I caught up with fellow Falmouth graduate and rising picture book artist, Emma Yarlett, about her gorgeous new picture book Sidney Stella and the Moon.
What’s it like having your own picture book out there and so soon after graduating?
Such a whirlwind! I had always dreamed and hoped, but never expected that dream to become a reality so soon! For me it feels as though it has been quite a long process, as I began working on the beginning stages of this project way back in 2010, but it’s incredible to see how far the book has come especially since Templar took me on board!
Sidney, Stella and the Moon is your first picture book – can you tell us a bit about the whole process from start to finish? (Sorry – I know this is a pretty BIG question!)
This is a super big question! Hmmm… where to start. I guess like Julie Andrews says “I will start at the very beginning!!” I hope you are sitting very comfortably, might be worth getting a cup of tea and a biscuit!
When I started my BA (Hons) in illustration at Falmouth University, I knew that it was going to take a lot of hard work to reach the *ultimate* final destination of becoming a professional illustrator. So right away I knuckled down to work, illustrating my socks off and pushing my work as hard as I could. It also meant that I began straightaway promoting myself (sending out postcards to publishers and agents) and furthering professional relationships with contacts within the industry by piggy backing on meetings set up by Falmouth University with publishers as a part of the course. This landed me with a whole host of contacts of whom I sent newsletters to, internships at both a publisher and agent in my first and second year, and a commission from a small publisher at the send of my second year.
In third year I really knew that children’s illustration, specifically picture books, was the thing for me… so I focused much of my time on this area of the industry. I organised for myself, along with a couple of friends on the course, to go to the Bologna Book Fair in Italy at Easter. I also set up a number of meetings with various agents, and emailed ahead to publishers to let them know I was coming. This culminated in a number of prepared and spontaneous meetings with major players in the children’s book publishing industry (it was very scary!), and this was where I met Helen Boyle and Amanda Wood from Templar. And what a meeting it was! I was asked to meet them again at the London Book Fair a couple of weeks later, where I was offered my very first picture book deal! It was such an incredible moment that I will never ever forget!
It was also around this time I also entered the Macmillan Book Prize and was Highly Commended, which thrust me further into the sight of publishers. Competitions are such an amazing way to gain access into the industry, and if you are an illustration student gearing yourself up for children’s picture book industry, the Macmillan Prize is the one for you!
At the end of third year as a part of the Illustration course, I was invited to exhibit at both New Blood and New Designers in London and attend the private review. It was here when things really began to take off! From the back of this I had 2 and a half weeks of back to back meetings with publishers and agents in London, and was offered 6 book deals all for the same book! But I stuck with Templar and began the process of creating the book.
And what a process! Templar have been so fantastic throughout the duration. The book has changed dramatically in style, content, characters and storyline… and weirdly, all of the changes were mostly initiated by me! I wanted this book to be a real showcase of my own personal illustrational ‘flavour’ and so wanted to put my very best foot forward as I began my career. And hopefully (very, very hopefully) that’s what I’ve achieved- but I’ll let you be the judge of that!
Since you are both author and illustrator, did you have complete freedom over the text and look of the book, or did you work closely with an editor/have to make changes (perhaps ones you weren’t too keen on) for publication?
Unexpectedly, I did have a great deal of freedom and say in the way in which it was written and illustrated! It was great! I worked very closely with both my editor and art director, but we have such a great working relationship that it more like working with friends than a publisher. So absolutely no nasty changes at all- hooray!
How did you come up with the story of Sidney, Stella and the Moon /your picture book ideas?
Originally this book was a completely different one about a man called ‘Cecil’ and his deep-rooted fear of his own shadow. Over a great deal of time, and with a great deal of input from various publishers, lecturers, friends and family, the book slowly adapted and changed as I sifted through the different stages to work out which ideas were the key ones that needed to stay, and which ones were a bit naff.
However, since Sidney, Stella and the Moon I have worked on a couple of collaborative picture books, and have also just began work on my second authored and illustrated book with Templar (eeeee!!), and the processes for these have been much more straightforward.
I generally start with an idea and quickly write and sketch it out on a piece of paper, and then leave it for a couple of months (I’ve got quite a lot of these bits of paper- and am often loosing them… oops!). When the idea resurfaces, I have a chat about it with my publisher and they decided whether it’s got the legs for a good book or not! If it hasn’t I’m a bit miffed and put it away to have a rethink or to slowly mould away into the atmosphere. If it has I begin character development in sketchbooks, which then waltz themselves across on to massive pieces of paper where I draw them over and over and over and over again. From here I begin to imagine the whole book in my head, and work out what scenes, interiors and atmosphere I’m looking to create. I then draw like an illustration ninja! And from there, through samples, thinning, trials, a bit more thinking…. everything slowly begins to come together until I am ready to take the first scary step into the world of final book artwork!
Picture book ideas just tend to hit me at the most random times- usually when I am not supposed to be working! I find that when I look for an idea, the ideas usually aren’t so good, it’s when an idea just appears that I’m usually on to a winner!
What came to you first – the text or the illustrations?
They always some at the exact same time! I’ll be writing down the idea and drawing a little arrow and a little picture straightaway. It’s very much an inseparable process for me.
Can you tell us about your creative process? What media you work in, how you create an artwork, design a page spread etc.
Each page usually starts up being drawn super tiny, and I have to scan it into my computer and make it a lot bigger and then print it out. From there I will draw at full scaled, jiggle things around a lot and scan back in to the computer to get everything all looking the way I want it too. I’m very much a designer as well as an illustrator, and so will always be bearing in mind the typography and layout of the book right from the outset- as well as the relationship from page to page, the pace and flow, of the whole book. I always try to take the reader on a very well thought out and organised journey through my imagination!
The media that I work in, and the way in which I create the artwork differs from page to page depending on what the artwork is, and what I am trying to achieve. It’s all traditionally done, and then whizzed through Photoshop. I wouldn’t know where to start with digital illustration, which is funny, because some people think it’s made digitally!
Why picture books? (Instead of any other area of illustration)
They’re just a part of my heart and soul. I love them! They frustrate me so, so, so much sometimes, but if I couldn’t create picture books… it would feel as though I had lost a part of myself. I love creating illustrations for all areas of the industry, but it’s picture books that are my thing.
Any other projects already on the go?
I’ve done lots of bits and bobs- some card designs for Hallmark, a book prize animation for Waterstones, an educational play with Julia Donaldson, some branding work, food packaging…. lots and lots of different things! But the main things I have done, other than Sidney, Stella and the Moon, are two collaborative picture books, one with Little Tiger Press (written by Steve Smallman), and one with Random House (written by Christopher MacGregor). I have literally just finished the latter, and it has gone off for a sample print! Cannot wait to see it! It’s going to be such an exciting book- the foreword is written by Prince Charles!
But the project I am working on now is my second authored and illustrated picture book with Templar. I have so many ideas for it I feel as though I am about to burst!
Any advice for aspiring picture book illustrators?
Be intentional from the word go. Make time to relax and enjoy life and everything in it. Illustration is great, but it isn’t everything! So many illustrators work such crazy hours, and I think it’s so important to have a healthy lifestyle of work and play!
Any illustrators you admire/love/aspire to?
I absolutely love fellow Templar illustrator Owen Davey’s work, I cannot wait for his new book to come out in September. The last book I bought was by (another fellow Templar illustrator!) Jonny Duddle; ‘The King of Space.’ And it is just so beautifully illustrated- I love how cinematic it is! It’s very inspiring. I also love the work of David Roberts, he’s got such a cool, quirky and fashion-orientated vibe that I am absolutely loving!