Deadline Hell


Above: rendering of a double-spread endpaper for the new Hansel & Gretel book

Project: illustrating the poem of Hansel & Gretel by Simon Armitage, first commissioned as the ‘libretto’ to composer Matthew Kaner’s music. (The Goldfield Productions stage version of Hansel & Gretel, directed by me, is currently on a national tour.)

Below: the woodcutter and his wife rendered on layers of lithography film


Publisher: the brilliant Design for Today.

Brief: to make a beautiful illustrated first edition of Simon Armitage’s poem, that while visually referencing the visual aesthetic of the current stage production, is a reading experience in contrast to a listening one.

Below: still from a stop-motion animation sequence that’s projected during performances of the work


It’s also the opportunity to work with a publisher with whom I share a love of vintage illustration and the art of lithography.

Below: trial image for the book, produced on layers of lithography film

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Technique: images made on paper and lithography film, to be printed in layers of colour.

Deadline: don’t ask.

Below: cavalry-officer rendered on layers of lithography film


People ask me: “How many illustrations in the book? How many have you completed? How long will it take to finish?” (Do they imagine this helps?) Each day I strike a bit more off the to-do list. I’ve divided the project into quarters, the idea being that it’s marginally less pressurising to look each day at the more manageable goal of a section of the book, than the dauntingly long list of images for the entire damned thing. And I’m working in order of chronology, from the front endpapers and title page through to the acknowledgements and ‘end’ endpapers, to halt the tyranny of vacillating over what to do when I walk into the studio of a morning, and to even out the work process so that I don’t draw all my favourite bits first.

Q: Will it be done in time?

A: Of course.

Q: How is this to be achieved?

A: I don’t know. Magic?

Q: Are you confident that you won’t overshoot the deadline?

A: Absolutely. Pretty much. At least I am when people leave me alone to get on with it, instead of offering unasked for estimations based on how long it takes me to make a single drawing and then multiplying that X 40. Well, 40-ish. At this point I should add that Joe the publisher never asks these questions. Joe is unfailingly supportive and enthusiastic, there when I need him and not in the least pressurising.

Q: Are you pleased with what you’re producing?

A: You bet.

Q: What are you going to do when it’s done?

A: Sleep!

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14 thoughts on “Deadline Hell

  1. I concur with all the aforesaid and more, pixie dust being the most potent You’ll do it and to the greatest degree of excellence as always, but maybe that’s because you are secretly a wizard! Love the illustrations you’ve shown us……I think we will be feeding up a wraith at Christmas time….xxxxL

  2. Now…you know what I’m going to say…’T’WAS EVER THUS!’
    Shall I send chocolate? Jack just said to me,”not this time of year.”
    Remember to breathe, have a cuppa, listen to radio 3 but really you know what to do and, more importantly, how to do it.
    Sent with complete faith in you,love as ever and always
    B xxx

  3. With all the huge projects you have been involved in, and the crazy deadlines, I am starting to have a sneaky feeling that you must thrive on this tension. Or of course….
    You just might be a masochist! All energy to your magic creations.💕

  4. Sorry Clive. I had to chuckle. Not at you. Just in heartfelt recognition of that special brand of madness that comes with picturebook projects. Sending you a big virtual hug and my confidence in your abilities to meet deadlines and creative expectations, both. The artwork looks divine, of course. Sleep can wait. X

    • Ah, Judy, you understand – and empathise – of course. For the most part I wear my professional ‘everything-is-under-control’ demeanour, so that the casual observer can be quite taken in, though there’s the occasional furtive flash of blind panic that rises to the surface when I think no-one is looking!

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