The thrill of illustration

A scene from Was Schwimmt Denn Da by Henning Lohlein

An illustration from Was Schwimmt Denn Da by Henning Lohlein

Hippos, pigs, seals and fish, not to mention the occasional elephant in swimming trunks, cavort through the pages of Henning Löhlein’s picture books. Designed to amuse and enthrall, they wriggle with life.

“I always liked drawing,” Henning recalls. “Having grown up in Germany, I spent two years taking foundation art studies in Toulon France, but I was torn between graphic design and fine art.”

A scene from Was Schwimmt Denn Da by Henning Lohlein2

A scene from Was Schwimmt Denn Da by Henning Lohlein

Henning travelled to Bristol on an Erasmus exchange programme, and here discovered illustration, “which formed the right mixture between working to a brief and having the freedom to express one’s own ideas. I finished my studies with an MA in editorial design and narrative illustration at Brighton University. Since then I have taught on the illustration course as a visiting lecturer.”

Illustration for the Financial Times by Henning Lohlein

Illustration for the Financial Times by Henning Lohlein

Henning’s editorial work includes illustrations for the Guardian, the Financial Times and Country Life, as well as magazine covers. “I like to find the freedom in the constraints of illustration, be it for editorial jobs, or in children’s books,” he says.

A scene from Das Leben Ist Bunt illustrated by Henning Lohlein

A scene from Das Leben Ist Bunt illustrated by Henning Lohlein

His love of children’s books began when, after 15 years of working as an editorial illustrator, he realised he wanted “to have a longer ‘shelf life’ for my illustrations. I had started drawing more and more animals in my magazine illustrations, so the step to children’s book illustration was not very far.”

A scene from Ich Ware So Gerne illustrated by Henning Lohlein

A scene from Ich Ware So Gerne illustrated by Henning Lohlein

Henning was fortunate enough to have been chosen to exhibit at the Children’s Book Fair in Bologna, “and that opened up the world of publishing to me.”

Henning has since published more than 40 books, translated into 12 languages, and counting.

A scene from Ich Ware So Gerne illustrated by Henning Lohlein

A scene from Ich Ware So Gerne illustrated by Henning Lohlein

Initially, Henning sought out commissions by attending two of the most prestigious book fairs, Bologna in the spring and Frankfurt in the autumn, seeing as many publisher, editors and art directors as possible.

A scene from Das Leben ist Bunt, illustrated by Henning Lohlein

A scene from Das Leben ist Bunt, illustrated by Henning Lohlein

“I’m now in the position where I can develop projects before hand, which I then try and sell to a publisher at the fair,” he says. “Having been in the industry for a while, authors come to me with projects, or publishers match my illustration up with a suitable text.”

But how closely does he work with a writer in this scenario?

“Normally I just get the text, and illustrate it, having no contact with the writer, just working with the text, and interpreting it in my way,” he says.

Ludwig the Spacedog by Henning Lohlein

Ludwig the Spacedog by Henning Lohlein

Henning is excited about writing and illustrating his own stories. “Ludwig the Space Dog, published last autumn by Templar, is my first written and illustrated book,” he says.

Ludwig the Spacedog cover by Henning Lohlein “I started from the idea about a dog living in a two-dimensional world, dreaming about another dimension, which he discovers, and the reader can discover as well with using 3D glasses. It’s about the power of dreams and thinking outside the box. I also liked the idea of doing a 3D book. The pictures are obviously two-dimensional, as they are in a book, so the magic happens in the reader’s head.”

Henning describes being an illustrator as “the best job I can imagine. On a Monday morning I look forward to going to the studio, and to drawing,  painting or inventing a new story. Doing what one loves doing and getting paid for it is a privilege. I can express my ideas, and with a bit of luck, a book will come out of it.”

A scene from Was Schwimmt Denn Da by Henning Lohlein1

An illustration from Was Schwimmt Denn Da by Henning Lohlein

Find more of Henning’s work online at www.Lohlein.com.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Book review – Howl by Miles Salter

Howl by Miles SalterHow’s this for a list of ingredients for a very special recipe?

Two mates, one batty old lady, a grumpy cat, a vicar, two absent parents, a mysterious jewel, and a teacher liable to bare his teeth at the rise of the full moon.

These are the things that set Miles Salter‘s Howl alight.

No, this is not the Allen Ginsberg poem, but thankfully rather lighter but equally vivid fare. Set around the town of Rigor Mourtice and its primary school, Howl focuses on James Small and his mate Neville Heavy.

A new teacher, Mr Grindell, has joined the school, and seems determined to make their lives a misery.

Then James’ parents have to go away, and (I wasn’t quite sure how believable this was – but it works for the plot, so never mind), he’s sent to spend two weeks living with a childminder he’s never met before. But Mrs Winters isn’t just a stranger; she’s truly bonkers. She’s also concerned with Mr Grindell’s peculiar behaviour, especially where it regards the local church and a long lost treasure.

The tale crackles with energy, helped along by the two boys and their mischief, courage and determination. The two friends are brilliantly matched, and their characters utterly believable.

Mrs Winter’s eccentricity is a joy, while Mr Grindell is wonderfully sinister even when he isn’t doling out peculiar punishments such as making the lads stand in the school’s ankle-deep and icy cold pond. All other adults are incidental, as seems only right in a book aimed at 7 to 10 year olds.

I enjoyed the filmic quality of Salter’s writing, with his descriptions providing a vivid backdrop to the action as the story speeds towards its crescendo.

Howl: A Small and Heavy Adventure by Miles Salter is published by Caboodle Books Ltd and available to buy from Amazon.

I’m always happy to find out what you’re reading. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Illustrated insights with Laura Hallett

The BFG cr Laura Hallett

The BFG © Laura Hallett

I first spotted Laura Hallett’s beautiful illustrations in Bristol coffee shop The Crazy Fox. Her delicate doodles capture a sense of life and, often, wistfulness, that I find really appealing. Roald Dahl’s The BFG was one of my favourite books when growing up, and seeing Laura’s original take on the gentle dream-catching giant is utterly entrancing.

“I love the surrealism and inventiveness of the Roald Dahl stories that offer potential for a wealth of endless inventive visual images,” Laura says. “I enjoy developing my own vision for well known tales, defining the characters in the stories through my own eyes and trying to capture distinct atmospheres through the use of colour, light and composition.”

A passion for stories and narratives influenced Laura’s decision to become an illustrator.

“I’ve always loved creating things and the freedom that comes with being an artist,” Laura explains. “Initially when I was young I simply enjoyed the process of drawing and painting and playing around with colours and characters. I love reading and writing short stories so I think part of that came from enjoying the storytelling and narrative process – art was just another avenue for this.”

The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe cr Laura Hallett

The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe © Laura Hallett

As she grew older the chance to experiment with drawing and painting became a driving force. “Making art in the pursuit of expressing myself and communicating ideas really began to be exciting.”

But she still wasn’t sure art was a viable career path. “When I left school I initially studied History and Politics at University as I wasn’t sure whether art was a good career plan, but I found that I just kept on painting and decided that I had to pursue it or I’d regret it.”

Laura worked on developing her own style and creative ideas, and studied Illustration at Falmouth. “Since I graduated it’s just been about working really hard and developing my work to a point where I feel confident in my own personal visual language,” she says. “This year has been a highlight; moving to a creative city like Bristol where I’m surrounded by people pursuing their own creative path has been really inspiring, and I’ve also seen my first published narrative illustration in American poetry anthology Rebels, held my first solo exhibition in the Crazy Fox Cafe and produced two large painted public art sculptures in Birmingham and Sheffield.”

Little Women cr Laura Hallett

Little Women © Laura Hallett

Illustration, she explains, “is a very broad area that permits considerable creative freedom. The goal is to communicate an idea or feeling or story but the route you take to get there can incorporate almost any medium or approach. I also enjoy the importance of a strong sense of design and aesthetics.”

Laura adds that the “escapist quality of children’s literature” is a particular attraction. “The stories take you into another world and allow room for your imagination to run free. Everyone sees something quite different when they read a story and it can be fascinating to see how different illustrators approach the same narrative from completely different places.”

The characters are also crucial, she comments. “As a child, being inspired by a character from your favourite book can shape the kind of person you want to be; even if it’s often just until you read your next book and meet a new character to go on a journey with!”

She adds: “From an illustrative perspective I also love the strange juxtaposition you often get from children’s literature, whereby stories, which often have a comforting familiarity and generate feelings of nostalgia, are often also quite strange and surreal. Children have fewer pre-conceptions so are very open to this.”

The tiny details Laura includes in her artwork all contribute to making her work sing on the page.

“I’m a bit obsessed by the small details of everyday life that help me to capture a sense of it. I try to produce work that you can keep coming back to and noticing new things in for the first time.”

Telling a story through one picture is an exciting challenge, she says. “I’m inspired by stories about people’s lives and by simply taking in what is going on around me. Having studied history and politics I am also inspired by historical events and social changes and would love to explore this area more through my work in the future.”

Bristol Map cr Laura Hallett

Bristol Map © Laura Hallett

Laura’s fascination with informative details has led to a series of illustrated maps, which were recently exhibited in Bristol.

“The Map of Bristol was a focal point of my exhibition at The Crazy Fox. As a new resident of Bristol, the map was my way of getting to know my new home. I love the very distinct different characters the different areas of the city have, and the varied architecture that reflects this and reflects the very individual artistic and creative spirit of the city.”

Laura also loves mapping trends and fashions through her work. “The London trends piece (below) was completed for a design competition run by London Transport Museum. It’s one of my favourite illustrations and one of the pieces I most enjoyed doing as it enabled me to indulge my passions for music, the fashions and tribes connected with it, and historical and social changes. It was also a great opportunity to focus on characterisation and design. I love being able to develop my illustrations through my own evolving interests and passions.”

London Fashions and Trends cr Laura Hallett

London Fashions and Trends © Laura Hallett

Keep an eye on www.laurahallett.co.uk to find out what Laura’s up to and see more of her work. Many of her pieces are available to buy as limited edition giclee prints at www.etsy.com/shop/LauraBHallett

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Give me a shout at judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Let them read poetry!

OverTheHillsAndFarAwayBuying gifts for other people’s children is never an easy task. Is that big plastic dinosaur really going to keep them enthralled pass Boxing Day? Why not buy them a poetry collection instead? There are plenty out there especially written for children, fun for adults too, and, brilliantly, they won’t take up space in the toybox!

Here are three that have caught my eye.

My Life As A Goldfish coverMy Life as a Goldfish by Rachel Rooney

This comical cover of this collection belies the thought-provoking poems within.

In Wide Open we’re shown the inside of unbroken eggs, the moon and stars and even told of the wide open eye of the title that “yesterday it spied on your nightmares/and tomorrow it will spy on your dreams.” This poem manages to encompasse all the wonder our universe contains – impressive in only a few lines. Elsewhere in the collection a wolf girl laps hot pea soup from a bowl, a lie slithers into a school bag, and we experience mundanity and drama of the world from a goldfish’s point of view.

One of my favourites is Stone, three elegant couplets that begin: “Stone remembers sea: its salty lap./ Sea remembers river’s winding map.”

There’s plenty of humour too, including Rooney’s witty limericks and riddles, a helpful advice poem (“never ask a hippo/ for a friendly game of squash”) and a lonely hearts advert from a wolf seeking “lady in red/ with plump and soft skin/ to share walks in the forest/ and cosy nights in.”

Werewolf Club RulesWerewolf Club Rules
by Joseph Coelho

At first glance, performance poet Coelho’s verses form a lighter, shallower collection. In fact, as you sink into works like Miss Flotsam you’ll suddenly realise you’re swimming through waters packed with life. Coelho weaves in a view of the world that will help children make sense of atrocities without soaking in their terrors. miss Flotsam is a hero who helps her pupils through some of life’s frightening moments without letting them know quite that’s what she’s doing – and Coelho shares her skill.

There are celebrations of food, of pets (particularly puppies) nature and education (even though in the  An A* From Miss Coo there’s a humorous yet alarming examination of the dangers of being ‘taught’ to write poetry).

Among the wealth of stories, imagery and ideas, there are occasional blips. In Wool the poet suggests sheep are skinned to make jumpers, which seems an odd oversight to publish in a book for children. Other than this, the riches are many, with plenty to make kids laugh aloud (I know my five-year-old nephew will love Animal Boy, and enough depth to enthral older children and adults too.

Over the Hills and Far Away collected by Elizabeth Hammill

This hardback, beautifully illustrated book is a rather different beast. Bringing together nursery rhymes gathered from across the English-speaking world, it’s the kind of tome you give as an heirloom gift, to be treasured by generations of children, parents, grandparents (not to mention uncles and aunts!). The book has been devised and put together by Elizabeth Hammill – co-founder of the marvellous Seven Stories in Newcastle.

As a writer, I was intrigued to read the different versions of familiar rhymes (in Australia, for instance, Little Miss Muffet faces up to a boxing kangaroo and a wombat – perhaps Australasian spiders would give little ones nightmares!), while absorbing poems from as far afield as Ghana and New Zealand and rediscovering some half-forgotten favourites.

Children will enjoy vivid poem tales from Jamaican, Inuit and Maori cultures, while eating up the energy-packed artwork – it’s just a shame it isn’t made clearer which of the 77 artists illustrated each nursery rhyme – this would have added a further dimension of pleasure for me.

To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Children’s books for adult minds – part 2

Children's Books Post2Last week I posted reviews of four of my favourite books for children and teens – the kind of writing that, in my experience, appeals to adults and young people alike. Here are four more that top my list.

If you have any suggestions for YA or children’s books you think should make it into my library, or fond memories of the ones I’ve already included, let me know by clicking on the Leave A Reply button. Thanks!

Ninety-nine Dragons by Barbara SleighNinety-nine Dragons by Barbara Sleigh

As a small child I REALLY wanted a pet dragon, so my discovery of Barbara Sleigh’s gentle adventure tale gave me a voyeuristic thrill.

On a hot summer’s night (back in the days when Britain still had summers), Ben and Beth can’t get to sleep so their dad suggests counting sheep. So far, so ordinary. But Ben chooses to count dragons instead, which is fine except that the smallest, 99th dragon, doesn’t quite make it over the gate, and then they work out that the sheep and the dragons must be in the same place, and that dragons love nothing better to eat than sheep.

The only thing for it is to each count the other jumping over a gate and go to warn to the sheep…

My Sister Sif by Ruth ParkMy Sister Sif by Ruth Park

This teen novel is a more grown up version of the mermaid stories I grew up on, which is possibly why I found it so entrancing. Add to that an exotic location and a waft of ecology and I was utterly transported.

And then there are the Menehune, and the wildlife, and feisty Riko whose sister Sif of the title is more sea-dweller than land. It simultaneously fuelled my love of wildlife, travel and (though I would not have wanted to admit it as a teenager) fairy tales.

There’s plenty of drama as Riko fights to save both the tropical wonderland she grew up in, and the family (which includes a few dolphins) she adores from the encroaches of the modern world, but in the end the real threat comes from love.

The Owl Service by Alan GarnerThe Owl Service by Alan Garner

I only discovered this book towards the end of last year, when a friend mentioned the impact it had made on her as a child.

Reading it as an adult I found myself gleaning tips on how to enthral readers, offering just enough information to keep them hooked without giving the game away.

Following the discovery of a set of crockery patterned with owls that seem to disappear at whim, Alison, Roger and Gwyn find themselves locked into the equally mysterious patterns of an age-old feud that threatens to destroy them all.

Owls, plates, ancient legends and the glorious Welsh countryside… How could you resist?

The Death Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughreanThe Death Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughrean 

The tale begins with Paul Roux, nicknamed Pepper, reaching his 14th birthday – a momentous event considering he’s been told since birth that he would die before this date. But when his birthday arrives with Pepper Roux intact, he flees and begins a series of adventures, hiding in other people’s lives.

It’s a wonderfully imaginative journey that requires the reader to leave their grown up skepticism at the door and accept Geraldine’s reminder that: “People see what they expect to see. Don’t they? Or do they see what they choose?”

Read more of this review.

Discover the first four books on my ‘Children’s books for adult minds’ list.

Book review – The Death Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughrean

The Death Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughreanThough written for children, it’s clear from the wit and dark undertones sprinkling the pages that Geraldine McCaughrean wrote The Death Defying Pepper Roux with adults in mind too.

The tale begins with Paul Roux, nicknamed Pepper, reaching his 14th birthday – a momentous event considering he’s been told since birth that he would die before this date. This grave proclamation has been made by Aunt Mireille, an overly religious saint-obsessed woman who has controlled Pepper’s meagre life, mainly by reminding him at every turn that it is due to end before he turns 14.

But when his birthday, and, if you believe Aunt Mireille, his deathday, arrives with Pepper Roux intact, and rather than wait to have his life removed from him by hordes of fiery angels he flees and begins a series of adventures, hiding in other people’s lives.

It’s a wonderfully imaginative journey that requires the reader to leave their grown up scepticism at the door and accept Geraldine’s reminder that: “People see what they expect to see. Don’t they? Or do they see what they choose?” Continue reading