04 September 2014
FRANK! by Connah Brecon - Giveaway!
Some illustrators are so brilliant, their books are luscious treats to enjoy. Such is the case with Connah Brecon’s new FRANK! Although a longtime illustrator, Connah is relatively new on the US kid lit scene, so I’m delighted to get the chance to know him better…
Q. Connah, congratulations on FRANK! How did this book come to be?
A. Hi Elizabeth & many thanks for the compliments. I'm sure, like most illustrators I spend most of my time viewing others work & just hanging my head, thinking I might as well just give up right now. There are so many talented illustrators around at the moment, so it's really lovely to hear something good about yourself.
Frank! came about through one of those happy coincidences, my daughter had just started Primary school & we (the parents), kept getting subtle hints in the school newsletter regarding promptness. I joked with my daughter about why the students might be late to school & of course the excuses/reasons just got more & more bizarre. I had recently drawn this bear character, who became Frank, & he was lounging on my desk, so it seemed a perfect fit. You might notice the dedication is to the students & staff of the school, who I jokingly refer to as being 'always on time'. Initially I intended Frank to be the only animal character in the story, so he would stand out but as I began sketching the spreads it became obvious to make the characters a nice mix of human & animal. Most of my stories come about through a lovely collision of characters/sketches & story ideas. The process never seems to be exactly the same twice. Some come together easier than others but it's always a very organic process, there is no template to creating the perfect Picture Book.
Q. You’re from down under - what’s the children’s book scene like there?
A. Actually I'm from the UK but currently live in Melbourne with my family. I am decidedly British. *smiley face*
The Kidlit scene here is thriving as it is elsewhere in the World & I put that down to the range of children's lit that is currently being produced. There is such a wide spectrum of work/styles available to buy at the moment, which has really thrown a spotlight back onto the scene, alongside a book savvy audience. We suffered such a drought in quality work through the eighties & nineties which, in hindsight, will make this period we are in seem like a golden age in children's publishing. A couple of years back I was speaking to a well known Australian illustrator who berated me with the news that Picture Books were dead & that apps was where it was going to be happening, well, we've all seen what's come of that *looking at you (name removed for liable reasons), famous illustrator*. & just the other week I was informed by a big publisher here in Melbourne that they were sorry for not being able to offer me a publish date prior 2017. That's a healthy place for children's publishing to be.
So, super rosy is the short answer.
Q. I ADORE your style - can you walk us through your method?
A. Thank you Elizabeth.
Well, everything starts with a sketchbook & pencil (old school). Once all the spreads are drawn up (on paper), I scan them into photoshop, cut out each character & begin painting beneath that paper layer. This retains the original pencil line plus you get to keep the paper texture, helping, hopefully, to remove that digital feel from the illustration. For a while I was quite paranoid about my work looking too digital but now with Frank! I think I've found a happy medium. With the background art I like to work fresh from scratch in photoshop, trying to allow happy accidents to occur, which is me trying to replicate what happens when you work traditionally. I use found textures over the top of colours to enable a more tactile look. Generally though, the overall art has a way of working itself out for each book. & with each new book you try to push the art further & I think this relates to the previous question, there are so many great books being produced at the moment that as an illustrator you are forced even more to up your game. You're not just competing against yourself but all the other great books out there. Not that you should overly dwell on such issues but it definitely lurks there in the darker recesses.
Q. I’m so intrigued by your color palette. Was that a quirky accident, or a planned decision?
A. Thank you, that was a compliment right? (Me: YES!)
I've always been known to have a more muted palette which I think just stems from my personal taste in colour ranges. But with FRANK! I made a conscious decision to broaden that palette for certain aspects of the book & also throw in some big splash pages from left field. It's another method of introducing energy into a story & also me testing myself, can I be happy that the sky is yellow given that the sky is never yellow in reality. When you create a Picture Book or any story come to that, you create a unique World that these characters inhabit, if your colour choices are believable in that World then it's a win. So, I think with each new book there should be a new World, still recognisable as yours but different. & in a way each story does kind of dictate your colour choices to a degree, the feel, the sentiment of the story comes through.
Q. What’s been your illustrative journey and how did you break into children’s books?
A. So, I studied art at tertiary level; this is way back, back before the internet, I'm old right? I fell into illustration by accident. My girlfriend at the time was an illustrator & I saw how I was painting these monumental canvases & not making any money & here she was painting these little cute illustrations & making money, it was an easy decision to make. I spent a decade in editorial illustration before moving out here & landing my first Picture Book with Lothian Books. I just called them up, went in & they said "you should try writing your own stories too". I mean, maybe that was a put-off but I did & ended up publishing three of my own Pictures with the wonderful Helen Chamberlin, then the senior editor. Since then I have basically worked in education chapter books & Picture Books. The educational market was very lucrative here until recently when the big publishers started moving everything offshore to India! Sorry Indian people of the World. I also taught illustration for a few years & that was fun, except the paper work, they should have given me someone to do that job. Short sighted education system!
Q. Was there a defining moment or revelation in your path to becoming an illustrator, or in defining your style?
A. Not as such, I think I've happily landed on my feet a few times in my career. I'm sure it's a lot like life in general, if you keep working at what you love eventually you hit gold. As for the style thing, I try & stay fresh as much for myself as anyone else. You always manage to find something while working, some mistake that works out that you want to pursue & explore. There is also that pursuit of perfection, the gap between what you see in your head & what comes out on the page & of course that gap never narrows.
Q. There are lots of funny signs hiding in FRANK! Is there a story behind those?
A. I wish *counts dollar bills*. I just love background detail, incidental information if you will. If books are Worlds then they should be filled with detail, all the fluff helps to support our main characters. I do really admire illustrators that can tell a story with minimal visual effort, it's a talent in it's own right. Detail is just something I can't help doing. But it is nice to ask what the heck that sailor is doing in town at a Charity Dance Off?
Q. Now that America knows about you, you have more books in the pipes. Can you share more about them?
A. Hello America! Pleased to meet you.
Alongside FRANK! I have a second Picture Book coming out late December 2014 through Philomel Books. THERE'S THIS THING is a love about a girl who likes a... well, that would be telling. Besides that I have a few scripts that are doing the rounds now, so fingers crossed.
Q. Thanks so much and I wish you much continued success!!
A. Thanks Elizabeth, it was great talking to you.
Connah has very generously agreed to send a signed copy of FRANK! all the way from Australia to one of my lucky winners! Must live in the US or the UK to win - enter below!