Creative Typography in Children's Books

With Gillian McClure and Lisa Kirkham

Lisa and Gillian showing a spread from Gillian's next book.

It is always nice to see everyone stream up the steps into the large room at St George’s through the Little Russell Street entry we’ve now become accustomed to. The huge blocks of carved lintels laying
across the courtyard just gives it more ambience. This time it was a smaller group than we’ve had though it didn’t make it any less intensive or exciting.

Gillian talking about text placement on spread from The Little White Sprite.

Gillian began by asking all of us where we were in our careers as children’s illustrators and writers, and then introduced herself as an author illustrator bringing three decades of picture book creation and publishing experience to the masterclass. Lisa Kirkham has an MA in Typography with a focus on typography for children’s literature. Both had an easy and inviting manner about them coupled with a shared passion for producing well designed children’s books in which text and image are beautifully integrated into the act of storytelling. Gillian felt that the typeface that Lisa had designed during her MA expressed in letterform her delicate rich illustrative style. That and Lisa as a designer forged their professional partnership.

Lisa showing how the text flow leads you from one page to the next in a triangular shape flowing from left to right.

Gillian and Lisa’s most important message is to consider text early, not as something added on late in the planning and creation process. Lisa and Gillian work together from the first roughs. Here are a few recommendations given at the workshop.
When deciding text placement, consider what is going on. Where you are in the story at that point. Blocks of text can give emotional intensity along with size and scale of the letterforms. Of course we are talking about the picture books as you will have blocks of text in older children’s books due to how much text there is. It is a good idea to try out various exercises in emphasis with your text using placement on the page, where the text is split and whether the image is used to split words or phrases much like a the use of a comma or full stop. Other ways text is split has to do with the form of a book, utilising the gutter and the page turn. Emphasis can also be effected by text or character size, weight (bold, regular, light), italic or not. Also, consider a thoughtful strategy, don't do things just because you can such as the use of too many typefaces. If the shock of using an unexpected typeface is used, why? Is it an important story element that adds to the experience of reading the picture book? Read your text out loud. How it sounds tells you something about how it needs to be treated in the image and on the page.

Lisa spoke about how working with text and image to a large extent is instinctual. I agree with her to a certain extent, but it also has a lot to do with developing an eye and ear for it. Developing an aesthetic to how a story is told at it’s best in the integration of text and image to a level that you are not aware of the expertise and skill that went into the making. Much like good writing. She left us with three important points to consider in every picture book; honour the content of the book; be aware and think about your audience; and read it aloud.
So many other things were discussed and shared including foreign rights and how that effects use of reversed text (white text) coloured text and handwritten texts.

Heather Kilgour, one of the attendees sharing her dummy for feedback.

Gillian had us do a couple of exercises that related directly to two of her upcoming books now in the planning stages. It was amazing to see how many different takes there were to the same text and the potential of using text as a story element.

The opening spread from The Little White Sprite written and illustrated by Gillian McClure.

Everyone had brought their own dummies to share and get feedback on during the last part of the masterclass. It was such a great opportunity not only to get feedback from Gillian and Lisa but how all of us pitched in with ideas and comments. This kind of creative hotbox is one of the earmarks, I think, of how giving illustrators at various stages of their careers are with each other. I also think this is an earmark of SCBWI as an organisation. To read more about Gillian and Lisa’s workflow and about Plaister Press, follow these links.

We even had a children's book editor in our midst! Listening and looking intently at one of the dummies presented.

We have three more Illustrator Masterclasses planned for this year, all promising to be as inspiring and informative as the last one. The Portfolio Intensive is the next one on the 25 June in London.

1 comment:

  1. Gillian McClure24 May 2011 at 19:06

    Thank you for your kind words, Anne-Marie. Lisa and I were very impressed by all the talent present - a truely SCBWI group!


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