A novel way to usher in the holidays, Christmas in a Book transforms into a cheerfully decorated tree that you can display on a desk, table, or mantle.
Our favourite superhero duck with the supersonic quack and his zebra sidekick are back with a tasty new adventure: Adventure Duck VS The Armadillo Army. Aleksei Bitskoff’s illustrations explode of the page in this quacking tale written by Steve Cole and published this month by Orchard Books.
To kick-off the Christmas season, we’ve gone behind-the-scenes of Fred Blunt’s new author illustrated picture book ‘Santa Claus vs The Easter Bunny’, published by Andersen Press. A fun, festive revenge tale — of the chocolatey kind — which pits the scheming Easter Bunny against the jovial, and completely unaware, Santa Claus with mounting hilarity.
Fred tells us about his creative process, how he created the two loveable characters at the heart of the tale, and how he builds humour into his artwork through fun narrative details.
‘Santa Claus Vs The Easter Bunny’ is a brilliantly fun, festive tale, what first sparked the idea for your story?
It was a simple drawing of the Easter Bunny picking up a milk bottle from his doorstep, with Santa saying hello to him next door. No idea why I drew it, but funnily enough that scene ended up being the opening spread of the book. After that the story told itself.
Can you tell us about how you created your artwork for ‘Santa Claus vs The Easter Bunny’? Does your creative process ever differ from book to book?
The art for this book was created digitally, by scanning in line work and coloured areas, arranging them over rough guides on screen. It’s a bit like creating a silk screen print, but on screen (monitor screen). It was quite a laborious process to be honest, but I wanted to get a hand drawn feel, but with the kind of zing you only get with digital colour. I try to approach each book differently, depending on the story, feel and characters. Some books are more line orientated, where this book was more about limited flat colour, and reduced line work — in the hope of a bright fun feel. I always try hard to keep the personality and spontaneity of the initial sketches, through to final artwork, no matter what approach I take.
What is your favourite spread in the book, and why?
I quite like the spread where Bunny is filling the Merry Manufacturing machines with warm liquid chocolate! It was fun drawing the ridiculous factory machines and challenging to create the night time atmosphere with the limited palette. Also, Bunny is so fun to draw when he is being wicked!
Comedy is a key component of a Fred Blunt book, how do you create humour in your artwork?
There are lots of ways of injecting humour, from little details that hopefully get noticed by the kids — like the chocolate coming out of the machine, looking like a dog poo! Also details that parents reading might enjoy, like having Sir Trevor McDonald make a cameo! But most of the humour comes from the interaction between the characters. I like to think of the characters as actors and they hopefully tell the story in a humorous way with their expressions and body language.
Santa Claus and The Easter Bunny are both well-known fictitious characters, how did you go about putting your own spin on them?
Fictitious! What do you mean? I’m not sure really . . . the very first Bunny I drew was wearing a roll neck sweater, which seemed right somehow. As the story developed he started wearing paisley smoking jackets and he would sit in 1960’s style egg chairs, for no other reason than it felt right. I also didn’t feel that he should be a normal bunny, so he became more of a bunny man for some reason. With Santa I wanted to make him the most roly-poly Santa imaginable and I think he could be a contender for most rotund Santa to feature in a picture book? In my head Santa talks like Brian Blessed, all over the top shouty exuberance, which becomes apparent in his body language and expressions. The Nordic pattern on the suit was an attempt to make him stand out from all the other Santas out there. The characters didn’t really change that much from the very first scribbles. I think first instincts can be the best ones.
What one piece of advice would you give to an aspiring picture book author / illustrator?
Be true to yourself. Tell stories that come from you — don’t try to make generic books that fit in, because ultimately they will be dull.
Fred brings ‘Santa Claus Vs The Easter Bunny’ to Seven Stories for a live-reading and drawing event
What are you currently working on? Can you tell us about your next upcoming title?
I’m poised, ready to start work on a picture book, written by a really great author — really exciting stuff, that I can’t mention for the moment. My next author illustrated book will be called Gnome and published by the amazing Andersen Press again. Oh, and I’m working on some animation development at the moment too, with my friend and collaborator Michelle Robinson, which fingers crossed will see the light of day at some point.
You can view more of Fred’s artwork here.
Get in touch with Fred’s agent Arabella.
Deck the halls, buff your baubles and whack another batch of mince pies in the oven because we have the most festive of Christmas treats for you! Presenting the MUST HAVE Christmas book of the year, How Winston Delivered Christmas by our very own Alex T Smith , published by Macmillan Children’s Books.
Laura Barrett creates the ultimate gift edition of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale, The Snow Queen
Wow! We are so impressed by Laura Barrett’s amazing pop-up version of Christian Andersen’s classic tale, The Snow Queen. It is a beautiful book which took a huge amount of skill to create so we asked Laura to tell us how the project came about and her approach to the work.
Check out Robyn’s rundown of the key ingredients for illustration success in this field:
Consider your audience and your buyer
As well as being perfect for the target market in both style and substance, the look and feel of the book must be appealing to the adult that is most likely to be purchasing the book. Think about the tastes and current trends that are likely to grab the attention of book buyers.
Accept constructive criticism from those in the know
The editorial and design team will have bags of experience and be directly in touch with sales people so have faith that their feedback will always be based on really valid market information. Even if changes can seem random at times, trust that the outcome will only improve sales of your book. For example, covers that are green sell less well than red covers! It’s a thing - I promise!
Be aware of global tastes with regard to facial features
It is worth having a selection of different eyes and noses up your sleeve (so to speak), and in your portfolio. Features can often be a sticking point as some looks work better in some markets than others. Design teams will often ask for options so it is worth being flexible.
Be mindful that your book might be sold across the globe and should appeal to all children and their families, whomever they are and wherever they are in the world.
For younger children, it’s great to be obvious, but for older audiences, don’t over-egg it! When we are surprised, we don’t always throw our hands up to our faces, or gasp when we are shocked, for example, so think about more natural reactions and gestures when creating character poses. Use friends as models to get expressions and limb positions just right.
Wherever there are characters, a children’s publisher is looking for a little bit of humour, so don’t be afraid to add extra detail or funny elements. Humour appeals to all children (while subtle comedy can lend a book all-important appeal for adults, too), and can really help make your artwork stand out from the crowd. It doesn’t have to include reference to bodily functions, although – to paraphrase the great Ade Edmondson of Bottom fame – a fart is always funny…
This is the terminology for any extra elements on books that add play value, so that’s anything from flaps and sliders to pull-tabs and pop-ups! Good design teams should always provide clear die-lines and briefing notes if these elements are part of the book you are working on, but it is worth becoming familiar with how these work. Spend an hour in a local bookshop in the board book section to familiarise yourself with moving parts, or buy a few novelty books from charity shops and take them apart!
Always ask the question
Don’t feel silly for asking your assigned designer lots of questions: they will be happy to answer anything and will be super-relieved that you asked instead of getting confused by something.
Make the best out of briefs
In my experience, a designer will always prefer to brief you in the way that best suits you. From the outset, do say if there is a particular way you like to work – or, if you are mid-project and struggling with the way it is being briefed, don’t feel afraid to ask for an alternative approach.
…Ask your agent
We are here for you: to support, advise, and help to develop your work – and to be your champion. If you need any assistance, would like some insider advice, or simply want us to ask a publisher something on your behalf, just let us know: that’s what we’re here for!