Magnificent Magpies at Derby Uni

Last month I visited Derby University to run collage workshops with students on the Bachelor of Education course. The workshops are the fabulous idea of an old school friend of mine, now lecturer-extraordinaire, Becky Manton, and this is the third year running we've teamed up to talk about how a picture book is made. She's always so passionate about children's literacy and the importance of reading for pleasure that by the end of the session, half of me wants to give up this illustration lark and become a teacher myself (although later I remember how exhausting it is to stand up in front of a room full of people and be that enthusiastic ALL day, every day. I am in complete awe of anyone who can do that and work a 60 hour week).

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At the beginning of the session I have to talk through the process of illustrating a picture book and explain how this all ties into a mysterious person called Doonan's list of the 'ingredients' that go into an illustration: No. 1, a scheme of colour. "So everyone... here I've used warm colours to make it look autumnal..." (I always feel like a bit of an idiot at this point, because it seems to me that Jane Doonan has given this a lot more thought than I have).

Fortunately, later comes my favourite part of the session, the collage workshop, where students create their own illustrations for Magpie's Treasure. I'm always so impressed with how great the finished collages are! Here are a few from this year:

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All SO lovely. I'm slightly obsessed with the way they've done the sky in the middle one above, and check out the beautiful magpie below! Apart from being astonished by how great the finished artwork is, the main thing I take away from the day is this: reading for pleasure has been shown to be more important for children’s educational success than their family's socio-economic status. Isn't that amazing? I love hearing the students discuss their own ideas and thoughts about how they'll encourage their future pupils to read. Really puts this whole cutting-and-sticking fandango into perspective.

On the subject of reading, my brother-in-law, Stephen Bush, wrote this gorgeous piece on "how a sugar company taught me to read", which I love.

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Shrew Love

I posted bits of my latest RSPB illustrations on social media as I worked and had such a lovely response I thought I'd blog about the whole process. The RSPB are my longest running clients and there's nothing I love better than a Wild Times commission popping up in my inbox! Even better, the latest tale starred a shrew! Shrews are absolutely my new favourite, which frankly means I'm going to have to work really hard to resist the urge to create a new range of shrew homeware. Sadly, I don't think Not on the High Street will ever include any rodents in their trend forecasts and, unlike with the orangutans, I probably shouldn't risk it...

Anyway, I've started experimenting a bit lately, and for this story I tried a slightly more mixed-media approach, using paint and charcoal to create some of the background before assembling it all in Photoshop.

Not so long ago I was such a collage-purist that even using a pen to dot the eyes of my characters felt like cheating! But slowly, over the last couple of years, I've been straying from my roots as a scissors-and-glue evangelist to branch out ever so slightly.

The great thing about illustrating the RSPB stories is that I can adapt my technique to suit the tale. I don't usually decide exactly what kind of collage I'll make until the roughs have been approved. This is how one of the shrew illustrations turned out (you can see the following page, along with more of my RSPB work, here), and below are two previous commissions in different styles. For the harvest mouse I created both illustrations as whole, flat collages, only scanning them in when they were completely assembled. For the other story, about a boy's bedtime adventure with his toy animals, I worked in a really three-dimensional way to create a series of spot illustrations, quite similar to the way made the sets for The Birthday Crown book.

I'm really lucky to have a client who allows me to experiment a bit, and I'd definitely like to carry on down the mixed media route for other projects.

Making The Birthday Crown

As today's the Queen's official birthday I thought I'd share a few more progress photos from when I was in the midst of illustrating The Birthday Crown! You can find my original blog about illustrating the book here and see more illustrations in my portfolio, here.

And here's a very short (and very bad video) I made of the set a while ago...

The Birthday Crown

Towards the end of last year, I was contacted by the Royal Collection about illustrating a book to celebrate the Queen's 90th birthday. So I popped into St James's Palace one Friday morning in my best hat, got there far too early and then walked around outside for far too long, til I was almost late, flung my sketchbooks all over the security office floor, and somehow still managed to get the job! Cue: a lot of celebratory dancing. The story is written by Davide Cali, who has won 33 awards and is, you know, a proper children's book author, so after even more celebratory dancing I sat down to wonder quite how on earth I'd got this job and practice drawing corgis.

I LOVED working on this project. The story is all about finding the Queen the perfect crown for her birthday celebrations and involves a lot of snazzy headgear, but ends simply with a perfect paper crown from made by the prince and princess. Really unusually, the story is almost entirely set in one room of the palace, and I think the book's brilliant designer, Duska Karanov, and I simultaneously had the idea that I could make a proper set!

Here are a few photos of the whole thing:

Working on this made me think a lot about my own Grandma and Gran. They would have been beside themselves with delight if they'd known I was illustrating something for the Queen's birthday. The pose the Queen's adopting on the front cover is very much how my Grandma would look if she was opening a present - or just peering over your shoulder, waiting to make sure she'd boiled you the perfect egg.

You can buy a copy here and it's also available in all good bookshops.

The Little Red Hen

My third children's book, The Little Red Hen, was published on Tuesday by the wonderful Barefoot Books! The Little Red Hen © Kate Slater

I'm so thrilled with how this book turned out, I love the hardback matte cover and the lovely paperback with flaps. There's a story CD narrated by Debra Messing and the traditional tale is beautifully retold by Mary Finch.

Here's a sneak peek of what is probably my favourite illustration, where, as a reviewer in Publisher's Weekly noted, "the rooster briefly wears a cooking pot on his head."

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You can buy here from Barefoot, here from your local indie or come along to The Book Barge at Barton Marina, Staffordshire on Saturday 12th October and have your book signed by yours truly!