After graduating from Glasgow School of Art, Fiona worked in animation before specialising in picture books. Her debut book ‘Hiding Heidi’ and Illustrations for ‘A Dot in the Snow’ were both nominated for The Kate Greenaway Award. Working in her London studio, Fiona plays with storytelling, pattern and character design, and experimenting with blo pens, rubber stamps and printing techniques.
About the Project
LOOK is a picture book about a brother and sister who spend the day visiting the zoo. The story is told entirely in double ‘O’ words, starting with thee cock-a-doodle-doo of a rooster, through to the hoot of an owl at bedtime.
It was an idea I had many years ago and when I eventually started trying to shape it into a book, my personal brief was to produce a vibrant and playful story using double ‘O’ words. I incorporated the ‘OO’ letters into the illustrations to encourage children to engage with both the words and pictures together.
My initial research was to find fun double ‘O’ words. I also researched picture book formats and did a small amount of visual reference for the zoo animals.
For the final artwork I used a combination of hand cut rubber stamps, stencils, children’s blow pens, acrylic paint and additional pencil work which was all composited and tweaked digitally.
The first stage of the process involved developing the idea. The initial inspiration came from a pair of 2003 New Year’s glasses. The double zeros transformed into double ‘O’ words in my sketches and I started playing around with both the shape and sound of these ‘OO’ words. I thought about the idea from time to time until several years later my agent helped me refine the idea more before I started working on it with Greenwillow Books. I did very basic loose sketches for each page and we worked together to get the flow and pacing right, creating many different versions of the story. Once the difficult part of deciding on the sequence of events was resolved it was a real pleasure to focus on the artwork.
I was discouraged early on because the book can’t be translated into different languages, so I started to doubt if it would become a published book.
Whilst working on the project, the main challenge was to incorporate the words within all the illustrations and for it to also work within the whole composition. After a lot of head scratching I decided to let some words be independent from the illustration if they were starting to feel a bit too forced.
I learnt to persevere with my ideas, even though they might not exactly fit with picture book conventions.
1st book idea, 3rd author/illustrated book to be published, 40 pages, 34 ‘OO’ words, 2 non ‘OO’ words, 2 desks (messy and computer), 110 balloons and 2 baboons.
Once the book found its home with the publisher, I’m happy to say that the project went really smoothly, this is due to a healthy exchange of ideas and a respect for each others opinions. I don’t think I’d do anything differently. I can always find things to change given more time, but once it’s in print I just have to accept that it’s as good as I could do in the time.
Remember to get away from your desk to look at new things and places. Often the change of scene will help trigger solutions to the project you are working on and also inspire new ideas.
And specific book advice: Publishers are after unique individuals, so just think about what it is you love drawing best and let ideas grow from that. Dig around in your sketchbooks and memories for your own unique take on something.
Making books is a team game, so I’d like to say a big thank you to Greenwillow Books for seeing the potential in my idea.