Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Sniffing Sketch Books. . .

Sniffing picture books is all well and good.. but if you really want to get into the inner sanctum of  an author / illustrators mind you need to delve into the pages of their sketch book. 
There is something magical about opening a book and not knowing what to expect with each turn of the page, thought processes, feelings, ideas, glimmers of characters yet to be given a life of their own…un-edited wonderfulness in all it’s scribbly glory. A rare treat and privilege and one that should be relished page by gloriously random page.

This Christmas I was lucky enough to receive a copy of The First In Line by Mattias Adolfsson

Unfortunately and oddly published sketch books are few and far between but it must be said this one is outstanding, a thick postcard format book printed on droolsomely thick grainy paper just like a real sketchbook.

The opening text aptly reads …

“Your work amazes me to the point where I want to drop kick anyone in the face who doesn’t sketch”

Each page faithfully recreated  from one of Mattias’s sketch books spread after glorious spread will make your heart splitter and splutter with wonder.

Interspersed with small smattering  of interviews the pages of this book brim with unusual imagined worlds, strange characters  bursting to come alive in books of their own, landscapes, comic strips, observations and  so SO much more. 

This book will be flicked through many many many times and every time something new noticed, admired  and appreciated.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough – tis a treasure in all respects. A book of the finest vintage to be sniffed and relished.
Here are some tiny peeks into some of the sketch books I have been lucky to stick my snout inside of late …and I can tell you I thank my lucky stars that I have been lucky enough to do so!
Clara Vulliamy, Champagne and a handful of sketch books - BLISS
Chris Mould - Robot Master and sketch book King!
A brief peep into the mind of Mould!

Here I am nestled inside one belonging to Dame Lauren Child!
Cor Clarice Bean's 'Uncle Hunkle' smells delish!

TREASURES! every one!... we'll be featuring a sketchbook gallery on the Book Sniffer blog and Facebook page next year so please let us know if you are interested in being featured - please email

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas - With Bells on!

The Pugs Christmas Day Speech
As one sits here aside the crackling fire in my brand new slippers and cravat  it’s hard to believe that almost a year has past since I first put puggish paw to keyboard to share my love of the picture books with my fellow Book Sniffers.

Twas spring this year, the baby birds were a-tumbling from their nests, Daffodils poked their yellow bonnets from underneath nestling lambs and it was at that joyful sunshine filled moment that I thought I might like to share my most humble opinions and penchant  for sniffing the finest of fine picture books with the world.

I simply could not have imagined then what a wonderful fun filled year we had in store!

We’ve had all manner of  Fantabulous authors and illustrators pop by to say hello!
Always a pleasure to welcome them to the tower especially if they bring biscuits or other tasty treats! You may like to relive some special moments with the likes of Chris Mould, Andy Stanton, Steven Lenton,Alex T Smith (and his dogs!) James Mayhew, Cassia Thomas, Chris Haughton, LydiaMonks, Sarah McIntyre, Leigh Hodgkinson, Levi Pinfold and Neal Layton.  What a bunch of thoroughly nice ladies and gents!  We’ve also had the occasional unexpected take-over from the likes of one fame hungry peacock Limelight Larry!
Me with the REAL Shaun Tan!
 We’ve had more mutts than you could shake a stick at sent to us for Doggy Doodle Friday (concept © Chris Mould – RIP Gwynne "Top Dog") we’ve loved every single one!
And there have been a few …from the crème de la crème of the illustrative world including mutt lovers Cassia Thomas, Chris Mould, Holly Surplice, Paul Stickland, Vicki Gausden, AlexT Smith, Nicky O’Byrne, Mark Chambers, Steve Lenton , Eric Barclay, Polly Dunbar,  and Emily Gravett Amongst many many others which you can see here.
We also had a brief dalliance with Monkey Monday which was bonkers a as basket of bananas!

Couldn’t possibly choose any favourites from our Doggy Doodle Gallery but here are a few corkers to whet your appetite.
By super tasty Chris Mould
From cool cat about town - Alex T Smith
By nicer than a slice of apple pie Alison Murray
Almost as exciting as em’bark’ing on a brand new blog we thought we’d catch up with the masses via Facebook – What a smashing bunch of sniffers we have on there! It’s been lovely getting to know you and hearing all of your recommendations for new books to sniff. Let’s see if we can make acquaintance with 1000 Sniffers by our 1st Birthday.

Highlights of the year a sparkling night of wonderment and wine at the Polly Dunbar exhibition organised by Children’s Illustration at Daunt Books – A true night to remember,

Friday doodles from Sir David Melling ...

And getting our very first (and hopefully not last) quote on the back of the delightful Giles Paley-Phillips new picture book The Fearsome Beastie, A very proud day indeed.

Thank you to all you smashing Sniffers out there and CHEERS to even more fun in 2012!

Publisher Name Check with thanks for sending me your wares – Maverick. Simon and Schuster, Penguin. Harper Collins, Lion Children’s Books, Walker. THANK YOU

HUGE licks and thanks to all of the authors and Illustrators who have kindly sent books and other wondrous items to Books Sniffer towers  - Including…Giles Paley Phillips, Steven Lenton, Alex T Smith, Chris Mould, DavidMelling, Kitty Dinners, Nikalas Catlow, Emma Dodd, James Mayhew, Andy Stanton, Catherine Rayner, Holly Surplice, Paul Thurlby, lovely Lydia Monks  and Ben Rothery

Next Year ….More competitions, piles of book reviews, new author and illustrator guest spots, Please get in touch if you would like to be featured.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Picture Books Which Changed the World ...The Snowman

Number 5: THE SNOWMAN by Raymond Briggs

Ah, there you are book sniffers come on in and pull up a pouf by the fire side.

I have dilly dallied for quite long enough and have finally donned the cosiest of elfin slippers, bells included of course (yes they do come in pug size!) and I find that getting the attention of the *pun alert* bone idle Cat is ever so much easier when you have tantalising bells upon your toes!

Nursed lovingly in front of me (aside from a large schooner of sherry) is a slightly *pun alert* dog eared copy of one of my all time favourites. In fact, if I cast my mind back I’m almost certain this particular gem was a gift from good old Father Christmas himself.

It is none other than the legendary and unforgettable The Snowman, penned and imagined by the genius that is Raymond Briggs.

The Snowman, published by Puffin, is a simple wordless-wondrous-winter tale about the relationship between a young boy James and the snowman he builds one wintry day.

James awakes at midnight and goes to his bedroom window to admire on his creation, only to discover that the Snowman has magically come to life. When the two meet, an enchanting friendship begins and sparks a fantastic and utterly believable tale of discovery and adventure. Interestingly considering it's status as an absolute Christmas essential, the book contains no references to Christmas itself not even a Christmas tree.

Briggs was born in 1934 and had an impressive art school education behind him before he began writing and illustrating. With many notable children's books now under his belt he has become a force to be reckoned with. He created The Snowman in 1978 in his now instantly identifiable pencil crayon style and it has arguably become one of the most famous of yuletide picture books of all time, having captured the imagination of millions of children the world over. Other notable publications include Father Christmas and the delightfully gruesome Fungus The Bogeyman.

The Snowman was produced as an animated film in 1982 and is now perhaps more widely known than the book itself. Those of you old enough to appreciate high culture may even remember a rather special cameo appearance by The legend that is David Bowie - 

The animated feature differs from the book in that James and the Snowman travel to the to the north pole to meet a rather rotund and jolly Farther Christmas just in time for a magical snowman party with snowy people from all over the world. The ending is what must be one of the biggest tear jerkers in children's literature however I firmly choose to believe that The Snowman, far from melting away in fact went back to the party to help Father Christmas with the washing up! The jury is out on that one.

Now I've taken a cautionary peep beyond the curtain and I am delighted to say that we have been blessed with snow for the oncoming festive season. So coiffure your David Bowie quiff, wrap up in your Christmas scarf and get your wellies on – there's fun to be had out there, and who knows , maybe you'll make a special snowman too.

Merry Christmas Book Sniffers! - Look out for the Pugs *queens* Speech coming soon!

Images (c) Raymond Briggs

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Introducing Mr Steve Lenton - Illustrator, animator and Christmas magic maker!

The nights are drawing in, the puffed up Robin in the garden gorges itself on the meaty delights of the 'lard ball', aunties have started panic buying Lindor chocolate balls in bulk and at last the Christmas Coca Cola advert is on television ..every 2.5 minutes. It MUST be almost Christmas!

In a last ditch bid to escape the frenzy of Christmas shopping and visiting relatives I have managed to avoid all year I have battened the hatches on  Book Sniffer Towers in an attempt to create the wondrous yule tide of yesteryear.
Mouse and I have been sitting aside the newly bedecked tree threading popcorn and cranberries onto strings, licking and sticking brightly coloured paper chains and topping up the rum in the rapidly emptying bottle of pre-mixed Snowball cocktail.

This evening we are to don our very best Christmas jumpers because we have a very special guest! Yes indeedy super-suave Steve Lenton is popping by for a sweet sherry and a biscuit!
I first became a fan of Lentons Charming retro style illustrations whilst perusing gifts on
Not usually a fan of fungus I found my heart was stolen away by his festive toadstools, which are simply sublime and from then on I have followed his career with eager anticipation

HARK! who's that ringing on the doorbell? Is it the WI door-to-door carol singers cadging for free mince pies ? NO it's the delectable Steve Lenton with an armful of his wonderful 2DScrumptious goodies!
Looks mighty chilly out there come one in and warm your cockles by the fire side...would you like a small sweet sherry?

Dreaming of a White Christmas..
. *tops up scooner with more sweet sherry*

So Steven tell us how you first got into the Children's publishing industry and how you have found working with two such dynamic and visionary publishers (namely Nosy Crow and Little Tiger Press)
(Feel free to let us know which held the best Christmas party! wink wink...)

Thanks for inviting me here Mr Sniffer! Might I say you are looking particularly dashing in your festive knit! *Sniffer blush alert*

 I’m really thrilled about my book projects. With Nosy Crow I am designing a really funny picture book written by Tracey Corderoy entitled ‘Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam’. This book is FULL of dogs and CRAMMED with cakes – you’re going to love it!

llustration copyright Steven Lenton 2011
From Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam, written by Tracey Corderoy, to be published by Nosy Crow 2013

 With Little Tiger I am creating some fun, vibrant board books featuring some charmingly perky penguins. These books are a first for Little Tiger because they contain foil and embossed elements, which has been a fun and interesting design process!

Five Christmas Penguins © Steven Lenton, published by Little Tiger Press, London, 2012
I’m really excited and very lucky to have deals with such fantastic publishers and I can’t wait for them to be in the shops next year!

You were recently shortlisted for the Waterstone's Picture This competition with your illustrations for Beauty and the Beast (also shortlisted Book Sniffer Pal - Matt Robertson!) Was it an enjoyable experience? DO you think you'd like to illustrate a collection of fairy tales in the future?

The Waterstones competition was the first one I have ever entered so I was over the Alfie moon to be shortlisted. It was a fun and important experience for me as it encouraged us all to think of the overall design of a book within a very short time. I loved designing the Beast character and sketching all the 32 pages was a joy. It would be a dream atop a dream to illustrate a Fairytale story or collection. I would love to design some really weird and wonderful classical characters!

Katie Price eat your heart out!

(c) Steven Lenton
Creating picture books must be a dream come true...what did you want to be when you were a child?

When I was little my dad always read me the large, beautifully illustrated hardback versions of all the classic children’s stories at bedtime.  From ‘The Faraway Tree’ to’ The Hobbit’ and ‘The Wizard of Oz’, I fell in love with the combination of fantastical stories and sumptuous illustrations.   I think it was from then on that I knew that I wanted to create my own stories and characters – to do something creative that involved drawing and design. I never fancied being a doctor or a fireman or anything else really!

Not that we need to highlight the fact that you are a multi talented chap but you are also an animator as well as an illustrator! ( with a BA and MA in Animation)
Do you approach your work differently if its going to move (i.e animation) rather than if it's static (i.e: illustration)?

 *Skratches chin and ponders unexpected interlectual question*
 Initially the two approaches are very similar – you start with pencil sketches, but then, as Pocahontas would say, you come to a fork in the river!  The animation side then goes down a strict route of working out the characters from each angle and testing how they would walk, run etc.  There is usually a large team involved in animated projects and you have lots of opinions flying round the room from creatives, producers and funders.  On the illustration side I am learning that although there are still certain confines and deadlines, the whole process is a bit looser and there are less rules to adhere to which I’m really enjoying.

 What would you say were the principle/keyelements to character design?

All characters vary but in general I think they all need;

Purpose - the look of the character must fit their role in the story and be capable of expressing the required emotions in the text/script.

Appeal – if it’s a pretty princess then make her really pretty, if it’s an ugly monster then make him really ugly! I’m not a big fan of heavy lines, big eyes or primary colours but it a certain character needed them then I would adapt my preferences accordingly.

Originality( I know, I know!) – be it in the palette, proportioning or the style of line.  Also be aware of what characters already exist and don’t design anything that’s too similar.

I believe a successful character design is one that encourages a range of emotion – be it love, fear, empathy or laughter, through both their aesthetic and the role they take within the story.
They must also be memorable, and with this in mind I think an excellent example of this would be Gonzo from the Muppets. 

Yes Gonzo looks silly and loves nothing more than being fired out of a cannon and flirting with his chickens (?!), but he also longs to be accepted and to feel part of a family – and more importantly we the audience want him to be accepted and loved too.  So for Gonzo, his funny looks and humour balanced with a heart-warming  back story create a classic, fun and loveable character.  I think this is true for all the main Muppet characters.  I love the Muppets can you tell? 

In the world of animation and illustration the humanizing of animals has always been important/significant. So; the humanizing of animals a difficult process. How do you approach anthropomorphic development?

 The first thing I think about when designing an anthropomorphic character is the level of anatomical accuracy they require.  For my greeting card dogs they are fairly true proportionally to their real life counterparts and are walking on all fours because that suits the style of the cards.  For ‘Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam’ though, they are more human like in their characterization and also then in their design – standing and running on two legs.   This makes them more fun, appealing  and identifiable for the reader (he says fingers crossed – it’s not out til next year!)

 How/why is it effective?
It’s endlessly fun to see dogs/cats and other animals acting like a human, and even funnier if they are *SPOILER ALERT* wearing chefs hats whilst whisking up cupcakes!

What do you think is the fascination behind it?    

Children (and adults) love to imagine inanimate objects and animals talking and acting like human beings.  Because it’s (probably) never going to happen in real life, watching or reading about animals that can talk and do things just like us is the only way we can witness such a spectacle!

 Your work has a very contemporary look. But what traditional forms or styles of art have had an influence.

 I was lucky at school and university to have great teachers that encouraged drawing, especially life-drawing, so early on I was interested and inspired by the experts of the human form – Michaelangelo, Maggi Hambling, Egon Scheile etc.  And once we all got over the fits of giggles in our first few life classes (our first ever model had a funny dressing gown/ flip-flop combination and her leg in plaster) I really enjoyed drawing the human form – its always a challenge. 

 I have been heavily influenced by traditional children’s illustrators too like Mercer Mayer, Quentin Blake and John Tenniel.  Also from my animation background I am always influenced by many of the traditional Disney animators and their concept art, Glen Keane for example is an absolute master.  Any form of art though, be it drawn, 3D or even a product design can inspire me – but the style needs to be appealing and charming to catch my eye!

 Do modern platforms/formats like the i-pad or electronic tablet/ interactive screen, etc, determine any of the ways in which you work?

Not as yet, but working with Nosy Crow and seeing how they have created such great interactive storybook apps has given me an urge to work on an animated book  - it would be lovely to be able to combine my animation skills with my illustration style…

Is your work produced electronically or traditionally or is it a process involving the two?

My design process begins with a 2B propelling pencil, from the character designs to the thumbnails, roughs and final layouts. 

 Then it’s STOP – SCANNER TIME! 

 I then use my original pencil work as a basis for the colouring and re-working of elements in Photoshop.  So it’s a nice combination of the two J

Can you recommend any good books for us to sniff out?

 I generally like a funny book but my favourite book this year (speaking of sniffing!) is called ‘Sniff!’ by Yocococo and isn’t funny at all – in fact it’s rather sad and beautiful.  I won’t spoil it for anyone who has yet to read this lovely story, but it involves a sausage dog with a slipper on its nose.

Have you spotted any illustrative talent you think we should investigate further?
I am about to start teaching a children’s illustration course in London and am hoping to spot some wonderful new talents there so I shall keep you posted!
Quick Fire Christmas Cannon!

Sherry or Snowball?
Small sherry then a large snowball. Then a port and lemon. I should really be friends with Emily from Coronation Street shouldn't I.

Mince pie or Christmas cake?
2 Mince Pies - warm with vanilla ice cream.

Best choc in a box of Quality Street ?
Do they still do the green triangle? If so then the toffee finger.

Best Christmas present you received as a child?
One year I really wanted a Teddy Ruxpin but I got a talking Wrinkles instead. I got over it eventually and grew to love it.

Tell us a joke fit for a really bad cracker...
I've always loved this one.
What is Santa's favourite Pizza? Anything Deep Pan, Crisp and even.

What's on your gift list to Santa?
Atop my gift list this year is the Charley Harper Illustrated Life book. And also a Paul Frank ipod dock - love Paul Frank stuff.

Worst Christmas present you ever received?
A hideous paper weight that I accidentally left at my parents!

Do you like sprouts?

Yes - I love helping mum cut the crosses into their little bases

Which  Fairytale Character would you be at a fancy dress party?

I would go as hmmm, maybe a prince, though that's a bit dull. Perhaps the little mermaids dad -Triton? In the broadway version of the little mermaid they all whizzed around on roller-boots with big shiny tails behind them - could be fun! Or Rumplestiltskin because it's such an amazing name. Rumple. He he.
Will you be buying your lovely dog Holly a present this year?
I will - this year she is getting a new collar and lead from Cath Kidston - but sssssh don't tell, or rather sign language it to her!

And here is a gratuitous shot of Steve's dog Holly in a Christmas jumper to rival my own!

Sweet as a sugar mouse!
Well what can I say - we thought Steven was a bit of a legend before he popped by to see us but NOW we know he's utterly and truly scrumptious - A proper shiney star atop a huge sparkly Christmas tree.

THANKS for popping by, don't forget your hat and gloves and come and see us again in the new year...

Steve ...Steve ... you've forgotten the paper weight we gave you!!!!!!!!!....come back!