At the end of June I went to the Macmillan prize 2023 awards event. My picture book WADE was one of 20 highly commended entries, chosen from over 260 submissions. It was a great evening to be surrounded by such wonderful art and a group of people so passionate about children’s books and illustration.
As I start to get into the weeds of my next book, I thought I’d take a moment to look back at the development of Wade and show you some of the initial sketches and how they turned out.
The original idea for Wade came from a sketch of a lonely giant I made as part of the Good Ship Illustration picture book course. I thought how sad it would be to not be able to enjoy the pool with your friends, and in contrast, how small anyone would feel swimming in the vast expanse of the ocean. I included the rain for extra sadness and toyed with the idea of giving him a tiny, useless umbrella.
The plot went through quite a few iterations. Wade originally had a brother and the story was more about the brother than Wade. I tried out different ages for the main character and at one point they went to the beach and built a life-size castle from sand that everyone could play in.
Slowly, the final story revealed itself and I was able to switch to full immersive illustration mode and cut down the word count severely as more of the action and emotion was translated into images.
An important thing I learnt making this book is that some of the exploratory silly little initial sketches will capture something essential to the story and they were impossible to recreate at full scale so that their impact remained. In the end I had to blow them up and do a lot of cleaning and tweaking to make them usable but keep their unique magic. A lot of times I’d scribble something as a placeholder, thinking that I’d redraw it later so I didn’t need to be too exact. But then I needed to use that tiny sketch and it was very difficult sometimes. In future I’ll try and keep in mind that everything / anything could make it through to final.
While some parts changed frequently and extremely, there were elements that stayed almost identical from first concept to final. These were the anchor points as the story developed and, I think, ended up as the strongest elements. The cover was one of those anchor points and was the image the Macmillan prize judges chose to exhibit:
The original lonely giant sketch didn’t make it into the book but the idea of swimming in the vast ocean, feeling small, developed from this thumbnail:
into this dramatic sequence:
The final art is a mixture of watercolour and other scanned lines / textures and digital details. The whole feeling of an illustration can change just from a tweak to an eyebrow shape or mouth position and I like to experiment digitally until I get just the right mood.