Leanne Barrett: Anatomy of a Picture book with Bob Graham

Saturday 29 July 2017

Anatomy of a Picture book with Bob Graham

Today was a beautiful day for so many reasons.
One. The sun was out. 
And two. Bob Graham was talking @ Muse Canberra, Eat Hotel, Kingston.

Bob Graham came to Canberra a few days ago to open a new exhibition, Imagine If.. by The National Centre for Australian Children's Literature, with Muse being one of the sponsors of the exhibition. In addition to the exhibition Muse Canberra hosted Bob for two events today, one for children and another for adults. 

Bob began the adults session by standing at the front of the room, resting his right hand on the back of his head in an unassuming way and said, 'I've never talked to a room of writers and illustrators before.

If I was only allowed two words to describe Bob it would be gifted and humble.

Bob's giftedness for creating picture books did not show until the age of 40 (which gives hope yet for us late blooming writers and illustrators) when  he took his first book, Pete and Roland, into the publisher Williams Collins in London, unannounced. Bob met the publisher Anne Ingram, with his dummy book in hand and then as they say, the rest is history.

Bob has a extensive history in picture book creation, publishing 87 books over 35 years. His newest book will be realised by Walker Books on 1 November 2017 - The Posey Ring. The story is about a posey ring that is discarded into a meadow by a woman with tears on her cheeks in around 1840 and the readers follow the ring's 'travel thought space and time,' said Bob while he showed the audience the lovely proof cover. This new book will no doubt will be under this year's Christmas Tree and will be read by many over the holiday season.

Bob talked about how before he became a picture book author and illustrator he read to his children all the time. He also read and drew a lot before these pursuits came together in his own stories. Bobs words and illustrations come together like a '...jigsaw puzzle,' said Bob. He explained that the developmental process for his story creation is; that he may write a few words or draw a few pictures and sees where they lead '...they leap frog and then I put them together,' said Bob. He told the audience that many times the story has no ending in sight until later on down the road during the creating process.

Story Development
While Bob does not have a routine in creating the drawings or text first. He does employ a process of  asking himself a range of questions during the story's developmental phase.
  • What perspective will I use to draw the illustration?
  • What other picture opportunities are there?
  • What is happening?
  • What does...?
  • Why...?
  • Where is ...?
  • Who will be in the story?
  • Where do they live?
  • Where is Dad?
  • What drama happens outside of the central characters?
  • What relation do the characters have to each other and the objects or the scene?
  • What does their body language show?
  • If illustrating for other authors he asks - What can I contribute to the story in addition to the words?
Illustration development
Today Bob generously recreated a picture from his book Sliver Buttons and while this is not a accurate representation of his process at home it looked like this.
  1. Sketch in blue pencil
  2. Add black outline to the sketch using a broken line
  3. Apply pastel colour using a cotton ball to the background, shadows and some block areas eg. the face (see photos below regarding the process he uses to apply this medium)
  4. Apply pastel crayon directly onto the picture eg. hair, stripes on the t-shirt and dog's collar
  5. Add shadows using the colour purple
  6. Add some ground below the characters
  7. Add a boarder and the words
Some mediums that Bob uses are;
  • pen
  • pastel crayon
  • colour pencil
  • colour ink
  • tracing paper

Step 2

Step 2

Step 3: Rub pastel crayon on paper
Step 3: Rub the cotton bud in the pastel residue
Step 3: Rub the cotton bud onto the page
Final Picture

Picture Book Creating Process
Bob's process for creating picture books often takes form like this;

  • He creates dummy books.
  • He sketches using a blue mechanical pencil.
  • He uses sticky tape to add pictures and words to a page. (Writers and Illustrators Please Note - This is not a recommended method for long term preservation of your work - Please refer to the National Centre for Australian Children's Literature website page Looking After Your Papers for advice)
  • He uses tracing paper.
  • When happy with the composition he uses a light box to transfer his preliminary work to the final artwork paper.

While I have met Bob Graham at a number of events over the years this insight into how he thinks as he creates is a new way of seeing Bob and his wonderful creations.

Would you like to own your own Bob Graham artwork? 
YES! Of Course.
Well you might if you enter and win the National Centre raffle.
Below is some information about the raffle to win the Bob Graham, Imagine If... unframed A3 artwork.

  • Raffle tickets are $5 each.
  • The raffle will be drawn on Sunday August 27 at 10 am at the Canberra Botanic Gardens.
  • The winner will also be announced through Facebook, Twitter and in the Centre's Newsletter.
  • If the winner is outside of Canberra the artwork will be shipped in appropriate packaging to ensure it arrives safely.
  • For more details see here, the information is towards the bottom of the page.

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