A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a week long Children's Book Illustration summer school in Cambridge. A week away all by myself to be nothing but creative!
The aim of the week wasn't to perfect illustration technique, but to create a dummy picture book that we presented to tutors and peers at the final crit (the ultimate 'storytime'). This would be a starting point for us to go away and create a finished book.
It was an international affair with fellow students travelling from as far as Japan and Brazil just for the course (made my trip down the A1 seem a bit tame).
The week was a whirlwind as we were guided at speed through the process of creating a character, storyboarding and creating final roughs of our own story. This is something that would usually take months and was intensely challenging at times. Tutition was via one-to-one tutorials and created confidence-shattering lows when (inextricable) problems were exposed, and yippee-inducing highs as I found visual and narrative solutions and things fell into place. The pace of progress was at times breathtaking and all 58 of us who attended came away with a very different story to the one we arrived with, and a totally new understanding of what makes a picturebook work.
The course was run by Pam Smy of Anglia Ruskin, who was ably assisted by Marta Altes (Author/illustrator of 'The King Cat', 'No!', 'My New Home' and 'My Grandpa'), Birgitta Sif ('Oliver' and 'Frances Dean'), Ness Wood (book designer who has worked with the greats) plus Dave Barrow and Natalie Eldred who are current MA students. Their feedback was always insightful (and often cut deep!) and usually contradictory, leaving us, ultimately, to choose our own path.
In addition to studio time, we were treated to lectures on different aspects of picture book production by the tutors and also a guest speech by Chris Haughton ('Oh No! George', 'A Bit Lost' and 'Shh! We Have a Plan').
Did I see much of Cambridge? Nope - barely left the campus!
All in all the week was intellectually exhausting, but incredibly rewarding. The range of stories (from the silly to incredibly profound) was fascinating and the inspiration from fellow students can't be underestimated.
And I shall never look at a 'simple' picture book in the same way again!
(Wondering what my book was about? Ha ha, watch this space! One of the things we learned was not to give away our stories on social media ;))