Heidi, my wife and the author of How to Catch a Falling Star, will no doubt argue about the origin of this story and the ‘superstition’ it is based on. But what I do know, is that we have been catching leaves, usually whilst walking the dogs … or kids, since we first met back in 1991. And for those who aren’t familiar with the notion, if you catch a falling leaf before it hits the ground then you are granted a wish. Not as easy as it sounds, even on a blustery day when it appears to be snowing leaves. The last leaf that falls from the tree being the most magical.
Inspiration comes anywhere and anytime. The Littlest Lighthouse Keeper one of our first successful collaborations, was written as a first draft on the back of raffle tickets as it was the only paper Heidi could find in the car.
Being creative and seeing a story form from an ‘everyday event’ is just the way my brain is built. I was always drawing as a child. My great grandfather was a fine artist, so I guess it was in my genes.
I met my wife Heidi at university and we just had a creative connection. She writes and I can visualise the scenes. I think we are very lucky to have that close connection. I haven’t worked exclusively with her though. I have over 150 picture books I have illustrated for other authors. I always work closely with the publisher to perfect the sketches and the characters that the author has imagined. I love the challenge.
An initial idea is one thing. Actually translating that into a book that appeals and, of course, sells, is another matter. For pitching to our publisher we usually produce a synopsis and a few sketches to show the characters. I don’t usually need to produce colour work initially. My publishers are ones I have worked with for years, so they know my style. So we had the idea for a last leafing a tree and a lonely little bear wanting some friends.
Heidi created the narrative. What if Little Bear is so focused on that last leaf and the wish and the magic, so focused that he fails to notice the ‘friends’ who join him as he sits and waits? The conclusion of the story being that the leaf falls eventually, silently and unnoticed, as Little Bear and his newfound friends are too busy playing to notice.
I think the thing that matters to us most is to make our stories and illustrations rich and warm … the book equivalent of a great big hug. Stories to cuddle up to, and read together. Stories we want to share with our children.
This title was published by QED Publishing. It was taken to Bologna, London, Frankfurt and New York book fairs. The publishers always like to secure sales before completing the whole book. It’s always a great feeling to have such a positive response to a book and it’s also an even greater feeling when you go and visit some of these fairs in person and get to see your book ideas in person and in print. We have visited London Book Fair and we loved our trip to Bologna.
The actual process of producing a book to me has the same steps:
First pencils -these are usually thumbnail sketches – pretty messy and really just to establish the layout of the image with regards to text and bleed. These will then be tidied up and the characters refined and they are sent to the publisher for comments. There are usually some ‘tweaks’ to correct scaling of animals, character refinement, etc. Once this is agreed, I will get the go ahead for color.
And so How To Catch A Falling Star was created in much the same way I have illustrated books for the last 15 years. Those initial approved sketches are transferred to watercolor paper (‘Fabriano 5 Not’ is my paper of choice – not too much texture and just the right level of absorbency), usually with a light blue pencil, and then the first stage watercolor is created over the top. For this I have also always used Windsor and Newton Professional, and often a set palette of at most 12 colors. I dabbled with Talons Drawing Inks for a while, due to the strong color pigment, but I also found it cheapened the look of my artwork.
Following on from the watercolor stage, I then add a color pencil stage. I used to use Prismacolor but these became increasingly hard to find. Now I use a mix of Faber Castell for pigment/texture and Staedtler for detail. This stage is often the longest but the most rewarding, adding much more depth to the image. Over the years I have become more and more reliant on this pencil stage to give my artwork a more unique look – meticulous fur detail and grass texture – something I think helps set me apart from other illustrators, along with my character design, I guess.
During the years after ‘HTCAFS’ was published, I have recently started using a third digital stage. I do however miss the traditional feel of some of my earlier books, including this one.
Ideally I would love to return to that way of working, as I find myself with more time and more confidence in my skill as an illustrator. Anyone can work with digital editing, but not everyone can produce those original images to begin with.
And that brings us back to How To Catch a Falling Star, a book we are extremely proud of. t is one I will definitely read one day to my grandkids! It is a book that helped reassure us that we could come up with our own titles, independently, and although we have now created nearly 20 books together, this one still holds a special place in our hearts and always reminds us of those windy days walking under the trees.