Yasmeen Ismail is the Professional winner of the Children’s Publishing Category, sponsored by Walker Books. Here, she gives her insights into the creation of her award-winning project.
I was commissioned by Walker Books UK to write and illustrate my picture book, ‘Would You Like a Banana?’. I love working with Walker and writing this one was so much fun. They gave me a lot of freedom with the art and I felt that I was allowed to really play with the style of illustration.
I had to come up with the story. I really enjoy writing and it’s something that goes along naturally with planning the sketches. The brief was very open, ‘Write a picture book’. So I wrote a picture book!
I usually do a lot of visual research. The story itself took a few drafts to get right, and once that was done I could focus on the art. I looked at a lot of magazine covers, collage work and photography… and of course, I needed some visual references for Gorillas!
I used a lot of materials. I used Gouache (Winsor and Newton), Conté, charcoal, Colour pencils (Supracolour), pencils, Cretacolours AquaMonolith pencils, oil pastels, collage and watercolours, coloured card and tin-foil. Mainly on Bockingford Watercolour paper, and assemble a lot in Adobe Photoshop. Basically anything I could get my hands on!
My process is always in stages. Once the writing is done (and usually quite a bit of sketching happens with that), and it is nailed down (and I have approval), I will move on to full on sketching and get the roughs completed. Once they are in good shape I can start art-working. The artwork is usually quite close to the sketch, but the colours and style is very organic around the plan. A few of the spreads changed completely. When I start artworking I paint and draw freehand based on the sketches. The art is done in parts and then I scan it all in and arrange it in photoshop.
There were a couple of spreads that I found difficult. The climactic spread of the Gorilla having a tantrum proved particularly difficult and I didn’t solve it till the last minute. I wanted a huge tantrum, something epic, but I couldn’t capture the rage and frustration that he was feeling. When it finally came to me I hit upon catching him just at that moment after the tantrum, when he is totally broken.
During this project I learned to try new things. I learned about moving away from what I usually do (focussing on watercolours) and to really mix it up with different materials. It was refreshing to try things that I always wanted to try.
At the time I was working full time, but that always includes the restrictions of having a 3 year old too. It’s good though, because I had to have a fairly strict working routine so that I could prioritise my time with my son. I was writing about 3 other books and working on other books at the same time, and also travelling about to promote other books and visit schools and events. It’s all part of the job and makes things less monotonous so I don’t mind. And of course the usual life stuff, tax, cleaning, dishes etc!
8 drafts of the story. 6 sketchbooks. 127 hours staring out the window. 5793 cups of tea. 10451 interruptions. 7 epiphanies.
This is a tricky one. I am pretty happy with what I have done with this book. There are always little aesthetic bits that I think maybe could be improved, but once I deliver work I like to just let it lie. Otherwise I’d go mad! So, non, je ne regrette rien.
Plan! Organise! Tidy your desk! Then make it all messy again and cry and start again. Improve. There is always room to try new things and for improvement. Just push yourself that little bit harder and your work will always benefit from more thought and more experimentation.
Right now I am working on two books before my daughter is born in December. YIKES! I also have some ideas I want to write up, and then the dishes, of course.
I feel like I am working on a dream commission right now. Again with Walker, who are wonderful to work with. My dream commission usually consists of a great text that I can work with and an art and editing team that make me laugh and whom I trust. I am very lucky to have all those things.
Favourite thing to draw
Peoples’ faces. I like the dopamine hit when I get it right… and farts. Always hilarious. Don’t judge me.
I work at home in my office, (so lockdown had little effect on that). I sit at my desk (currently on a yoga ball), and in front of me I can see the garden. I look out on the flowers my husband plants outside my window. On the window is our semi-feral cat, Betty. My desk is a perpetual mess. I try to clean it, but it doesn’t stick. The radio is on and I am usually thinking about food.
A particularly BIG and LARGE THANK YOU to my editor, Denise Johnstone-Burt, and my Art Director, Louise Jackson, at Walker Books for being the most hilarious and talented team to work with. More huge thanks to my very supportive, funny and wise agent, Arabella Stein at The Bright Agency. Thanks to Vicki Willden-Lebrecht for giving me a chance all those years ago. Thanks to my husband for the flowers outside, for being so supportive and handsome. To my son, Ted for providing joy and inspiration. To Sarah Slater, for looking after Ted so well while I worked and to Betty for providing me with company and sitting on my work so often with her mucky paws. I am really delighted to have won this prize. I have been completely surprised by it and my ego is sufficiently massaged now. I am so grateful to the judges and everyone at the AOI for this. Thank you thank you thank you!