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 café 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

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