My latest picture book crush? Lucky, by British author/illustrator David Mackintosh. Happily, David was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book. Also, ARTWORK! How much do we love that?!
Story synopsis, from the title page:
When Leo’s mother announces there will be a surprise at dinner, Leo and his brother are desperate to find out what it is, and their imaginations run wild.
Why did this book snag my attention? Because every element is totally kid-centric. The brotherly relationship? Perfection. Their roller-coaster emotions? Perfection. Their imaginative (but logical-to-them) guesses? Perfection. But don’t take my word for it. In a starred review, Kirkus said: “This is a quirky, spot-on snapshot of family life, perfect for family sharing and repeated readings. And children will love examining the whimsical, surprisingly delightful details in the drawings. A winner.”
Here are a couple of spreads from the book, generously shared by David.
Once the boys hit upon the idea that Mom’s big surprise is a trip to Hawaii, things rapidly spiral out of their control…
. . . until they rush home to discover that Mom’s big dinner surprise is …
Well, I’ll let you discover that along with the boys.
Meanwhile, David was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.
Jill: The way the narrator jumps from one conclusion to the next and reacts to his brother’s comments feels so absolutely REAL that I had to wonder … is this kid YOU, or based on someone you know?
David: No, not really. But I think this is a familiar thought process for a child. If your mind is dominated by an idea, you can be very sensitive to anything getting in the way of realising whatever you’re anticipating. You’ll will something to be the way you want it to be. That’s what Lucky is based upon. A child can dwell on the idea of something nice all day long, or longer. I like that idea.
Jill: Could you tell us a little about your story writing process? Did the Lucky story/characters come first, for example, or did an image spring to mind?
David: I write, illustrate and design my picture books so the boundaries of these three things rarely exist for me. I concoct an idea for a story to say something I want to say. So I sit down and start scribbling out a storyboard visually, and the text is generated organically with the visual narrative. Once I have a plan, I look at the text independently and tighten it up so it reads the way I want. Then I return to the storyboard with this text and look at the visual narrative and how the new text works. It’s back and forth like this until it’s sweet.
With Lucky, I had the idea of the disappointment the narrator had when an expectation was not realised being turned around to show that there are other things that are important in life. From there I tried to think of a story to hang this on.
Other times, I get stuck on a title, or an opening line that I think might be attractive to a young reader, and take it from there. These might be things that I hear out and about, people talking, or on a cereal box label or on an advertising billboard. Or an expression or antiquated saying or something that sounds good fullstop.
But the end result is a picture book and my text often doesn’t work on its own. It’s to be read with the pictures because my pictures are reacting with the words, so it needs to be in its visual narrative, in the context of the book. The message is what inspires the story, the characters and storyline and look of the typography is just a vehicle for the idea.
Jill: How do you create your art?
David: I start with drawing the basic composition on thin watercolour paper. I use an oil pencil because it’s waterproof and doesn’t smudge too much and I can add watercolour or coloured pencil over the top. I’ll add other elements to the drawing in collage. Then I’ll send these drawings off for scanning and once they’re back I can add other things to them if I need to, like mechanical tints or better drawings. My Photoshop skills are very lo-fi, so I’m really using it as a fancy lightbox for making separations.
I don’t do underdrawing at all. I just draw until I get a picture I like and take it from there. There’s no erasing, just throwing away paper with terrible drawings on it. That’s why I use thin watercolour paper or layout paper: it’s more economical. I like drawing with different things in a drawing, like ink and a brush or coloured pencil and charcoal etc.
I do a lot of lettering in cut paper too. This is usually freestyle and is a matter of just cutting it out of paper or kraftpaper until I have something I like. I paste it all up on a lightbox.
You can learn more about David by visiting his website. Be sure to look for his next picture book, What’s Up Mumu, in October!
Please help me thank David for sharing so openly with the rest of us picture book builders!