Following the festivity of World Book Day earlier this month, it was timely to go behind the scenes of the magical new picture book The World Book Day Monster written by Adam & Charlotte Guillain. The book, from Egmont, is a celebration of stories, capturing all the excitement and imagination the day inspires as one young reader tries to find someone to share the magic of her favourite book with.
Artist, Ada Grey, shares how she created the dazzling artwork for the story and the important sources of inspiration and support she has drawn on throughout her illustration career.
The World Book Day Monster is a story full of imagination! How did you go about bringing it to life?
As soon as I got the manuscript, I knew this was going to be a super project! The Guillains have captured the whole World Book Day experience from both an adult’s and child’s perspective: deciding on your character, the mad dash, last-minute costume making and the experience of no one quite knowing who you are supposed to be! I’ve been through all of that, so the visuals were really familiar! The splash of fantasy allowed me to play a little too. A perfect mix!
Do you have a favourite spread?
I think I like the vignettes where Anna can’t stop reading because that’s me when I was a child - an absolute bookworm. That and the journey into monsterland spread; I love making up worlds. Oh, and the bookshop – I love bookshops!
Where do you find inspiration for your illustrations?
I love keeping up with what my contemporaries are doing, but I also love trawling second-hand bookshops for books from days gone by too. It can be easy to get sucked down the comparison sinkhole with social media, so it’s important to be aware of that and remember to please yourself in your work.
Were you artistic as a child? Where did all the creativity begin?
I’ve always loved drawing, although I don’t believe I was ever particularly talented. My Mum was a ceramics and textiles designer before she ran a small chain of bookshops in the North of England with my Dad. I grew up surrounded by books and painting, so I think I just put the two together. I’m empathic and that can shine through in the posture and expression of a character. If you don’t get that right, the emotion isn’t effective.
What were your favourite books as a child?
I love so many illustrators it’s really difficult to choose, but Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are is a seminal book for me, as was The Pirate’s Tale by Janet Aitchison and Jill McDonald. It was with these two books that I realised that drawing pictures was what I wanted to do as a job. I also grew up with John Burningham, Alice and Martin Provenson, Richard Scarry, Ronald Searle and the very naughty children from the Giles cartoons.
Where do you do your best creative work?
I’m extremely lucky to have a studio now where I work alongside other illustrators and designers. It’s been rewarding to my creative and mental wellbeing to be amongst other creatives! I also love holing up at home sometimes, doodling on the sofa, or sitting in bed all cosy. A change of scene like that can break a creative block.
Why, as an artist, is it important to have a creative community around you?
Illustration can be an isolating business at times, especially if you’re working from home on your own. Social media has improved communication between artists beyond measure (it didn’t exist when I first started!), and this - along with Bright’s social events - creates a really supportive network on an artistic, individual and business level. It really is lovely to see other artists doing well because we all know how incredibly hard you have to work to get there.
How has Bright made a difference to your career?
I remember my first meeting with Vicki – I was hit with a huge wave of enthusiasm that left me buzzing! Her positive energy is inspiring. She looked through my portfolio and advised that it was dated and I needed to come back when I’d reworked it. She was absolutely spot-on with all the advice she gave me! I went away inspired and raring to go, then came back with my new portfolio and off we went!
I’m now with Arabella Stein and she and Bright have put me in the right place, with the right people, at the right time. They know which projects and picture books my style would suit and I have gained experience in licensing projects too. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t joined Bright.
What aspect of your job do you enjoy the most?
I honestly like it all – it’s so absorbing and nothing else exists whilst I’m in that world. I love sketching the characters to life, inventing their worlds and adding the extra details that aren’t in the text. The “colouring in” is really satisfying too. It can be exhausting as the concentration can be intense, but fleshing those worlds out is immensely satisfying.
To view Ada’s portfolio, click here.