EVENTS Wonderful Words, Powerful Pictures

It’s taken me ages to call myself a writer and I am most definitely not an illustrator. But I couldn’t have been more delighted to go to Picture Book Illustrator Dave Gray’s event ‘Wonderful Words, Powerful Pictures’ at the impressive Dunfermline Carnegie Library in June, writes Hazel Knox.

I write picture books and I am constantly thinking about pictures. What should be told with words and what would be better served with illustrations? How much story is too much story to draw in one spread? The never ending debate over illustration notes... So I was excited to learn about the making of picture books from ‘the other side.’

Dave Gray’s workshop was relaxed, informative and gave us plenty of food for thought. It was also a great chance to catch up with fellow Scoobies and spend time with people who get as excited about picture books as I do. Thank you Dave for your time and expertise and to our wonderful South East Scotland SCBWI Network Organisers for making it happen.

Dave Gray demonstrating. Picture credit: Sarah Broadley.

My takeaways from the day

Dave talked about Kurt Vonnegut’s Shapes of Stories - graphical representations of the main character’s good and ill fortune as the story progresses. If a story isn’t working Dave will refer back to the shapes and ‘tweak to fit.’ I’d recommend looking them up, it was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me.

Dave's rapt audience! Picture credit: Sarah Broadley.
As picture book writers we put a lot of energy into paring back the words to the essential and it was fascinating to hear Dave talk about doing the same with pictures. He spoke about looking for the basic shapes that make up objects and using them as a guide to drawing. Creating clear strong silhouettes and carefully considering what’s necessary in a background. Dave had us draw a bird using simple shapes. Mine might have been the best thing I’ve ever drawn.

How on earth do you choose what illustrations to use to tell the story? Dave referred us to Quentin Blake describing picking the moment before the event to illustrate, so your brain fills in the rest. Something Dave does with great sensitivity in Benny’s Hat.

Dave illustrated Benny’s Hat written by SCBWI’s Juliet Clare Bell. It is a gentle but heartbreaking story about the loss of a child to illness, told from a sibling’s point of view. He read us the book and talked about the process behind the illustrations.

Eventually I gave up trying to surreptitiously wipe away my tears and just had a good cry. It reminded me just how powerful the right words with the right pictures can be. And that I should keep tissues in my bag.

* Featured image: Sarah Broadley


Hazel Knox is a picture book writer, children’s occupational therapist and mum to two small people. Originally from the north coast of Scotland, she now lives in Edinburgh. She is happiest outdoors and regularly makes for the hills.


Fran Price is Events Editor for Words and Pictures. If you'd like to tell her about a SCBWI event, do contact her at

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