories all over the world.
Alice ~ Other than my childhood as explained in the previous questions, I studied a foundation at Newcastle College which was brilliant (I’m saddened to hear that a lot of universities aren’t looking for this as a pre-requisite any more and that many of the foundation courses across the UK are now being cut altogether) – It was a really encouraging and explorative year – although you have some art education at school – it by no means is reflective of what you could be studying in higher education and foundation really provided a glimpse of this and again helped me understand that I wanted to pursue illustration, in particular more concept driven work. I went from here to study BA Illustration at Brighton University, with a brief stint in the US at Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Upon graduating I continued working on self initiated projects which would generally manifest themselves as a series of screen prints which I then showed to various shops and galleries around the UK that I particularly liked and thought my work would sit comfortably in. From this my first few illustration jobs actually came from people seeing my prints in the right place at the right time really – and a lot of my commissions generally have come from word of mouth to begin with. That in itself is humbling that people want to share my work. Now in an age of the internet, I find a lot of my commissioned work actually comes from other people’s pinterest boards which is almost the same thing! I now have an agent for my illustration work, Central Illustration Agency as well as continuing to produce self initiated screen prints, such as the ABC series.
David ~ I left school at 16 and I went to art college with the intention of becoming a costume designer but I found I had a keen interest in fashion design and textiles so I went to study for a BA in Fashion Design at Manchester Polytechnic. Whilst there I did a short course in millinery which I fell in love with and so on leaving college I went to Hong Kong and worked as a milliner and a fashion illustrator. I returned to the UK and found work with the milliner Stephen Jones but I’d always at back of my mind had a secret wish to become a children’s book illustrator. I did a short course at the City Lit in children’s book illustration which led to my first children’s book in 1997.
4. Is anything in your home’s interior reflected in the book?
Lisa ~ I think being a designer you never really switch off from the ‘day job’ so your work and style often seeps into everything else in your life too. I think I have quite distinctive handwriting and that aesthetic is part and parcel of our home too… albeit a lot more untidy of late having two very little ones running around the place! An eclectic mix of pattern and simplicity is quite a big part of the look and feel of Handstand, which runs true at home. For specific and quite literal inspiration, book two (out in spring 2017) includes quite a big chunk of my eldest daughter’s toy collection, so keep your eyes peeled for that!
Alice ~ No! Can’t really expand here!
David ~ Yes, I have one of the robots. My personal style is more 1930s and 1970s so I don’t have many 1950s pieces.
5. Do you have any words of wisdom to children who are passionate about design?
Lisa ~ Explore, experiment and don’t be afraid to try all sorts of styles and techniques. Happy accidents are the best way to learn and discover new things. If you are passionate about what you are doing then do LOTS of it and keep going. Draw draw draw, and look look look, these are the fundamentals of design and will give you the best grounding to become a good designer.
Alice ~ Words of Wisdom? Just to be aware of your environment and history and to make sure to keep drawing and observing.
David ~ Be indulgent.
Many thanks to Lisa, Alice and David for being so generous with their time to answer my questions. Also to Ruby for being my model even though she is a little older than the books are aimed at she poured over them looking at every detail. My girl devours books, draws like a demon and has an imagination that makes my head spin.
This post was in collaboration with Pavilion Books, with thanks