Egmont’s creative director Tiffany Leeson set an exciting task for participants of the session – to reinterpret a classic illustrated book. Nick Cross reports.

The art director’s brief is not a session that you just turn up to (OK, well I did, but we’ll get to the reasons for that later). Instead, several months of preparation were required for Tiffany and the illustrators involved. Here’s the timeline:

  • July – Fifteen lucky participants were sent a brief by Tiffany, outlining the picture book story to be illustrated and what she would be looking for in the finished illustration. These were areas such as character consistency, empathy, emotion and atmosphere.
  • August – The illustrators submitted rough drawings for two spreads of the book and an optional character sheet showing different poses.
  • September – Tiffany responded with her feedback on the submissions. Some illustrators had submitted a lot more than the required two spreads, but Tiffany was very gracious in providing feedback on everything that she was sent.
  • October – The illustrators incorporated the feedback and created two finished spreads to bring to the masterclass session at the House of Illustration on October 12th.

Although I was eligible to be one of the fifteen, I didn’t complete the brief. This was primarily a workload issue, as the timescale of the process coincided with work I was doing to get my own illustrated novel ready for submission to publishers. So that made me more of a spectator on the day, which actually gave me freedom to appreciate the artwork on display, without worrying about whether it was better than mine!

Photo by John Shelley

Tiffany began the session with a presentation about her role as Creative Director at Egmont, which is quite a wide-ranging brief. She manages 17 designers across 3 lists: picture books, fiction, and brands and licensing. On one slide, she showed us a weekly view of her totally crammed Outlook calendar, which was very familiar from my own day job in publishing! Tiffany also shared some fascinating stats about the UK children’s book market, which you can download for yourself from Egmont’s site.

Photo by John Shelley

Tiffany’s presentation continued with many useful tips for what illustrators need to consider. I hadn’t realised that eyes were such a big issue in picture books, but they were a topic that came up repeatedly during the session. The eyes of your characters carry a lot of the emotion of the story, so keep them large enough to be expressive (no dot eyes) and make sure the characters are looking at each other!

Tiffany finished with a discussion of timescales. Some writers and illustrators may complain about long publishing schedules, but Tiffany talked about the realities of trying to align editorial, design, sales, PR, marketing and production activities. Just printing and shipping a book can take up to three months, depending on where in the world that happens. Bookshop buyers may also be accessible only a few times a year, so publishers need to target those time slots.

Sketch by Trish Phillips

After the presentation came the bit everyone was nervously waiting for – the show and tell! Each illustrator had up to ten minutes with Tiffany to discuss their work, with the whole group watching. The range of styles on display was breathtaking, and it was a reminder of how many ways there are to illustrate the same story. I really felt for the people who had to go last, as they had to wait a long time! But Tiffany was very patient and generous in her critique.

Tiffany discusses Su Dore's finished artwork. Photo by John Shelley

Overall, it was a fascinating session, even for someone like me who hadn't done their homework! I think all of the participating illustrators got a huge amount from Tiffany's feedback, and I'm sure it will help lift their work to even greater heights in the future.


All photo credits: John Shelley

Nick Cross is Words & Pictures' Blog Network Editor. An Undiscovered Voices winner, he both writes and illustrates for children, and was honours winner of the SCBWI Magazine Merit Award for fiction.

Nick also blogs for Notes from the Slushpile. His most recent post sees him teaming up with his agent Heather Cashman, for an investigation of the value of comp titles.

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