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Windows into Illustration: Carol Thompson

Carol Thompson reflects on a unique collaborative experience and describes the technique and thinking behind Looking for Rex, written by Jan Ormerod.


ooking For Rex was written by Jan Ormerod. One day, as I was leaving her house she handed me

a manuscript, ‘See what you think...’ This was the beginning of a unique collaboration – over many months and meetings we grew our picturebook together with no outside editorial or art directives.

Jan’s story is drawn from a situation that she’d observed in a family she knew and loved. The family are all looking out for the right dog for Gramps – but which dog and where is he?

A simple story, but full of meaty opportunity for the illustrator – dogginess, silliness, canine capers, and a backcloth of coastal landscape. Yet there was a subtle strand weaving itself through the text: Gramp’s increasing loneliness, coming to terms with physical frailty, a family’s loving concern for Gramps living on his own. I was particularly interested in bringing out this deeper layer without overshadowing the glorious zany humour in the main story. As the storyboard and sketches developed I would regularly meet with Jan, who would then quickly pare away chunks of her text, remove the odd word, switch it around, ‘if you’re showing it – don’t tell!’ I would

in turn alter my layouts, my sketches. It was a completely fluid and exciting way of working together.

At the beginning of the book I show Gramps in a series of vignettes going about his everyday life, but with no descriptive text. There are visual clues for the reader, a woman’s shoes, two plates set for breakfast, photos, a basket of knitting - left open to interpretation. The scene is set, there is no explanation until later on.

The large illustration appears in the middle of the book. Gramps is at his weekend caravan, his bolt-hole for when he needs to go and think. He’s been eating chips from the paper and imagining sharing his life with a dog, and how he would never be lonely. It’s dark outside, he’s lying on a small built-in bed, with an odd hinged folding table attached to it. His feet are tucked into thick hand-knitted socks (Granny’s?). He is cocooned in his small untidy space surrounded by collected pebbles, photos – shared memories. His imagined doggy thoughts dance above his head as he thinks how different his life would be if he had a dog of his own.

For this picture I drew the image in pencil on paper and then printed it on my very old photocopier, altering the scale to fit the page, and experimenting with the tone. The printing subtly changes the drawing, adding unexpected half-tones, darkening the lines. The results can be unpredictable but exciting, rather like printmaking. I then have a black and white print to work on in colour. Here, I’ve used water colour and ink. The curtains are collage. Gramps wears

6 Books for Keeps No.199 March 2013

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