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Windows into Illustration: Lydia Monks

Lydia Monks has been described as one of the most original picture book artists working today. Her distinctive use of colour and collage make her books instantly recognisable. She has been nominated for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Award three times, and What the Ladybird Heard won the Royal Mail Scottish Children’s Book Award, The Stockport Children’s Book Award, The Rotherham Children’s Book Award and was Red House Children’s Book ‘Pick Of The Year’ 2010.

Here she describes the challenges of illustrating a night time scene.


hat the Ladybird Heard was the sixth book I’d illustrated by Julia Donaldson. When I first read the text, it gave me goose pimples, which is always a good sign! I always feel so privileged to be one of the first people to

read one of Julia’s new stories! I love drawing animals, so it was a dream book for me to work on.

I’ve chosen the ‘Big Black Van’ spread to talk about, as it was a little bit of a tricky one. A lot of the action in the story takes place at night in the dark. That throws up a few challenges for an illustrator. The main consideration is where the text is g oing to go. The scene can’t be too dark, or the text will disappear!

I decided to use lots of greys and blues, with just a little bit of black for

the sky. I really enjoy using a limited palette, as I sometimes worry that when I use lots of colours, the picture becomes a bit confused! Or I get confused! Just using a few colours makes a picture easier to create.

I start with a sketch of the spread on layout paper, and I work up layer after layer on top the original sketch. Sometimes it can take a few goes. It always varies. I then use acrylic paint and leave gaps to fill in with collage. Sometimes the collage doesn’t work, and I decide to paint the gaps instead. I try different textures to see what suits. It’s all done by hand with my little pair of scissors, which I bought as a student. I then add a bit of coloured pencil for texture here and there.

A double page spread will take me about two days to complete, sometimes longer depending on how detailed it is. I’ve known a spread take four whole days to complete! I tend to work quite quickly, so that seems a long, long time to me!

I only realised after I’d finished the picture, that the ‘big black van’ had become a big grey van! I’d forgotten it was meant to be black! I do sometimes forget when a colour has been specifically mentioned in the text! I just get carried away! Anyway, we all decided that the reflection of the moonlight was making the black van appear grey!

A happy ending after all! n

What the Ladybird Heard is published by Macmillan Children’s Books (978-0230706507) at £6.99 pbk.

12 Books for Keeps No.206 May 2014

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