Saturday, January 31, 2009

Finished and the book now has its title

In St Davids it continued to rain until the garden was running with streams. I loaded the car with paintings for The White Hart in Bath and for Mr B's bookshop in Bath, not many for now but I hope that at the end of February I will have more for The White Hart. Also the artwork for Barefoot. The wind was howling and the rain coming down in spears but as we drove towards England the sky cleared.
On Saturday I took the last of the paintings in to the office at Barefoot and met some of the wonderful Barefoot Stallholders who sell books. We talked about the new book and Classic Poems and it was lovely to meet them. They have such enthusiasm for all the books.
And now I feel light of head and light of heart and light of head and as if most of my work for the book is done. Now I have to wait and see what design and production do with the work have given them.

I have the text for another book in my head, a book that I hope to do with Barefoot as the idea came to me a while ago when I was staying at Tessa's and walking her dog. The title, which this time came first, is Little Evie and the Dark Wood.

And the title of this book is now officially Starlight Sailor.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Thank you

Today the wind is rattling at the door. It is cold, dark gray and the night is holding on to time forbidding the daylight entry to the world. Stormy outside and I have to drive to Bath to deliver the last of the artwork and talk about the book.
Yesterday I had an email from Bob, who has ordered the book from his local bookshop in America. It seems the publication date is September in the USA. This is very quick as usually it takes a year from finishing a book to publication as the publishers try to bring in as many co-editions as they can get as well as interesting book clubs and the like.
This is not the end of the blog, just because I have finished painting. Now the art goes out of my hands and on to its own journey, and I will try and follow it as the book is designed and printed and then hopefully makes its way into shops and finds a harbour in the hearts and mind of children.
But before it does that I would like to thank all the readers of the blog for your help and support over the months. As you know it has not been easy at times. I am so pleased that I did not let this book slip through my fingers, so glad to have had that four in the morning memory of making paper boats as a child that was the key to unlocking the images. Your enthusiasm and encouragement has kept me painting and kept me posting. And I would like to say thanks to all my family as well, to the kids who let me paint all through Christmas, to Robin, who drives to visit me and then cooks me lovely meals while I shut myself away in my studio painting, and to my friends who continue to invite me to supper even though much of the time I say I am too busy and who understand when I don't pick up the phone or answer the door because I am painting. And last but not least, to the cats and dogs for just being.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Household hints for lazy busy people

To celebrate finishing the artwork for the book currently known as Starlight Sailor I hoovered the lounge. When you live in a house with three dogs, six cats, two teenagers, surrounded by mud, there is a certain satisfaction in hoovering the carpet for the first time in a week.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The cloth of heaven

We are living in a waterworld, where the land reflects the sky and boats are suspended between the two.

All day I have concentrated again on painting the star patterns of north and south and summer and winter skies. Now it is time to sleep, but before I do I walk around the small hamlet that I call home. Outside it is still, but for the running of streams like water-music boxes. Across the moor of Treleddyd a fox argues with an owl. Above the sky has been washed clean and clear by so much rain and a bowl of stars shine down.
When I was a child I remember the disappointment in not being able to see the lions and bears and dragons and winged horses, the great dog and the small and Orion the hunter. There were no pictures in the sky, just random patterns that could add up to anything. But tonight, having traced the patterns in gold paint on blue all day, there they are, waiting for me, and so rich and beautiful. The stars of the constellations are clearer for the first time and I see the lines of the dragon, the swan, other patterns whose names escape me, but it is as if I can see the lines that join them, bind them in the ancient stories of man. And between each more stars, a dense carpet, tapestry, thrown over my head and oh so very beautiful. Just then a bright light streaks across the sky. A shooting star. A wish. I realise that I am so so very much a lucky woman to live in a dark place.
Learning to read the sky is like learning a language, like learning music, like learning to draw. It takes time and patience.
Do I see the stars any different for knowing the names of a mere handful? Maybe not, but there is a powerful old magic in the naming of things.
Now I see not just Orion's belt, but his very cloak of stars and great bow, so many stars even in just this one space. Now I see more of the depth of the sky and it makes me feel so wonderfully small and insignificant. Joy.

At the National Gallery in Scotland

I have always thought that picture gallery red would compliment James and here is the evidence! Over the last few days while I have been painting he has been in Edinburgh at the National Gallery of Scotland doing workshops and pulling children into the world of art. What an incredible setting!

Copyright page, doodling background

Small details from the last painting

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rain soaked and star struck

All day steady rain has fallen until the earth, already saturated with water, has sent rivulets and streams dancing in all directions. The air is pearl grey and coloured by birds’ wings outside the window. In a tangle of brambles a starling shakes drops of water into the sky. A kestrel hunches hungry on a wire that draws a dark line across the pearl.
All day I have painted until my head is saturated with stars. Constellations and the naming of stars dance through my mind turning it to dizziness. Beetlejuice and Rigel, Delphinus, Capella, Alpheratz and Alcor. In the sky there is a dragon, bears great and small, lions made of light and a winged horse all spread across the heavens. And the milky way is a river of stars, a ribbon of light.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Four paintings and feeding the birds

A wild sea raged down at the beach when I walked the dogs this morning. Sunshine and surf. I floated a boat in a dark rock pool with the rising waves as a backdrop.
Sometimes it takes a while to get to work and even with a deadline of Thursday evening looming large I had to fill the bird feeders with seeds before I could start. The fluttering of wings outside my window and wonderful radio 4 kept me painting through the day. Then when tiredness set in I decided that I would paint on and listen to the wonderful Vespertine by Bjork with its magical music boxes, and when the last notes played I would stop for the day.
Working on the endpapers and struggling with space as I work on all four pieces at once and try and juggle the drawing boards around my studio. Now the first is finished I think, and its partner almost, though I have to paint the star patterns. One and two show the northern and southern hemisphere stars on 21st December at midnight. Three and four will be north and south on 21st June at midnight. ( If you click on them they get bigger and you can see the small things within)

Have also been listening to The Hare's Corner and The Frames. When I get the scans back from Barefoot Books I want to try and make a film using the artwork and story and the soundtrack will be from The Hare's Corner. I wrote to Colm via his wife Sheila to ask permission to use it and he said yes. The Swell Season are touring in Australia at the moment. I first heard of them when I watch a film called Once. The most amazing film, I felt that I was eavesdropping on the lives of others while watching it. It is extraordinary. Through it I found The Frames and The Swell Season and then while looking for hares found, by coincidence, The Hare's Corner.
If you look in the top left corner of the Hare's Corner website there is a small drop down menu for those who speak English rather than Gaelic.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Beautiful distraction

In the post today a small and beautiful paper boat from Tessa. Carefully designed, the boat came from Holland and you can see more if you click on this link.
Also here.
I wonder if Tessa thought to herself before she sent this! Now I want to work out how to draw and doodle on paper to get the best decoration showing on a paperboat of my own. How to distract your artist from finishing her work!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Work in progress

And somehow it seems to be slow slow progress. Something is stealing my time and I am not sure what. I have stopped answering the phone, the dogs are getting short walks, cats are neglected, or so they tell me, children asked me the other day who I was and what I was doing in their house (made that bit up).
The front and back endpapers are four separate pieces of work like the above, that could join together in a frieze, with star charts of north and southern hemispheres, as accurate as I can be although I wouldn't advise navigating by them unless on a paperboat and dreaming. I am learning about the stars and the pathways and patterns, the moon's orbit and moonrise and moonset.

I love having illustrated endpapers. I love to do different ones for the front and the back. I feel that hardback books are so expensive that it is good to give value by painting right to the outermost edges of a book. But also I feel that this is the bit that is mine to play with, no words (sorry James) just space.


Always difficult.
James and I like 'Starlight, Starbright'

Other suggestions are
First Star I See Tonight
Starlight Story
Starlight Journey
Starlight Wish
Starlight Dream
I wish tonight

The first page of the book reads:
'Starlight, starbright
First star I see tonight
I wish I may, I wish I might
Have the wish I wish tonight.'

Any comments gratefully received and thrown into the title melting pot.

Phone call this afternoon to say that the artwork arrived in the office. Wasn't worrying as my head was full of stars and I had forgotten that I had sent it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

In the post

Yesterday I packed up and posted of the remaining interior spreads. They should arrive in the Barefoot office in Bath today and I wait, trying not to be nervous, to hear first that they have made it through the vagaries of the British postal system, second that they are all fine and nothing needs reworking.
A few days ago Tessa and James discussed the title. When James originally wrote the story it was called 'Starlight, Starbright', but it seems there is already a book called this. Two books with the same title can lead to confusion. Tessa suggested 'Starlight Sailor', but neither James nor I were happy with this. The current title is 'First Star'.
In the meantime I am working away on the endpapers and somehow my hours in the day seem to be getting stolen and I get little work done. So today I will unplug the phone and settle to a few hours undisturbed until Hannah comes home from school. Tomorrow I have to be on the phone as I am doing an interview for a podcast with From Rim to Hub.
Also a Facebook group has been set up, about my work. I have never really understood Facebook, and with my website and two blogs the computer eats time when I should be painting, so it is very lovely that Michelle has taken the time to set this up about my books. She recently received a copy of Can You See a Little Bear from Bookstart and loved it, which is wonderful and very encouraging as i move towards finishing Starlight, or First Star.

Round pools and starlight

At the end of Whitesands Beach, when the tide is out, there are pools worn in the rocks by swirling water and pebbles. Deep circles cupping salt water, the rock green like jade when wet.

Working on the endpapers, four circle star maps of north and southern hemisphere, winter and summer stars. So few children see the star patterns these days as city lights wash away the universe in a glow of orange lights. Centuries ago our ancestors could travel by starlight, told stories of the stars to fix their dance in the minds of people. So much is lost to us that once we knew by heart.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Almost finished


There must be something in the water!
Today I had an email from Joanne Kaar about paperboats. Browsing through her blog and website I find someone else obsessed with paper boats. Her handmade paper and books are beautiful and I love the way she places them on the beach and among the rocks. They are so organic.
Have a look.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Nine Wells, near Solva

As the fragile boat sailed away from the bank winter branches reached out to catch her. A gentle breeze pushed on the sail. Beneath the water curious fish came to investigate the new gift from the heaven above. Each fish kissed the hull of the boat as she glided over the ripples. She felt their welcome to this new world.

The mermaid's blessing

If you can touch the fingers of a mermaid, even if only in dreams, then your life will always be blessed.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Starfish swimming in the sea

Mermaids singing, just for me,
Sing a gentle lullaby
While flying fish dance in the sky.

Other paper boat

Day by day I float my paper boats one by one down the running stream.

In big black letters I write my name on them and the name of the village where I live.

I hope that someone in some strange land will find them and know who I am.

I load my little boats with shiuli flowers from our garden, and hope that these blooms of the dawn will be carried safely to land in the night.

I launch my paper boats and look up into the sky and see the little clouds setting their white bulging sails.

I know not what playmate of mine in the sky sends them down the air to race with my boats!

When night comes I bury my face in my arms and dream that my paper boats float on and on under the midnight stars.

The fairies of sleep are sailing in them, and the lading is their baskets full of dreams.

Rabindranath Tagore

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Benevolent Dragons

Almost finished. Sometimes I have to photograph a piece and look at it in the computer to see if things need changing.


When James is not writing, painting, eating cake, or trying to cope with me ringing him every five minutes telling him why I can't illustrate any more, he teaches one day a week at Cambridge School of Art.
I asked him to write a few words about teaching there, and about just a few of his students.

"One of the most fulfilling parts of my work is teaching at Cambridge Art School, part of Anglia Ruskin University. My colleagues there are Martin Salisbury and the rather magnificent John Lawrence, who is the kindest gentleman you could hope to meet, and we teach on the MA in Children's Book Illustration - the first course of its kind in the UK.

The Art school has a long tradition of nurturing talent in the world of children's books, and I am very proud to have taught the likes of Jane Simmons, Paula Metcalf, dear Alice Wood, the wonderful, soulful Kazuno Kahara(there's a bit of her work that reminds me of Tove Jansson) and the extraordinary Faye Durston. Stars Bright indeed!

I only teach one day a week, but I get very attached to the students, so this is always and sad time of the year as I bid them farewell, for teaching ended at Christmas. They will have a show of their work at The Illustration Cupboard in February, which will be attended by all the big publishers. I wish this year's students every success!"

The image above is from The Ruby Princess by Faye Durston, winner of last years RhapsOde Prize for the most promising new writer for children.

Click on this link to preview New Moon's animation of James Mayhew's 'Katie's Picture Show'

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Production meetings.

Things are moving faster at the Barefoot office as I get closer to finishing the artwork. The book will be proofed in time for Bologna Book Fair. Today there was a production meeting to talk about the design and production side of the book, something I get more involved with now, if I can, though sometimes as an artist I feel that my voice is very small in these meetings. That is with some publishers, not with Barefoot.
Email from Tessa about the meeting today reads as follows:

Had a production session this am and reviewed STARLIGHT alongside CLASSIC POEMS, SINGING TO THE SUN and LEONARDO (which prints with silver as a fifth colour). My take, having looked at STARLIGHT scans next to CLASSIC POEMS, is that to get the midnighty dreamy look and to have this book be a natural Barefoot successor to CLASSIC POEMS, it makes sense to print on the same Arctic Matt stock that we used for CLASSIC POEMS. It will give us consistency in the Jackie Morris books we bring to market and we know for sure that this paper holds your blue-y colours very well. The paper comes from a supplier who replants two trees for every one felled for paper. We are costing on printing both four colour and five colour in the interior, and on a five-colour matt cover with spot lamination and a gold cloth spine.

All of this will depend a little on costings. I haven't yet seen the Leonardo book, but it sounds amazing. Looking forward to seeing what the fifth colour printing effect is. Now I am waiting to see what the designer does with the type and layout. On some of the spreads I have left little room to fit type so hope there is enough.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Red and gold and a lost boat.

Painting the dragon, red and gold and hoping to finish all the inside spreads for the book by the end of the week, with a fair wind and late nights into the evening. On the paper in the studio a benevolent dragon grows. The paint on her ear was still wet when I took the photograph.

The morning I left for Somerset to visit my mum in hospital after Christmas I walked the dogs on the beach, early, just as light was breaking, and took with me a paper boat. Yesterday a friend came round for supper.
"I want to show you something ," she said, "something I found on the beach. It was early, and i had just walked my dogs around St Davids Head and came down onto the beach to find this. And I knew you had been there."
She took a photo with her mobile phone. Beautiful.

My studio chaos.....

.....and the title page.

Monday, January 12, 2009

What James has been doing while I have been painting

While I have been working on Starlight, and also before I settled to work on it with any degree of concentration, James was busy too. I asked him to write a little of what he was up to.


The photo shows me rehearsing with the de Haviland Philharmonic Orchestra in November last year for a concert called "Pictures at an Exhibition", in which I narrated and simultaneously illustrated Mussorgsky's music. I'm practising the final painting: The Great Gate of Kiev. Some of the pieces of music are very short though - not easy to paint Limoge 60 seconds! It's quite a thrill to be up on the stage surrounded by that music - but VERY scary! The concert went well - it was completely sold out - and there are plans for more...but it takes a hell of a lot of preparation, so I don't think a major career change is likely!

The conductor, Robin Browning, is a fantastic colleague. Previously we've collaborated on both Peter and the Wolf and The Firebird, both with live illustration. We feel passionately about presenting classics intact and in a true context. I think children just need a way in: some words, an's enough to make a huge difference. It's such a shame so many people grow up assuming classical music is too highbrow. I enjoy all sorts of music, but I love the storytelling potential of music like "Pictures".

Following on from this is a new book, which, like Starlight, will be for Barefoot Books. The working title is Stories From The Orchestra. I hope to include around 8 stories made famous through music, mostly music children will recognise, but perhaps not know the story of. When I was a kid I'd hear bits of music, but the record sleeve only ever had the smallest hint of what the story was. This book will tell the complete stories and illustrate them thoroughly, so I hope it will become a good reference book when introducing kids to certain pieces. So I have been incredibly busy reading, reading, reading...researching. I love doing this, opening doors, discovering stories, music, composers...and developing new passions and obsessions. I'm currently in love with the Finnish Kalevala, which inspired Sibelius' tone poems, like The Swan of Tuonela. Fabulous stuff!

Meanwhile I have a NEW STUDIO in the garage, rather more practical (and certainly warmer) than "the hut" I've used for the last seven years. Now I have running water, a phone, computer connection...a bit more space for STUFF (which is my downfall). Of course I can't find a thing at the moment, and nothing is organised yet. But it's starting to feel like I might be able to work here.

Apart from orchestras, the latest Ella Bella book (Cinderella) has gone off for proofing and I'm now working on a new "Katie" book ("Katie & The Waterlily Pond"), focusing on just Monet. Meanwhile the projected Katie TV series with New Moon Television, is still "In Development" (Chickens definitely not counted there). Beyond that I have "Ella Bella and Swan Lake" to write. Lovely projects, all of them.

It's easy to see why people think I'm a bit "highbrow" with all these cultural subjects, but of course I'm not - just ask Jackie! It's such a joy to work with her on a book like Starlight, which is very genuinely child-centric, and allows me to express another side of me as a writer. Above all it is such an honour to be bound together with Jackie's wonderful illustrations. I always try to write texts that allow scope for an illustrator to take wing. Not all illustrators seize the opportunity but Jackie - in "Can You See A Little Bear?" and now in "Starlight" does this brilliantly, making the words her own and creating a world that we can step into and be deliciously lost in. It's been a tough process for her (and just a bit nerve-wracking for me!!!) but I really admire her will-power and think it will pay of handsomely. This will be a glorious book.

Back to Jackie:
It would seem odd to comment on my own blog, so will do it here. Wow! Studio looks amazing and cosy and TIDY!
I can vouch for James not being highbrow. Well educated, inquisitive, talented and a great lover of cake, yes, as well as possessing a great and generous spirit and blessed with a lovely wife and a wonderful son, Gabriel ( who likes sausage dogs and is perhaps our best critic).
James has also worked on many books before with Barefoot.
And is a link to my other book there.
Not sure why it has been nerve wracking for James, me working on his text. Maybe it was the time I phoned up and said I couldn't do it? Maybe he has felt uncomfortable trapped between Tessa and myself when we disagree about images and words?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Red and gold

Waiting to hear now, from James and from Tessa, as to which they prefer for this spread, the one in the previous posting, or this. Either way the dragon is red and gold, and the words have changed to echo the images.
I do love working with James. He has such a generous heart.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

We meet a dragon, red and gold

'til morning light

Trying to match up the last page with the first page, and the child has sailed through dreams on his paper boat " 'til morning light".
His mother is the light in his life and he is the light of her life and have tried to capture this in the final painting. He wakes full of stories to share with her about his dreams and adventure.

Friday, January 9, 2009


There comes a time in every book where the book is almost finished and somehow or other progress seems to halt. Yesterday emails flew back and forth between Tessa, who is the editor and publisher, James and myself concerning the text and small changes to words. Some I felt passionately about, like the boat being called a 'paper boat' rather than a 'little boat'. Such small things, but they mean a great deal sometimes. Now the text is almost fixed.
And still I cannot sit down in my studio and paint. Is it that I don't want to let go? I am keen to move on to the next book which is one I wrote myself, to spend time tidying my house and my website, and to write a new text, but today I have walked dogs, washed up and made stock from pheasant carcasses ( I seem to me moving towards the slow food movement here, but the house smell glorious and the birds, that in life were so beautiful on the table were so tasty). I have learned how to pluck and draw pheasants and now want to draw and paint them. And I have let time slip through my fingers and days go by.
So, off to the studio and hoping to work late tonight.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

First page again, second thoughts

Something about the first page didn't seem right and after conversations with Tessa went back to look at earlier sketches.

The beach was cold with ice and at the end the sea had carved out a deep curved pool. Beautiful in the early morning light.