Children’s Book Award: a Guest Blog by Richard Byrne

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I THOUGHT YOU SAID ‘DOG POST’ NOT ‘BLOG POST’!

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The two questions I get asked most often are ‘Where do your ideas come from?’ and ‘How do you do your pictures?’. So let me explain…

I have no formula for coming up with new book ideas and my books have begun in lots of different ways. For example they can start with a doodle in my sketchbook, something I’ve heard my children say, a picture I’ve seen on a website or an idea for a book’s title.

This book just ate my dog! began with a chat with Helen, my editor at Oxford University Press, where we were discussing new ideas for my next book. She suggested thinking about the physical properties of a book as a jumping off point for a story. So, early one morning, I was mulling this over and I suddenly thought a book’s gutter (the fold between pages) would make a good place to lose something – but what? A big animal perhaps? How about a dog? A big dog, so you can see him clearly being swallowed up by the book. And how about having someone walking the the dog to show that this was part of the story and not some bizarre printing error! And the girl would think the dog really has been swallowed up! I was still half asleep when I was thinking all this so I rushed down to my studio with my cup of tea and got the idea into my sketchbook before it slipped my mind.

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A day or two later I created a thumbnail sketch (mini storyboard) showing the whole story then sent it to Helen who gave it the big thumbs up. The thumbnails were then developed into full size roughs, which, after a few changes here and there, became the basis for the final illustrations.

As with all my illustrations, I began by putting my roughs on a lightbox and tracing the outlines in pencil. Each character or object was drawn separately and often several times (it’s surprising how different the same expression can look every time you draw it). I then chose my favourite and scanned them onto my computer in black and white.

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Once I had all the drawings for an illustration on my computer I then added colour, textures, patterns and backgrounds digitally. I like to use this combination of draw and digitise as it give me lots of flexibility to add, delete, resize or reposition things but still retains the looseness and spontaneity of a hand-drawn image.

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As I finished each page I would print it out and put it on my studio wall so I could see how the book was coming together. Once all the illustrations were finished, checked, tweaked, checked again and then approved I sent them to Oxford University Press’s design studio to create the final book.

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Several months later my first copies of the finished book arrived. Here are some of the toys that hang around my studio taking a look…

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…a little too closely!

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This Book Just Ate My Dog! is shortlisted for the 2016 Children’s Book Award in the Books for Younger Children category. It is published by Oxford University Press.

You can find out more about the award here and you can vote for your favourite books here.

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