A Spotlight On Children’s Illustrators
One of the most special qualities of children’s literature is its capacity to create vivid, visual worlds for the young minds it caters to. Human beings have all experienced the wonder of being a child, of drawing as a child, being spellbound by colour and shape. Many of us are fortunate enough to have spent time with teachers and guardians reading with us, being mesmerised by the worlds we were discovering, brought sharply to life before our eyes with delicate, vibrant, nuanced illustration. What would Roald Dahl’s collection be without Quentin Blake’s brilliantly personified, scratchy illustrations? I dread to think of a childhood without E.H Shephard’s illustrations of Winnie the Pooh, or Judith Kerr’s expressive orange Tiger who, of course, came to tea. Children’s illustrators clearly serve a dynamic role in catching the eyes of readers of all ages on bookshelves, in libraries, stores and (increasingly) online.
Following the recent #PortfolioDay which saw Twitter feeds flooded with illustrations from artists of all backgrounds and styles, we were inspired to take a moment this issue to put illustrators in the spotlight. For this special feature we have rounded up two of our favourite children’s illustrators, Molly McCammon and Bethany Christou, to hear more about the work that they do and the creative process behind their art.
Molly McCammon, Writer and Illustrator
Molly McCammon is an exciting new name in the world of children’s book illustration. Originally from Dundee in Scotland, she is currently living and working in Cambridge while she completes an MA in Children’s Book Illustration.
Working mostly with scribbly coloured pencil and acrylic paint, Molly has curated a distinct style of illustration that truly springs to life in her portfolio. Molly began her journey as an illustrator fittingly in her childhood, entering drawing competitions before she had even begun primary school. Now at the age of twenty-three, Molly has written and illustrated her own children’s picture book, My Grandad. Here she explores the mind of a child wondering about his grandfather’s hijinks while they are apart. In doing so, she brilliantly showcases a child’s vivacious imagination, wondering if his grandfather is visiting the zoo with khaki-coloured crocodiles and bespectacled giraffes, or lounging in a bath filled with pink bubbles. Her collage work peeks through in the book with newspaper clippings artfully deployed throughout, reminiscent of the Clarice Bean children’s series (1999), illustrated by Lauren Child.
Molly’s use of colour is fascinating, working with a warm, vibrant yet understated palette. Her human subjects span various races and age-ranges, a dedication to inclusivity that will ensure her work has longevity and serves children from all walks of life. She cites Beatrice Alegmagna, Brian Wildsmith and Wolf Erlbruch as some of her icons, and Erlbruch’s wonderful Death, Duck and The Tulip as one of her favourite children’s.
Molly’s aspirations for her career? A collection of her picture books in Waterstones or Heffers would be a dream. But even more so, she simply wants to see parents and children with her books in hand. The quality and ingenuity of her work suggests this milestone surely isn’t too far away.
Bethany Christou, Writer and Illustrator of Nervous Nigel (Templar Books)
Bethany Christou is the Hertfordshire-based illustrator of the children’s picture books Slow Samson, The Blue Beyond and Nervous Nigel.
Nervous Nigel is the heartwarming tale of a crocodile called Nigel who is nervous about his first big race and the expectations of his family, a long line of champion swimmers. The beautifully illustrated story provides a valuable lesson about how to manage fears and expectations and the importance of doing what you love, even if it means carving out your own path, a moral that is comforting for adults and children alike. The story is interspersed with moments of light humour along with a very special appearance from a wise frog who has some good advice for Nigel. Bethany Christou’s unique ability for conveying emotion through her art is clear; when Nigel is nervous the compositions become darker and are clouded by erratic scribbles, but when he is at his happiest Christou incorporates warm tones of orange and yellow to invoke a lighter feeling and utilises the joyful facial expressions of her characters to make for some delightful end pages as Nigel’s story raches its happy ending.
Bethany Christou recently spoke with the children’s team about the creative process behind the illustrations for Nervous Nigel and explained how the intricately detailed compositions were created for the book:
‘‘The illustrations in Nervous Nigel were created with a mix of gouache paint, coloured pencils, digital painting and manipulation in Photoshop.
Almost every component of every illustration was painted and drawn separately on paper (e.g. a character’s limbs, facial features, blades of grass). I filled a total of thirty-seven sheets of A4 paper with all of these separate parts.
With the sheets scanned into my computer I put together the compositions in Photoshop. I liken this part of the process to making a scene with Fuzzy-Felt — dragging different pieces into place and layering them on top of each other. I was essentially doing the same thing digitally, only I tried to make it all look seamless. I enjoyed the flexibility I had working in this way. When I was asked to make edits to the artwork it was very easy to do, with every little detail on a separate layer.”