Saturday, 22 April 2017

I have long been a fan of Helen Hancock's deliciously vibrant painterly illustrations so when Ella Arrived in all her suave and sophisticated beauty I was, as you can imagine Agog.

"Ella Fitzgerald sang the blues and she sang them good. Ella and her fellas were on the way up! It seemed like nothing could stop her, until the biggest club in town refused to let her play… and all because of her colour. But when all hope seemed lost, little did Ella imagine that a Hollywood star would step in to help.
The inspiring, true story of how a remarkable friendship between Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe was born – and how they worked together to overcome prejudice and adversity."

Instantly transported back to a golden age of glamour and smooth ear melting Jazz I was drawn in to what I had assumed was a straight forward biographical story, this was more so much more. At times It's an at times desperate tale of a struggling Ella yet to reach the dizzying success she was destined to reach. Denied access to perform at numerous clubs and bars due to her ethnicity things were't looking hopeful for Ella and her band. 

Enter Marilyn Monroe perhaps the most iconic movie star of all time who as a friend and fan steps in to support Ella and in times of segregation and struggle and together helped bring Ella's music to the masses elevating her to her rightful position as The First Lady of Song. Winning many many awards along the way and treasuring the friendship that never wavered Ella and Marilyn proved you can achieve anything with good fiends there to support you. 

Ella Queen of Jazz published by Francis Lincoln takes centre stage in book shops across the country next week (Or now if you are reading this next week, there's a buy-it link on the right if you would like to grab a copy!) 


We were incredibly privileged to be able to welcome Helen and her stunning sketch books to the London branch of Book Sniffer Towers yesterday so here for your delectation and delight are a few tantalising photos from the time we spent ruffling through original artwork, sketches and pallet sheets from Ella Queen of Jazz...

Helen creates all her artwork in single pieces painted using rich gauche paints, these are then scanned or photographed, as you can see Helens passion and talent pours out on to the page in bucket loads and this is clear to see when you turn the pages of this lavish picture book.   

Follow Helen on Twitter @helenhancocks 
You can also visit her website and shop here 


You can watch our interview with Helen here... Ignore my double chin and focus of Helens gorgeous little face and all the cakes! 

Cakes Cakes Cakes Cakes.... 

And there's more... 
Helen recently spent 3 months in America where she sampled over 100 different cakes! she is now fastidiously illustrating each one! 

You'll find out which is her favourite in the Vlog... In celebration of Helen's passion for patisserie we treated ourselves to a huge plate of cupcakes and vanilla filled doughnuts... You're welcome. 

AS ALWAYS a HUGE Thank you to my side kick and partner in crime Mr Steven Lenton... Who happens to have a new website! 

Monday, 27 February 2017

LOT'S - A day in the life of illustrator Marc Martin

By Marc Martin
Published by Big Picture Press

We absolutely adore this unique whistle-stop exploration of the world! Hours were spent uncovering some of our wonderful worlds most magnificent and mind-boggling secrets. An inspiring read for the young and curious. An essential addition to every bookshelf be it home, school or library. An illustrative masterpiece created with unbridled passion and enthusiasm. 

to Book Sniffer Towers

A day in the life... 

A typical day for me involves a mix of computer work and hands-on illustration. I’ll spare you all my pre-morning coffee photos and get straight to the good stuff. The majority of the time I’ll ride to the studio (about 30 minutes away), but if it’s raining or if I’m feeling lazy, I might catch the train in. 
I find riding to and from work is a great way for me de-stress and enjoy the outdoors. Here’s a picture of the bridge I ride across most days. Don’t look down:

I share a studio space with about 15 other people. There’s a mix of photographers, designers, artists and writers all working from the space at various times. Our studio above a tyre shop:

This is my desk… you can tell I’ve been at my current studio about for about 7 years because, yes, there’s a lot of junk. It’s funny because at home I’m very neat and minimalist, but in the studio I’m pretty messy. 

Having a studio so close to the city means there’s plenty of food and drink options close by. I’ll usually grab a coffee (and try to resist getting a chocolate brownie) from our local cafe across the road before getting stuck into work:

While I’m sipping a coffee I’ll usually sit down and go through my emails. I like to try and get all my admin and emails sorted as early as possible so I’ve got the rest of the day to focus on illustration. Because I spend a lot of time at my desk, I’ve built myself a standing desk with a high stool so my back gets a bit of relief from being hunched over all day (commonly known as 'illustrators back’ amongst illustrators!) - this also gives me the option of sitting (often when I’m typing emails), or standing. I use the smaller desk on the right for computer work, and the larger desk on the left for illustration.

Some of the tools I use for illustrating - pencils, gouache, watercolours, hair dryer (for drying paint fast)!

One the best things about having a studio is being around people and feeling like you’re actually ‘at work'. During lunch I’ll usually sit down at the communal table and chat with other studio members. Looks like no one wants to talk to me today

One of the worst things about the studio - the communal fridge. BEWARE! A place where leftovers and bananas go to die

Back at my desk, if I ever need a little bit of inspiration, I might consult my poorly ordered library. Note, I definitely don’t use the Dewey decimal system

Most days are mix of illustration for larger projects or books, and maybe some smaller jobs on the side

The thing I love about being an illustrator is having the freedom to explore my ideas. It’s a rewarding profession that challenges me to keep progressing and find new ways to tell stories

With HUGE thanks to Marc for taking the time to help us with this post and to the kind folk at Big Picture Press (especially Antonia). 

Don't forget to pop over to Book Lover Jo for the next stop on the LOT'S blog tour : ) 

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO CALL MY CAT - guest blog with Simon Philip and Ella Bailey

I am beyond thrilled to be able to welcome the creators of one of my favourite new picture books to the Book Sniffer blog today. 
I Don't Know What to Call my Cat by Simon Philip and Ella Bailey (published by the good folk at Simon and Schuster) is a wildly funny and deliciously charming celebration of the somewhat "challenging" relationship humans often have with their feline companions.

A madcap case of identity confusion, power struggles, daring escapes and mystery solving, wrapped up in the most purrrrfect picture book package. 

NB: I must admit I am ever so slightly in love with Steve the gorilla (everyone loves a bad boy) who doesn't love an ape who so daintily plucks goodies from his nose with such aplomb and scant regard for social etiquette. I just know you will fall for his masculin charms too... 

Simon Philip is one of my absolute top picture book authors of the moment and happens to be the mastermind behind my favourite picture book of 2016 (Award Winning) You Must Bring a Hat (illustrated by the magnificent creature that is Kate HindleyHis writing is both wonderfully warm and deviously intelligent and he is absolutely adept at weaving the most witty of yarns.

Ella's detail rich, beautifully stylised illustrations made me weep with laughter and the minute details had me pawing the pages repeatedly. Ella and Simon have proven to be a creative match made in picture book heaven. 

Where/How I Work 
with Author Simon Philip 


I work almost entirely at home.  The upside of this is that I work where I live – it’s the shortest commute in the history of commuting.  I don’t, but I suppose I could work whilst in bed, meaning I’d wake up and literally be at work in the blink of an eye.

The downside is that I live where I work.  Sometimes I wake up and – BOOM! – in the blink of an eye, I’m at work again.  It wouldn’t be so bad if the cleaner did his job properly, the binman actually took out the bins, and the chef washed up his equipment after cooking, but somehow that rarely happens.

It would be fun to tell you I’m one of those glamorous writers that sits in their very own corner of a cosy coffee shop, smashing out book after book whilst looking arty, intellectual and biscuit-crumb-free.  But that would be a lie.  The truth is I’m banned from my local coffee shops for ‘drinking coffee too loudly’ and making other customers ‘uncomfortable’ by ‘staring too intently at the muffins.’  Plus, I was always covered in crumbs.  Working from home will have to do.

Luckily, I’m not short of options and there are fewer restraints than in a trendy cafĂ© or coffee shop.  For example, if it’s a warm, muggy day I sometimes choose to work in the fridge.  If I’ve hit a wall and need to shake things up a bit, I squeeze myself into the washing machine and set the spin cycle to 1800 (I’m smaller in real life than you might expect, although I still have to remove the washing first).  The disadvantage to this is that my writing can become a sloppy mess, which tends to irritate editors.

When I’m not in the washing machine or the fridge, I work at this desk in my study:

I recently moved house so the walls are still a bit bare.  However, there is this view of the cathedral from my study window:

Granted, it’s rather inconsiderately interrupted.  And I can’t see it from my chair.  But, trust me, it is still a view. 

Also, I sometimes work from this set-up in my living room:

You might notice that I’ve cunningly moved the footstool from my sofa to maximise lounging potential.  As you’d expect, I get lots of work done here: I definitely write millions of beautiful words and certainly don’t just sit there drinking coffee and watching videos of leopards chasing monkeys.  It’s a very comfortable arrangement.

And the radiator’s not on fire, by the way.  If it were, I’d just move to the fridge.

How I work is very simple.  I categorise my initial ideas into small, medium-sized, and enormous ideas. 
For small ideas, I use this delightful little golf pencil:

Medium-sized ideas require medium-sized equipment:

And if the idea I have is enormous, so too is the writing utensil: 

And on really bad writing days where none of those work and the words don’t flow, it’s normally because I’m using the wrong spoon.

By the way, just so you know, being a writer can be quite solitary.  It can make some people a little ‘odd.’

Thankfully that’s yet to happen to me...

I don’t always have a set process for how I go about my illustrations - I like to vary how I work depending on the needs and timescale of the project. Although I will very often start off by drafting ideas with a pencil and paper, I usually find myself nowadays drawing everything straight onto the computer! 

I would say that for most projects, I work 80-90% digitally, using my trusty drawing tablet and Photoshop - and this book was definitely no exception. I love the absolute flexibility that working digitally gives me, to be able to change anything, at anytime!

For the illustrations in I Don’t Know What to Call My Cat, I started of with a rough black and white outline of what I want to achieve - this was, at times, very rough! From there, I began to block everything out in lumps of colour. I find this to be the easiest way for me to work out the overall composition of an image. 

At this stage I usually like to decide on a colour palette, too. Colour is very important to my work - I love to limit myself to a few key colours, although with I Don’t Know… I will admit this went out the window a little bit!
Once I have all the shapes and colours laid out, this is when I can start to add line and details. This was an especially laborious, and extremely enjoyable, process for I Don’t Know…, as many of the pages ended up being jam-packed with detail! 

To prevent everything from looking a little flat, I have lots and lots of customised brushes that let me create all sorts of effects - I especially love chalky textures and paint splatters! I also have a library of various textures, from print effects to crayon scribbles, that I used to add depth and interest to the artwork.

The addition of texture is usually the last stage in my process for any project, and perhaps one of my favourite bits! 
A very important thing I like to be able to do at this point, is to step away from the illustration - leave it alone for a few hours (or days if possible), and then come back to it with fresh eyes! This helps me see if there are any bits that are not quite right, or any more details that can be added.

I Don’t Know What to Call My Cat was an especially fun project to work on for me - I had a lot of fun injecting as much humour into the illustrations as possible! I do, however, think I have drawn enough cats now to last me a while!
Images are attached for the post! I hope the length doesn’t prove to be a problem for you – it’s a little longer than I had anticipated it to be.

In fond remembrance of my cats past ...
Dolly, Little, Billy, Jimmy, Rupert, Ruskin, Truffle,Tabitha and Mouse...
and for my present companions Claude and Pearl