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Happy 2015! I had to get that in as this is my first post of the year. I am a naughty blogger and I apologise.
It’s been a hectic few months in my studio – I’ve been working on puppet books, a mermaid book, aliens, kittens, bears and foxes (yes, more foxes). I literally haven’t stopped thanks to my super-efficient agents and amazing clients. I’ll be able to show you some of those things soon, but not until they’re published later this year.
The arrival of 2015 is spurring me on to branch out a bit with my style. It’s essential. Not doing it can leave you in a bit of a funk and I can see that not-so-distant funk on the horizon. I’m not talking a complete turnaround – just something small. Change is good, people. Change heralds progression. But change is a bit scary.
First step I’ve taken is to make myself some new brushes. I love this part, it’s like when you buy a new pair of shoes. Even old outfits feel better when you wear your new shoes. You feel smarter and fresher and, well, a little bit spruced up. Second step will be to output lots of new work with my brushes and start replacing the older work I have on show in my portfolio.
I have to replace rather than append because I’m trying to move away from older styles. It could be something as simple as ‘I don’t want to draw feet like that anymore – from this day forward all my characters will wear heels!’ to something more obvious like going from big bug eyes to dot eyes. But this time for me, it’s all about the textures. Here’s a sneaky peek at what I’ve been up to while I run off back to my drawing board.
I hope you like and thanks for stopping by.
Sometimes, I wish I had one of those people who writes the little quotes that pop-up on my Facebook news feed sat on my shoulder. Then I could respond to every situation with a positive ‘thought for the day’. But I don’t. So I often end up sounding really passive-aggressive or overly interested in things that don’t interest me (which can lead to me having to feign interest in the same subject for as many years as I know the person who actually is interested in it…).
This general demeanour has led to lots of unsolicited advice, but here are the best words of wisdom that were ever thrown my way.
“You are not a sausage factory.”
This has stuck with me through thick and thin – offered by an amazing illustrator when I was right at the beginning of my career. You know that bit where the whole world appears to be asking you to work for free (I like to call them ‘freedy’). Well I had a client who was getting a good 4 weeks worth of my time for the equivalent of a piece of fluff and a magic bean. Really. They were also working my fingers to the bone and pretty much wanting me to just bang out generic images, just using me as their hands. There was no creativity involved whatsoever. I asked a group of very professional illustrators ‘What should I do?’. A very, VERY fabulous lady said ‘You’re not a sausage factory’ and I understood everything all at the same time. I think that was the day I learned self-respect as an illustrator. I’ve never worked on a job like that again.
“If you act like you fell out of a Christmas cracker, that’s how people will treat you.”
This is pretty self explanatory and came from something I was reading on a very funny ‘mums’ website. If you have no values, morals, expectations then you only have a novelty value. And as we all know, novelty wears off very quickly. Stand up and say what you’re about.
“Ask. The worst that can happen is a big fat ‘no’.”
The most straight forward thing can sometimes be the hardest thing. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Sometimes, if you do ask, you don’t get. But the most important thing here is, nothing worth having is usually offered on a plate. You really do have to make your own opportunities or you’ll forever be wondering why everyone else is getting ahead and you’re stuck on the couch in your pyjamas watching daytime TV and checking your phone every five minutes. Disclaimer: Even if you become a go-getter overnight, I can’t guarantee that you won’t still check your phone every five minutes…
“You can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you have to go through it.”
Ten points to everyone who’s sticking their hands up now saying ‘I know that one!’. This is a great mantra for tough times or that middle to end bit of a project or that one double page spread you’re really not looking forward to colouring. This is my favourite all-rounder.
And when everything goes wrong:
“What’s for you, won’t go by you.”
This is my mum’s stock phrase for when things go wrong. It’s a bit hokey-pokey but it always makes me feel better. I do find myself now saying this to other people when everything goes belly-up.
“You’ve got more chance of being bitten on the *ahem* bum by a cabbage.”
This is my dads.
Thanks for reading, I hope some of these stay with you and help you like they did me. If not, feel free to add your own in the comments.
So Edinburgh was brilliant. I met lots of lovely people, grinned (like my brain had fell out) as I said hello to Nick Sharratt and Guy Parker-Rees, had the two most amazing chairs introducing my events, had a shock beyond belief at the cost of two dippy eggs and a piece of toast, ate fudge and watched A Touch of Frost. I also saw a lady in a bright pink tutu push her whole body through something that looked like a tennis racquet, a man throw a stick of fire in the air and almost set a member of the crowd on fire and lots of dogs made of sand. The best thing though, as ever, was the sea of little smiling faces waiting for me to do something pirate-y and the ever more bizarre and lovely sly hugs that the children (this time at Drumbrae Library) throw on you when you’re least expecting it (although, I don’t think anyone will take me more by surprise that the little boy who kissed me on the knee back in May). It will never stop bewildering me when I see the standard of art that these little people produce in a draw-along.
Unfortunately I’m a little late with this post as I brought back a horrendous cold/sinus-y thing/chesty thing with me and just generally getting any work done has been like wading through custard.
I made a handout for the children attending the events and now it’s all over, I can share it with everyone – feel free to download and (as ever) don’t forget to show me what your little ones’ come up with!
If you were following my Twitter account a few years ago, you may remember that I had a fox as my background, just on the left of the page. His sharp little nose pointed to a post and he said Big Whoop with his sarcastic face on.
So how do you go from there to a book?
Well the first thing to happen was a conversation with my Agent (Bright) in the US* and at the time, that was the fabulous Kirsten Hall. I had no intention of doing anything other than occasionally agree with Mr. Fox as he selected a random post on Twitter to be not bothered about (sometimes my own, sometimes not). Kirsten had a twitchy feeling though and planted the seed that he’d be a great character if I could develop a story for him.
So I did.
It involved a rabbit, a squirrel, a helicopter, a dragon, kittens, a chessboard and a sausage. The sausage was eventually dropped, for reasons of decency, but the story was something to build on with the right publisher. Cue Pow! Kids Books.
I had one of those overseas conversations with Sharyn at Pow!, you know where you sound very awkward and dweeb-like because of the delay (laughing 20 seconds after the last sentence started so you miss the start of the next sentence). We talked about language and words and I learned why American’s look at me like I’m a little strange in face-to-face conversation. I use a LOT of colloquial terms, so we had to change that. Originally, there was a line ‘Well fold me like a letter and post me home!’. That was cut.
At this point, we signed the deal, and although it was my third book, it was my first with a publisher outside of the UK so I was completely chuffed (if you’re in the UK)/stoked (if you’re in the US).
From there it was just ironing out details and colouring in. The personalities of Roman and Harrison and Mr. Fox are all family based. I couldn’t possibly put names to them, that would be rude, but I bet the lovely mister can spot himself in there…
Pow! have been brilliant to work with and pretty much let me run riot with the artwork, but I’ll always be sad about the sausage. I loved that sausage, in all it’s innocent inappropriateness.
If you fancy seeing some reviews, you can check out Goodreads or Google if you have a spare 5 minutes.
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I really appreciate your support, people, even just reading my waffles on here. It means so much to me and I can’t say a GREATBIGTHANKYOU enough!
Just checking in quickly to shout about the fact that I’ve updated my folio with lots of new things. You can get there by clicking the link up there ^ or go to www.portfolio.maxinelee.com if you like typing.
I’ve uploaded lots of art from Big Whoop!, Sorry, Dad!, Pi-Rat!, a picture dictionary I worked on last year for Blue Rabbit and some educational spreads for Learning Focus and Compass Media.
I’ll post again shortly with a nice meaningful post about the fabulous commissions/projects I’m working on right now, just as soon as the heat stops frazzling my brain.
Just a quick post to share some the fabulous reviews/comments left by Mumsnet members after their big Sorry, Dad! giveaway. I do love a bit of Mumsnet (in between sketching and writing) so when I saw these, I was smiling all over my face.