The Path Through the Wood


Above: detail from a concept drawing made at the start of the project to give a ‘feel’ for how the images of the book might look.

In a picture-book every image has to earn its place in terms of the storytelling. At the outset of Hansel & Gretel (forthcoming from Random Spectacular) I produced several small and scrappy dummy-copies, to work out how the book might appear.


Above, an image stretching across the ‘gutter of the page, and below, the right-hand page folded out to reveal the full panoramic scene of the witch in pursuit. Later the image was adjusted so the right hand page of the first spread showed the children approaching the witch’s house, while the fold-out made a ‘jump-cut’ to them running for their lives from her.


Below, working out how the images may best fit the square pages.


The initial story-boards had made it apparent there wasn’t room for anything that didn’t carry the narrative forward. No dead wood in this picture-book,  other than what’s lying around in the witch’s dark forest!


Above, I begin to work through how the story will be told, and below, a view as though looking down on the top of the book, showing the arrangement of fold-out pages. (In the final version, the fold-outs have been dispersed more evenly.)


A second dummy-copy (below) was made-to-scale and began to firm-up the compositions.


Below, the characters continued to evolve. Here Hansel & Gretel  are dressed from my imaginative ‘costume-skip’, ready for a more Dickensian take on the tale.


Below, thumbnail sketches further define the appearance and dynamics of the characters.




Some elements of the original as told by the Grimm brothers didn’t make it into the picture-book. The long sequence of the children laying a trail of crumbs/stones to help them find the way home, was deleted, as was the business of Hansel proffering the short-sighted witch a bone to feel, standing in for his finger so that she is deceived… though not for long… in the matter of him being fattened for the oven.

Fairy tale in the oral tradition makes much use of repetition, and this is not something that works well in the realm of illustration. Complicated descriptions and repetitions were edited out to make space for what could more effectively be shown. However I added elements to enrich the illustration potential. Gingerbread babies are a feature not of the original story, but of the Humperdinck opera based on it. I borrowed them for the picture-book because I wanted visual variety in my characters, though in my version they’re far more sinister than Humperdinck’s chorus of children transformed by magic into spicy biscuits! I also present a mystery, a clue to which is offered on the second page of the picture-book, and the solution almost at the end.

All this has required hundreds of hours of work and thousands of decisions. I sometimes wonder whether anyone looking at the finished book will realise quite how much thinking went  into it. I don’t seem to have had a waking moment for months that hasn’t seen me picking over H & G in my head and at the drawing-board, tweaking, shuffling things about and considering every last detail.

I continued building and adjusting dummy-copies until I was satisfied with the structure and look of the narrative. Finally I made a ‘master’ dummy-copy of the book, with every page-spread and fold-out rendered in detail so that the publisher could be clear about what I had in mind.

Below, page from the master dummy-copy.


Once the dummy had been approved by Simon Lewin at St. Jude’s, I was able to begin the long task of making final renders, each page of the dummy providing the template for working up the completed illustration. Every morning I climb to the studio and begin work by studying an inkjet facsimile of the dummy-copy. This is my point of reference, the ‘bible’ on which all of the day’s work will be based.


Careful attention has to be given to fold-out pages, so that the images register correctly at all points along the cut edges resting against the gutter of the book. (I have never before worked so consistently with a steel-measure to hand.) The illustrations have been made out of sequence. I’ve occasionally given priority to a challenging image… to get it out of the way… or made a simpler one on a day when my concentration hasn’t been as focussed. Today I begin work on the last of the fold-out images. These effectively flow across one-and-a-half spreads when opened, and are my means of creating the shock/surprise-moments in the narrative.

The best fold-out is in ‘homage’ to the silent-movie version of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, in the scene when Christine snatches aside the mask of the ‘Phantom’, played by that ‘Man of a Thousand Faces’, the great Lon Chaney. The shock of his appearance has stayed with me since first I saw stills from the film in one of the magazines of my childhood, Famous Monsters of Filmland.


In ‘homage’ to the ‘Phantom’ moment, there’s is a ‘reveal’ in Hansel & Gretel that corresponds to to Chaney’s unmasking. But to see what I’ve made… ha ha ha… you will have to purchase the book!


8 thoughts on “The Path Through the Wood

    • Ha ha! Frankly I too would quite like to be in the situation where it was all done. But it isn’t, and so foot-stamping must give way to patience!

      Glad you’re enjoying the process posts. It really does feel like the home-stretch in terms of the work with pencils and collage, but then there’s the scanning and colourising to be done, so we’re not out of that wood yet!

  1. Wow, this is really getting exciting!! The “no food” image is fantastic, I love the way the father is tucked up there in the corner, back turned… And the “master dummy” of the house is fabulous–I see your theater-design at work, here, with the skewed perspectives and layers. 🙂 This will be quite a treat, will it be available over here, I hope?

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