2020 is a year no-one saw coming. It was a year we all had to learn to adapt to new ways of working, communicating and living out our lives. No one foresaw masks, lockdowns, panic buying (loo roll and flour…), closed pubs and extensive travel restrictions at the beginning of 2020.
For me, the year started well. It was set to be a year of finishing my MA course at Cambridge school of Art, and Jan and Feb were busy preparing for the big finale. We had our final exhibition in London in February, and I was looking forward to visiting Bologna Bookfair in April with my classmates and friends, and attempting to launch into the world of Children’s publishing.
However, with the pandemic growing throughout the spring, Bologna was cancelled and the world put under lockdown, everyone became busy getting to grips with working from home. All alongside homeschooling children, battling everyday chores, growing anxiety and never ending Zoom calls. It didn’t seem like the right time to launch myself anywhere.
With my other freelance work suddenly halted, I had a little more time on my hands than usual. I set myself small instagram challenges – where followers could vote on what I should draw, then the following day, I would film a timelapse of my efforts. It was a bit of daft fun, and the better ones are pinned to my story highlights.
The Carmelite prize had been on my radar for a little while, and 2020 had a super story by Janette Willis ‘The One and Only’ – about a lonely bird of paradise looking to find a friend. It was right up my street, so I decided to take the opportunity and direct my energy towards the brief. It would be my first attempt at illustrating someone else’s text, and once I got started, I found it incredibly liberating to not concern myself with the story. Just concentrating on interpreting the text, and telling my version of the tale through the images.
I got to work developing the character – researching various birds of paradise, their environments, and their weird and wonderful displays. They’ve always fascinated me, (I’d featured one in a previous book) so it was a great opportunity to have a play with them visually. I drew my Blue Bird over and over again, putting him into environments, different poses and situations.
Once I was happy with my character, I set to work roughing out some layout ideas. I wanted each spread to be varied and interesting, and to keep the pacing in time with the story. I sketched out several ideas, and made a few small dummy books to help me work out my preferred layouts. Over the course of my MA, I’d been playing with combining the picture book format with some comic book panelling (and Non Fiction content too – but I’ll save that for another day) so it was a great chance to put to use some of the comic book tricks that I’d been learning.
I buried myself in the Blue Bird’s story for a month or so, while with world was in lockdown, and it was a superb way to continue to develop the illustration work that i’d been producing while on the MA. I learned a lot from playing with him, his story and his environments, and was delighted to hear that he came second place in the competition. (And second to a fellow CSA MA student too – so I can’t complain at all!). I’m pretty fond of my Blue Bird, so am planning to use him for something. He’s been a great addition to my 2020!
Since Blue Bird came second, I was commissioned to illustrate my first picture book in June. A non-fiction narrative book that I’m currently working on. I can’t show any of my work for it yet, but am very much enjoying this new character and her story. I can’t wait to show people!