Way back in July I had an email from someone who wanted to commission illustrations for a short story she had written inspired by the legend of the Selkie – a fairy that can transform from seal to human. I was initially circumspect – fellow illustrators are sure to nod their heads with understanding when I say that four out of five enquiries we get from members of the public (as opposed to publishers or agencies) who want illustrations for a book they have written tend to have no idea about the level of work involved and thus balk at the cost. Which tends to wear down one’s enthusiasm – getting all excited about a wonderful project and then being told that you’re basically urinating all over someone’s dream by wanting a hell of a lot more than the £30 per illustration that they thought you’d require.
Jane Russ was different, however. A published writer who is married to a graphic designer, she appreciated exactly how much work was involved, and considered my quote fair. She had previously worked with a couple of other illustrators on the project but it hadn’t worked out. Her husband, on seeing my quote, remarked “at last, a professional!” which I took to be a compliment indeed. She decided to get in touch with me because a) my logo is a hare, and she is chairman of the Hare Preservation Trust, and b) the cover image of my website, the surfing one, shows I know the sea and how to draw it!
The story – about a Selkie who bewitches a fisherman – is a short one: sixteen paragraphs of prose and an illustration for each paragraph. It’s traditionally a children’s story – do watch the wonderful Song of the Sea film that came out last year – but this story is more for adults. The aesthetic is somewhat based on the Eragny Press – little hardback books with woodcut-style images, subtly coloured, and bordered with stylised blocks and beautiful letterpress typesetting. Jane said she wished to create a “jewel” of a book. I got very excited about this, as you can imagine!
With her previous illustrators Jane had worked a system where each illustration was developed to completion in turn, but that didn’t work for me. For the story to have a visual flow – spirit of continuity – I advised that we created the roughs all at the same time. We worked out a schedule together which balanced this need for continuity with Jane’s needs, which were that work was done – and payment made – in stages. She needed to have a small selection of these illustrations to submit the project to publishers, and also I was an unknown quantity so she wanted to make sure she liked my work and working with me before committing to paying me for the whole project. There are to be sixteen illustrations in all, so first of all we had a long chat on Skype and agreed that I was to draw roughs for the first 8 illustrations. I requested 50% payment in advance for these (it’s a really good idea to get payment upfront for new clients to make sure that someone is serious about the work and values your time and talent) and got to work.
Jane loved the first sketches. We made a few amends and then I went on to doing the rest of them. I then inked one up and then coloured and added texture in Photoshop. We then agreed that I would ink and colour two more illustrations, as well as creating edging blocks, before her husband Mick created the layout which they would then submit to various publishers.
What’s happening now
The three illustrations you see are being worked with the text by Mick (example spread below) and then will be submitted to suitable publishers. I’ll let you know of any future developments!
This is just the most exciting project I’ve ever had the good fortune to work on – it’s pushing my illustration skills further and enabling me to develop my visual storytelling. I can’t wait to see a published book!