Illustrator Jarvis & Author Steven Butler
Q: Steven, how did the pairing come about? Did you see Jarvis’ work – or were you introduced to each other by Penguin?
S : I was first introduced to Jarvis’ work by my editor at Puffin. When I wrote Odd Bods, we spent a lot of time looking for illustrators that could capture the mischief of the piece, and Jarvis was the perfect choice.
Q: What inspired the story?
S: Odd Bods is my homage to the BRILLIANT Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies. I wanted to write a rhyming piece about the fact that we’re all a little bit strange and different, and that’s a fine thing to be. To me, “normal” is the saddest word in the English language.
Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies — a slightly more macabre alphabet book to say the least!
Q: Jarvis, when you read the story, was it easy to visualise the illustrations? How do you go about composing a picture?
J : The first thing about the story which attracted me was the original title ‘Strange children’. I knew it was going to be up my street from that title (I love odd bods too!). What popped into my head was a mixture of ‘Bash Street Kids’ and ‘The Addams Family’.
The Bash Street Kids, courtesy of The Beano comic & The Addams Family from the original motion picture.
It was probably the most ‘open’ story I have worked on. For instance the first spread ‘Ava is an odd bod, Boris is too’, could be taken in so many different ways visually by 100 different illustrators. But I was put at ease by Steven and Keren at Penguin who encouraged me to bring a bit of myself to it. I just sat down with the text and the first things I scribbled stuck, which is great when it happens. The girl with lots of birds in her hair was the first image that came to mind.
Q: How was the idea developed? Steven, did you have an idea of how you wanted the artwork to look?
S: I wasn’t really sure how I wanted the book to look. It wasn’t until Jarvis drew some fantastic sample art that it all clicked into place. I loved his wonderful use of vivid colours. It gave the text an extra streak of comedy and loudness.
Q: What is your creative process?
S: I really don’t have one. I find plotting and planning a book very restrictive, so I tend to sit down, find a good first line and see where it takes me. All of my books have been written in this way. I might have an idea of how I’m going to end a story, but I have no idea how I’m going to arrive there until I do. For me, it’s the best way of really flexing my creativity.
J: For Odd bods my process was that I read it, sketched out some parts really quickly. Then I went through my sketches and circled any doodles I liked — then from these I built up the sketched roughs. I was lucky in this book that there were barely any deviations from the sketches I made and so I just went on to the colour versions.
For the colour I use the sketches as a guide, but give myself freedom to change something. The way I created the illustrations is by layering up painted bits of paper which is a technique I am fond of. It gives you some nice unexpected textures and keeps a sketchy handmade feel, which for me gives an image vibrancy and movement. Also the thing I like about doodling is that, just by chance, a slightly wonky line can make an image can look great. And so I like to keep the sense of ‘chance’ and ‘luck’ in the colouring stage. So I will use cut out paper, pencil, chalk, ink and paint and hope for some happy accidents.
‘Colouring in’ is forever something I wrestle with. But for this book I threw the palette at it. It’s a unusual book in that each spread could be totally different, different characters in a different setting, but this meant I could experiment with colour variations.
Q: Lastly, what’s up next for you – could there be future collaborations?!
S: I’ve already written two new picture books for Puffin, and we’re in the very early stages of deciding what to do with them. Making books is a very slow process. However, I’d leap at the chance to work with Jarvis again. I’m completely thrilled with the way Odd Bods turned out, and I’d love to create more funny, colourful books with him.
J: Well I do hope I can work on another Butler book, Odd Bods is hilarious, disgusting, thought provoking and completely different to anything I have done before. But it’s all up to the powers that be. If it doesn’t happen I am very proud to have illustrated his first picture book.
As for me I have just finished a new self authored picture book called Mrs Mole I’m Home! and am currently illustrating a Christmas themed book, both to be published next year.
We are very excited to be holding a story time Sunday event based on Jarvis and Steven’s Odd Bods on Sunday 24th July! The event will be free and run by Gallery team, Harriet and Lucy… Move over Dick and Dom! You can book your place here.
Not one to be missed, we look forward to seeing you!