Do you need me to draw you a picture? Book illustrators demand equal status
Authors and illustrators respond to failure to honour equally the illustrator and author of Pigín of Howth at the Irish Book Awards
Margaret Anne Suggs: illustrator of Pigín of Howth
Children’s Books Ireland issued a statement after last week’s Irish Book Awards voicing concern over what it saw as the failure to honour award-winning illustrator Margaret Anne Suggs equally for her contribution to Pigín of Howth, written by Kathleen Watkins, which won the junior children’s book of the year prize. You can read the statement and the reponses of the book’s publisher Gill and the award organisers here.
Here, a broad cross-section of writers, ilustrators and publishers address the issue of equal recognition for illustrators of picture books.
Ireland is known as a nation that values education and in particular values literacy. But do we value it at the cost of visual appreciation? In school, children are asked to analyse poetry and stories, but rarely are they asked to analyse a photograph or a painting. And yet we know that young children learn better when the message is illustrated. Illustrated books contribute enormously to a child’s development, provoking imagination and bringing difficult ideas to life. Try explaining how people dressed a hundred years ago to a young child or how a girl feels when her dog dies. For the small child words are often too cumbersome, too abstract, too foreign. Illustration is familiar and comforting. A small child recognises its mother’s face before anything else. Images, it seems, are the language of the pre-verbal baby and they leave an indelible impression.
I have been privileged to work with four different illustrators as a picturebook writer.
I have always felt that the words I write are there to open a dialogue with the illustrator. Think of it like a dance. The story takes a step, the illustrator responds. The illustrator’s choreography is not just about giving life to the words on the page, though they do that for sure. Their dance is their reply to the words on the page; the touches of humour, the blink of an eye, those splashes of unexpected colour, that beam of light. A picturebook is a collaboration, a time honoured fandango. It is a collaboration that I love. It is time that we gave due appreciation and respect to the gifted artists who dance with us. I, for one, have no wish to dance alone.
Patricia Forde writes for children in both Irish and English across various genres. Her most recent title The Wordsmith was published by Little Island Books.
Yesterday I was at a packed event with over three hundred children and their parents. Comedian, David O’Doherty and illustrator and picturebook maker, Chris Judge were presenting their hilarious Danger is Everywhere show in the Pavilion Theatre in Dún Laoghaire. On stage it was a team effort, David talked while Chris drew complimentary images on a flip chart (and did some rather good mime and interpretative dance, but that’s another story). Their books feature both words by O’Doherty - advice on how to deal with the terrifying dangers every child may encounter, from vampire teachers to sharks in the toilet - and outstanding illustrations, typography and design by Judge. Both are equally important. This is the ideal situation. The author of the highly successful books for young readers, Cakes in Space and Oliver and the Seawigs, Philip Reeve tours with the illustrator of the books, Sarah McIntyre. Again, they are a team and a highly entertaining team too, one of the most colourful in the business.
This is not always the case, author and illustrator are not always treated equally. Covers of novels are ‘revealed’ on social media with no mention of the illustrator, signings take place without both the author and the illustrator of a picturebook present, publishers forget to list illustrators on Amazon, and in a recent case the illustrator of Pigín of Howth by Kathleen Watkins, Margaret Anne Suggs was left off the Irish Book Awards brochure. This is not acceptable and needs to be addressed.
Picturebooks give children (and adults) a highly immersive literary and visual experience; they are in the forest with the Gruffalo, on a branch with the baby owls in Owl Babies, squelching through the mud with the family in We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. Without the ground breaking illustrations, these books would not be the classics that they are today. They again are a team effort - Julia Donaldson AND Axel Scheffler, Martin Waddell AND Patrick Benson, Michael Rosen AND Helen Oxenbury.
Our world is becoming more and more visual and the illustrators providing outstanding artwork for our most important books, the books we give the youngest of our citizens, need to be cherished and supported. As a writer I know only too well how vital the artwork is in my younger books. Illustrator Steve McCarthy’s stellar artwork was the reason my nursery rhyme collection with Claire Ranson, Sally Go Round the Stars was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards. His pictures make the book shine and I’m delighted to be working with him again on another project in 2017.
It is not acceptable to treat illustrators as second class citizens of the book world - they need to be properly credited and appreciated, starting right now. Pictures matter.
Sarah Webb is a writer for children and adults. She is currently the Writer in Residence for Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown.
Should illustrators for picturebooks be recognised alongside authors? The fact that this is even still being debated is nonsensical to me. Of course they should. Or rather I should I say, WE should. Some authoritative bodies are better at recognising this oversight (for that is all it is) than others, and really, I do not see any viable defence for the contrary. I am in the fortunate position of having both authored and illustrated books, but also being a gun for hire - brought in to visually co-create a book. I know full well the importance of the role of art in this realm that is equally made up by words and pictures. No one can seriously argue that illustrators do not play just as an important (or dare I say, possibly, occasionally, even MORE important) role than authors of picturebooks. It is as ridiculous as saying that no one judges a book by their cover, when in reality, we all do it. All the time. The cover is the first thing that any parent or child gravitates to when they see a book from across the library or bookshop. They immediately have a relationship with how the art makes them feel. The illustrations in picturebooks are essentially a child’s first interaction with art. A human beings first interaction with their cultural world. To not properly recognise the importance of this is to condemn the art in picturebooks to merely packaging. I’m sure even authors will agree that this should not be the case.
Oliver Jeffers is an awardwinning artist, illustrator and picturebook maker. He grew up in Belfast and now lives in Brooklyn. Imaginary Fred, his collaboration with Eoin Colfer, won a BGEIBA (Specsavers Junior Category) in 2015.
‘Picturebooks can be read without words. My little girl does it all the time! I think in the case of young children’s picturebooks the illustrator deserves more recognition, maybe more so than the author. They are called “picturebooks” for good reason.’ Nicola Emoe, Illustrator.
For many people illustration within books will be their first introduction to the wider world of visual art as well as an imaginative and creative introduction to literature. In the past illustration has been viewed as less important than the written text, and illustrators have been overlooked.
Since inception the Laureate na nÓg project has had two picturebook makers, myself and PJ Lynch. We have both campaigned to give illustration in Ireland the recognition it deserves. During my tenure I drew attention to the incredible work created by our Irish illustrators with Pictiúr, an illustration exhibition that showcased the extraordinary rich talent present in contemporary children’s books. Pictiúr highlighted the impact that illustration had on the creative lives of children in Ireland and showed that we take children’s literature seriously. I believe that the author and the illustrator should share in the recognition when their book goes out into the world.
As a creator of picturebooks I understand the close relationship between words and pictures; one cannot exist without the other. Collaboration is integral to successful picturebooks and there should also be a tremendous bond of sympathy between text and pictures.
So it is only fair that the author and illustrator should be given equal recognition.
I am mindful when making my picturebooks that they are made for very young audiences; one should never underestimate this young reader. It is sometimes the rhythm of the story that captures their imagination but more often in the realm of picture books the visuals engage first.
Picturebooks would not exist without the illustrator and equal billing should be accorded when the book goes into the world, by publishers, reviewers, award committees and the public, but sadly this is often not the case. When it comes to picturebooks, the author is often credited first, or solely no matter how well known the illustrator.
I am a director of lllustrators Ireland, a group of professional illustrators that work together to promote and showcase the work of its members, advocate for their interests and encourage high professional standards. It is not only in children’s books where the illustrator can be overlooked; Irish design firms frequently fail to give credit where it’s due. Some designs go on to win awards and recognition, but sadly, no credit is afforded to the illustrator. We encourage our members to speak up for best practice and speak out if they are not given fair credit for their work. I support Sarah McIntyre’s #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign and I am heartened to see that this campaign is also gaining momentum in Ireland with the support of Children’s Books Ireland.
I believe that picturebooks have a huge impact on the creative, emotional and artistic well-being of the next generation. Within their pages, seeds of wisdom and possibility are sown. There is so much more to a book than just the reading. And a picturebook without the pictures would be very uninspiring indeed!
Niamh Sharkey is an illustrator, writer, former Laureate na nÓg and a director of Illustrators Ireland
Twenty-five years ago, when I was living in England, a book illustrated by a friend of mine was shortlisted for a book award. She went along to the awards ceremony full of hopeful excitement and was thrilled when her book won the first prize. She and the author were called up on stage and my friend was presented with a bouquet of flowers. They were beautiful flowers, but the author was given a big shiny award and a cash prize of £1000. It was particularly galling as theirs’s was a book for babies and it was very heavily illustrated throughout. My friend was devastated that her six-month’s of work on the project was considered such a trivial element by people in the book world who should have understood just how important the illustrator’s contribution is in a book for very young children. Together we counted the number of words the author had written. They were clever and funny and charming words, but, including the title, there were only two hundred and fifty-seven of them!
Attitudes in the UK have improved a good deal since then but illustrators are still too often given short end of the stick. Sarah McIntyre, an American illustrator living in the UK, has had a good deal of success with her Pictures Mean Business campaign that highlights how illustrators are often overlooked in press and online book coverage, but it seems that the message has still not been heard clearly in Ireland!
When the shortlists for the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards were announced in October with two illustrators in the junior book category completely uncredited, I asked the organisers to give equal credit to the co-creators of illustrated books for children. Children’s Books Ireland had made a similar appeal and we were heartened that the online shortlists were updated and we were reassured that the BGEIBAs would proceed appropriately. It was a disappointment then to hear that at the awards ceremony, when Pigín of Howth won the junior book prize, the lion’s share of the credit went to author Kathleen Watkins with scraps for illustrator Margaret Anne Suggs. Kathleen herself was fulsome in her praise of Margaret’s work.
A good part of the problem stems from the attitude of Pigín of Howth’s publisher Gill books. Referring to the success of ‘Kathleen Watkins’ Pigín of Howth on their website the publisher also gives what it feels is due credit to the “many talented people involved in the making of this book including the illustrator, Margaret Anne Suggs, the editor, Síne Quinn, and the designer Graham Thew”. It is telling that Suggs is grouped with the editor and designer. Those roles are hugely important in the making of any picturebook but they are secondary to the essential creative work of the author and illustrator.
Children understand how important the pictures are in our picturebooks. Most authors understand too, but many Irish publishers, booksellers and awards bodies need to catch up!
We illustrators put our hearts and souls into the books we illustrate. They become our books as much as they are the author’s, and it really hurts when someone else gets all the credit!
PJ Lynch, Ireland’s current Laureate na nÓg, is an award-winning book illustrator.
Thirty years of creating picturebooks as a writer-illustrator and it still surprises me when people spend several minutes telling me how much they love my books only to add, ‘You don’t do the illustrations too, do you?’
Illustrator-me tries not to howl in dismay at writer-me getting all the credit for the story-making, the character-building, the scene-setting. After all, illustrator-me and writer-me are one and the same, so does it really matter?
Yes. Of course it does. Because it results from words being perceived as more important than images, that old cultural bias (here and in the UK) towards the verbal.
As a writer I can tell you that coming up with a picturebook idea and crafting the text for it isn’t easy. Writers grapple with ideas for months, even years, taking them out into the light every so often, turning and twisting them, trying to bring them to life. As an illustrator I can say that the work involved in creating the book art is just as complex and usually more time-consuming. A picturebook illustrator takes the text - sometimes as few as 100 words - and interprets it, brings the characters to life and expands the reader’s understanding of them, sets the scene, fills in gaps in the text, utilises design, colour, lighting, typeface, image/text placement to help tell the story, captures the mood of it, paces it, builds it, and adds humour and emotion. With picturebooks the writer and illustrator truly are co-creators of the book.
The fact that picturebook creation is a partnership is acknowledged in the brass tacks of most contracts - a picturebook royalty split of 50/50 between writer and illustrator is the industry norm. The fact that the illustrator will very often contribute more work/time to the book is acknowledged by the (common) practice of giving the illustrator the larger portion of the advance, often two-thirds of the available amount. So why then does the industry still occasionally act as if the writer of the book ‘owns’ it, even though the writers themselves don’t make such a claim?
Is it as simple as this: usually the book begins with the writer, therefore the writer is perceived by many to be its true parent? Well, if you are inclined towards seeing things this way, let me suggest you pick up your favourite picturebook. Open it. As you turn the pages erase the illustrations in your mind’s eye, leaving only the words behind. How is the book working for you now?
In years past illustrators were frequently not credited in catalogues and listings, or their names were printed in smaller type than the writers or dropped down to the next line. Things have improved a lot as the illustration work of Oliver Jeffers, Jon Klassen, Shaun Tan and many others has taken the industry by storm, raising the profile of picturebooks, but there are still occasional disconnects, as we’ve seen this week, particularly when there are two different people involved in creating a book. Hopefully this discussion will help bring everyone onto the same page, at last.
Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick is an award-winning writer/illustrator. Her latest book is Owl Bat Bat Owl.
It is very difficult to make a living and carve out a reputation for artists of all kinds -including both authors and illustrators. When a book is successful enough to win an award, it is crucial That the work of artists - writers and illustrators - is acknowledged and recognised.
Siobhán Parkinson writes novels, mostly for children and young people. She was Ireland inaugural Laureate na nÓg.
As an illustrator and author who works in children’s books I am constantly shocked and disappointed by how often illustrators are not credited or recognised for their parts in the creation of children’s books.
I have illustrated other author’s texts and have had an illustrator work on my own texts so have seen it from both sides of the drawing board and it is very much a joint effort and collaboration every time. It is extremely frustrating that this is overlooked so often.
I am very lucky to work with publishers and editors that are aware of this and I always get a credit when working on other author’s text but there are some publishers who still neglect to credit illustrators when it is clear how important illustrations are with regard to helping children grow as readers.
The most notable problem however is how often illustrators’ credits are omitted from reviews, publishing awards and recognition across most media. Going forward it would be my hope that all illustrators are credited on relevant publications and media applications as their work plays an integral part in the end result.
Chris Judge is an illustrator, artist and children’s picturebook author based in Dublin, Ireland.
A picturebook is a combination of words and images. The words play off the pictures and the pictures play off the words. That is the craft of picturebooks, it’s how they work. Very often the words are so heavily reliant on the pictures that they would be completely unintelligible on their own. That is the case with my books, a reader would be able to understand very little of my stories if they read only the words. A typical sequence in my books reads: ‘one, two, three, LOOK!, ready one, ready two, ready three, RUN AWAY’ It makes no sense on its own, but if I showed you the pictures only instead for that same sequence the story would be perfectly understandable. That is why it is so frustrating that illustrators are often not given credit for their work. This phenomenon is actually very particular to the English speaking world. I am currently touring Italy now for a week and next week I will be touring France and here the illustrators are the stars.
I think this is part of a larger problem. In Ireland and the English speaking world, books with pictures are seen as a stepping stone towards ‘real’ literature. They are perceived to be childish. Children are encouraged to move to books without pictures as soon as they can read. Adults here do not read books with pictures. But I think this is nothing more than a cultural attitude, there is nothing about the combination of literature and art that makes it lesser than literature on its own or art on its own.
Our media today is more image and video based than ever before. It is an essential skill to be able to be critical of visual messages as well as textual ones. If we ignore the importance of images and do not develop critical thinking around them, we are more susceptible to persuasion from adverts and political messages. Images have a strong emotional pull that tend to circumvent our conscious mind in a way text cannot do.
Chris Haughton is an Irish illustrator living in London. He has published four books, A Bit Lost, Oh no George!, Shh! We have a Plan and Goodnight Everyone. He also created an app Hat Monkey. They have been translated into more than 25 languages. Chris can be found at chrishaughton.com
The picturebook is an art-form quite distinct from other types of literature regardless of whether the primary market be children or adults (yes some picturebooks are published for the adult market). The team of art director, editor and designer work with author and illustrator to produce a work that often requires regular rebalancing of the weight of text and illustration on each spread in order that the story flows and maintains a suitable rhythm. Even if a publisher approaches a project with a view to ‘dropping in’ illustrations to accompany a text, they must still acknowledge that it is the art that we see and respond to in the first instance.
Conor Hackett of Hackettflynn Ltd; publishers agent specialising in children’s books
Oisín McGann – The Language You Didn’t Know You’d Learned
Pictures are the language you learned without realising it. From before you were born, they have been influencing, informing and enriching your life. They were the illustrations in the books about babies your parents read with nervous anticipation as they waited for you to emerge from the womb. They were the health promotion posters on the walls of the hospital on the day you arrived. They were the diagrams on the instructions your parents followed to put the car seat in, to put together the baby gear and the toys that would promote development.
They were the illustrations on those toys, on the play-mat and your high-chair tray, your plastic plate and your bib. They were the images on the cloth books and board books that you chewed as your mum and dad gazed down at you with love. They were the cartoons you watched. As your parents and teachers first taught you to read, a systematic process laid out in the school curriculum, they used pictures to help you understand the meaning of words. But there was no systematic process to teach you how to read the lines, shapes and colours that made two-dimensional symbols on paper.
Even as you mastered reading words, you continued to read illustrations, because they made the early struggles easier, and still they showed you things that would contort words into knots to achieve the same meaning. These two languages were two aspects of the same thing, human expression, each as valuable as the other, though you wouldn’t know that from the way the world treats them. As ‘reading books with pictures’ became an idiom for ignorance and stupidity, you still looked at them in newspapers, magazines, instruction manuals and road signs. You graduated from comics and cartoon strips, ‘growing up’, but it was still okay to look at political cartoons that could convey more meaning with one image than many of the news articles you read. Imagine the worldwide web without pictures. Imagine if the only images we had were the ones that could be photographed.
And now, as a new generation of parents around the world sit down to read picture books to their children - without explaining to them how to read pictures - remember what it was like when you were that age. Remember that you were able to learn this language of illustration so effortlessly, so instinctively, because someone else put in the time, hard work, imagination, passion and expertise to understand how a change in the curve of this line can be the difference between showing contentment and regret; how this shadow can give the illusion of depth to a two-dimensional image, how adding this colour will change the entire feeling of this picture.
You can read this language because an illustrator uses it so skilfully and expresses themselves so clearly. It is the language we use to learn other languages and it is the only universal language the world has. We could do more to appreciate that.
Oisín McGann is an award-winning writer-illustrator who has produced books for readers of all ages.
Being treated as persona not grata unfortunately seems to come with the territory for professional illustrators working in children’s publishing. Not always and certainly not by everybody, but often at key moments, like when something nice happens to the book you’ve illustrated.
I was at an awards ceremony recently and the illustrator of the winning picturebook behaved extremely deferentially to the author in her acceptance of the award, something I felt was a bit backwards considering it was a picturebook, meaning that as well as crafting and working for months on the visuals, the illustrator was essentially a visual storyteller and co-author in her own right, too. So when I heard that Maggie Suggs’ name was not called for Pigín of Howth at the BGEIBA ceremony at all, it really was astonishing news.
It’s a terrible thing to not feel entitled to jump up and down and openly celebrate the success of a book you have put so much time, love and energy into. You don’t want to overstate your input and seem like a foolish glory-hunter, so you are sometimes put in that awkward position of sort of lurking in the shadow of the author and gratefully accepting any crumbs from the table when they are given. There are questions you ask yourself such as ‘should I tweet this good news or wait for the author to do it?’ or ‘am I allowed to promote this book separately from the author as “my’ work”.’ There is definitely an inference by illustrators that they naturally come second because of the way they are treated around awards ceremonies, in press/reviews and at events and that really has to change.
Recently an excellently written fiction title I illustrated was nominated for one of three awards. Fiction is admittedly a greyer area for illustrators than picturebooks - because of the amount of words, the illustrations appear sparser and more spread out throughout the book. However, this particular book had over eighty illustrations plus a colour cover, which I would argue contribute significantly to its merits, yet somehow my name and no other illustrators’ names were mentioned anywhere on the award’s website where the shortlisted candidates were announced. The author of this book is fantastically generous and without me saying anything tried to amend the situation. But, nevertheless, being overlooked in that moment made me feel less invested in the book. After all, if your name is nowhere to be seen, then why bother? The more fair and equal the recognition is for both authors and illustrators, the more illustrators feel invested in a book’s success and the more inclined they will be to do free promotional events and such, so it just makes sense to give fair credit to both parties.
It’s a very delicate issue to publicly broach for an illustrator because it comes across as foot-stamping and limelight-hogging when really it’s just not wanting to be treated as a second class citizen or as an afterthought, having put in months of work on a book that you feel very attached to. Those characters you’ve shaped and developed belong to both author and illustrator, therefore Pigín of Howth should be considered just as much the creation of Suggs as of Watkins.
Sheena Dempsey is an illustrator and children’s author from Cork living in London. Her recent title, Dave Pigeon, (written by Swapna Haddow) was shortlisted for the Sainsbury’s Children’s Book Award and won the North Somerset Teacher’s Book Awards 2016.
Illustrators Ireland is the representative organisation for professional Irish Illustrators, and non-Irish illustrators based in Ireland. We promote and showcase the work of our members, advocate for illustrators’ interests, and encourage high professional standards. It is in the capacity of advocating for our members’ interests that we take issue with the lack of recognition for our members, and for all illustrators.
Since its inception nearly 20 years ago Illustrators Ireland has advocated on behalf of professional illustrators. In that time the profile of illustration as an artform has risen and Illustration in Ireland is now experiencing something of a ‘golden age’. Members of Illustrators Ireland have, in the last few years, had the quality of their work recognised with awards from all over the world. A generation of artists has emerged here whose work holds its own next to the very best in the world.
Yet, over and over again, here in Ireland, these same illustrators are not given the credit that their work merits and deserves. Within the last few weeks, at the BGE Irish Book Awards, we have seen illustrators go uncredited, in situations where their work was fundamental to a particular project.
[In part of our original statement we said "at the Irish Design Institute Awards, we have seen illustrators go uncredited". We would like to acknowledge that in fact the Irish Design Institute Awards credited all illustrators in all instances at the Awards.]
On a personal level this is galling and disrespectful for the individuals involved, but in a broader sense in is indicative of a problem that runs deeper: it undermines the fundamental value of the work across the entire industry.
Visual communication is more direct, more universal, than verbal or written language. Illustrations are communication (and literature!) in their own right and, whether used alone or integrated with texts, or placed on packaging, or as a background for a poster, they heighten the perception of their audience, they stimulate the imagination of the viewer and they sharpen a sense of observation.
In the case of picture books in particular, Illustrators have a great impact on the ability of the books to function correctly and to succeed commercially. A successful children’s picture book will be a happy marriage of text and image, both playing their role in the telling of the story. Therefore, the writer and illustrator are co-creators of the final book and as Mac Barnett says, “The line between author and illustrator is irrelevant”.
Credit for work acknowledges its value, it acknowledges how it is the pictures that sell picture books, how illustrated packaging sells products, how illustrated book covers sell books, how illustrated posters sell concert tickets or albums, and so on. As professional illustrators, we have to earn our livings creating illustrations. Without proper recognition and recompense for our talents, skills and work, we cannot hope to earn a professional living. We ask that all publishers, art directors, awarding bodies and creatives come together and support us, the illustrators, and credit us appropriately for our work.
Statement on behalf of the directors and members of Illustrators Ireland:
Digital Beast, Martin Beckett, Jon Berkeley, Sarah Bowie, Fatti Burke, Eva Byrne, Jesse Campbell Brown, Steve Cannon, Alan Clarke, Brian Coldrick, Nicola Colton, Aidan Cooney, Shirley Copperwhite, Graham Corcoran, Rachel Corcoran, Eoin Coveney, Sadie Cramer, Sarah Cunningham, Sheena Dempsey, Cathy Dineen, Peter Donnelly, Steve Doogan, Aoife Dooley, Cathal Duane, Alan Dunne, Philip Elliot, Micheal Emberley, Linda Fahrlin, Jennifer Farley, Tatyana Feeney, Brian Fitzgerald, Mary-Louise Fitzpatrick, Dermot Flynn, Brian Gallagher, Adrienne Geoghghan, Una Gildea, Tony Gold, Olivia Golden, Stephen Maurice Graham, Matt Griffin, Abi Hall, Peter Hanan, Debbie Jenkinson, Chris Judge, Joven Kerekes, Tarsila Kruse, PJ Lynch, Dan Leonard, Fuchsia Macaree, Shona Shirley MacDonald, Pablo Mayer, Naomi McBride, Steve McCarthy, David McClelland, Niall McCormack, Phil McDarby, Paula McGloin, Conor McIntyre, Kevin McSherry, Ale Mercado, Robert Mirolo, Tim Moran, Padhraig Nolan, Karen Nolan, Diarmuid O’Cathain, Christina O’Donovan, Donough O’Malley, Damian O’Donohue, Lauren O’Neill, Roger O’Reilly, Maurice Pierse, Vince Reid, Mark Reihill, Orla Roche, David Rooney, Nina Ruminska, Paul Ryding, Niamh Sharkey, Jacky Sheridan, Kirsten Shiel, Steve Simpson, Margaret Anne Suggs, Mario Sughi, Caitriona Sweeney, Sunless (Paul O’Reilly), Stephen Synott, Fintan Taite, The Project Twins, Michael Fitzgerald, James Fitzgerald, Rob Torrans, Olwyn Whelan, John White, Eva Widermann, Ron Wilson, Úna Woods
About three years ago now, when the original draft of my Darkmouth series was still a messy hotchpotch of words and ragged plot, the book’s first test illustrations arrived in my inbox. They were line drawings from the hand of James de la Rue, someone who I had never met, had never worked with. Yet here were three drawings that looked like James had dipped a hand into my mind and pulled out the images found there. It was a genuine shock, and a wonderful surprise.
His detailed illustrations have brought added depth to three books to have followed. When I receive reader art, it is James’s work they are paying homage to. But they inspire me too, bringing detail I hadn’t thought of, helping me to more clearly envision a scene or a character. Here he adds to the story, he does it in all the right places. It has given me an insight into the symbiosis that must exist between writer and illustrator in picture books, and the importance of awarding that work equally when they are clearly co-created.
Then again, there are those in the creative process far too easily overlooked. Think of the ghostwriters who sit smiling at awards ceremonies while a sports star grips the prize for the book they ‘wrote’. Or the editors whose contribution goes from guiding and shaping a work to almost writing it themselves. But their work is deliberately kept the background, their aim often to be unseen. That is not something which could ever be said about illustrators. The art is not invisible, so why should the artists be?
Shane Hegarty is writer of the Darkmouth series (illustrated by James de la Rue)
People think of children’s book illustration as something jolly or magical. But when I started up the #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign, I was finding myself more and more upset watching illustrator friends around me having near-breakdowns. Working to short deadlines, they’d sometimes spend up to 17 hours a day creating lavish pictures for a book, only to find that when the book was published, their name wasn’t on the front cover. They’d be shocked to find no mention of their on the publisher website, on bookselling websites, and reviewers would write about the book as though the pictures didn’t exist, or as though the writer had created them. Sometimes the book wins a prestigious award, only for the writer to get all the credit and appear alone in the media photos, as happened recently with the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards. This is particularly galling with picturebooks (the clue is in the word ‘picture’), where the illustrator’s pictures tell as much of the story as the text, sometimes more, and sometimes a slightly different story to what the words are saying.
This isn’t about illustrator ego, it’s about survival. At the best of times, illustration is a frighteningly difficult business. Even if we have the talent, to get more work we still have to build fans and a readership, just as writers do. We need people to know our name, so readers can seek out our books, publishing art directors will think to commission us, and schools will invite us to speak to their children. (These paid events can be a life line.) In terms of publicity, if we illustrate a book for a famous writer but our name isn’t on the front cover of the books, we’ll have to start from scratch when we move on to work with a different writer.
Unlike most people in the publishing process, there’s one thing writers and illustrators usually have in common: we’re freelance, we don’t earn a salary, we have no pensions set up for us and we’re totally dependent on building our name as our brand to get more work. To pay our rent, feed our kids, upgrade our software, etc, we need all the publicity we can get. For all the help it can give an illustrator, it’s not asking a lot to give us credit for our work.
But there’s a very positive side to this, too! I’ve found that often children will connect with pictures in a way they won’t love a solid page of text. And if they can be invited to love stories by drawing pictures, a named illustrator can be a huge source of inspiration to them. If we let kids know there’s a real person who creates these pictures (maybe even get the chance to meet them at school), they won’t vaguely assume the pictures were automatically churned by some sort of computer. They’ll think, I can do this!
Not all writers and illustrator work together the same way. When I make books with Philip Reeve (who has also worked as an illustrator), we both come up with the ideas together, then he puts the ideas into words and I put them into pictures; we’re very much co-authors. Sometimes when I make picturebooks, I only talk with the editor and art director and don’t talk with the writer until the book is published. But even though I didn’t contribute to the initial idea of the story, my pictures build a whole world, much of which isn’t even mentioned in the story. Sometimes illustrators are brought in to add small illustrations to a longer book (often for older children or adults) and the pictures play a slightly smaller role in the storytelling. But I’d argue that if a book has at least one big picture per chapter, the publisher ought to put the illustrator’s name legibly somewhere on the front cover. These pictures still influence our reading of the story and put unique images into our heads that the words wouldn’t have created by themselves.
Illustrators are amazing, and Ireland should be proud to boast some of the world’s finest.
Read more about #PicturesMeanBusiness at picturesmeanbusiness.com
Sarah McIntyre illustrates and writes books and comics, most recently Jinks & O’Hare Funfair Repair, her fourth book with Philip Reeve, and her picture book with Alan MacDonald, The Prince of Pants. jabberworks.co.uk
The best picturebooks leave a metaphorical space between the words and the pictures; an invisible gap that leaves space for a child’s imagination. And my ambition as a publisher of picturebooks is to nurture that space equally - a space that is only created when great language works alongside great pictures.
In making picturebooks for small children, we care equally - and deeply - about both the author and the illustrator; about both the narrative and the art. Both the text and the image are telling a story and not always the same one either because it would be massively uninteresting if the artist just matched what the author wrote; in fact that’s where the true ‘art’ of the illustrator’s contribution comes to the fore - when his or her imagination illuminates the writer’s words and expands their meaning, often creating a picture book that is all the richer and more profound for the artist’s contribution.
When a story and pictures come together in perfect harmony on the page, a picturebook can become a unique democratic art form - a space where what we see and what we hear unite to become an immersive and hugely pleasurable experience. There is no chicken and no egg, who is to arbitrate what a great picturebook text means to a three or four-year-old? They can’t ‘read’ the story, they must listen to the story being told to them, they must love that story of course, but they must read the pictures to understand it by themselves - the story is in the picture.
There is no question in my mind that the artist is of absolute and equal importance as the author, it’s the nexus of what we do - matching brilliant art to brilliant words. Without great pictures there would be no great picturebooks, the artist and the author must be valued equally or else there would be no business for proper picturebook publishing.
Deirdre McDermott is a picturebook publisher and Creative Director at Walker Books
There are many people who contribute to the creation of a book, but a picture book certainly needs both the illustrator and the author to be appropriately credited. In this case, although publishers Gill Books have placed Margaret Ann Suggs on the cover and spine of the book recognising her as a co-creator, this partnership is not being recognised in the media including at the BGE Irish Book Awards. There is scope for Publishing Ireland to work with Children's Books Ireland and Illustrators Ireland to raise awareness about the appropriate credit for illustrators. There has been a massive explosion of illustration talent in Ireland over the last few years: Irish illustration is at a world standard, and Irish illustrators deserve recognition for this.
I note and admire the ethos of the Dublin Literary Award which acknowledges translators by awarding 25% of the prize money if a book in translation wins. This occurs even though the book has been conceived, written and published before the translator is contracted.
Ruth Hegarty, President, Publishing Ireland