Do illustrators really draw all day? I am delighted that Jane Ray, one of Britain’s most talented and admired illustrators has agreed to write about what her working days are like. Jane has illustrated over sixty books, many of which she also wrote.
Her latest book, The Glassmaker’s Daughter is written by Diane Hofmeyr (with whom she already collaborated on Zeraffa Giraffa) and is published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.
Set in sixteeth century Venice, The Glassmaker’s Daughter tells the story of Princess Daniella who is feeling rather blue and has her father very worried. So worried in fact, that he decides to build a glass palace and offers it to the first person who will make his beloved daughter smile. Many try, using gifts and riches to try to impress her, but to no avail. A young glassmaker called Angelo thinks he might have just what Daniella needs however; can he succeed where everyone else has failed?
The Glassmaker’s Daughter brings many traditional fairy tales motifs and sets them in the wonderful magical world of the Venetian islands to bring a positive message that happiness is not necessarily found in riches and can only really be effective if coming from within.
Ray brings the beauty of Murano island to life wonderfully with intricate lyrical paintings, and includes many distinctive characteristics of Venetian and Italian life in the middle ages: gondalas, paline de casada (red and white mooring poles), comedia del arte, mask makers to name a few. They help set the tale wonderfully and really showcase Ray’s talent for detail.
The effect of Angelo’s gift has on Daniella, is conveyed wonderfully in a gorgeous double-spread which uses foil for full effect, and is the pièce de résistance of this already visually stunning book :
This is a lovely tale which will delight fans of traditional tales with a bit of a twist and is a lovely way to discover Murano and its traditions. (The equally wonderful The Glass Heart by Sally Gardner would work wonderfully in tandem with The Glassmaker’s Daughter; you can find information about it here as well as other picturebooks on Venice).
The jewel-like foil additions as well as the overall gorgeous design make this book a great gift.
A Day in the Life of ….
I am one of those lucky people who looks forward to Monday mornings and the week’s work stretching ahead of me…
Most days begin with a walk in the local woods. The fresh air and exercise wake me up, and walking through trees, listening to the birds and watching the seasons change gets my imagination into gear and sets me up for the day. I pass a local primary school, and seeing the children on their way into school every morning, catching glimpses of small dramas, takes me back to my childhood, and that of my own children – always a useful place to be for anyone involved in children’s books.
When I tell people what I do for a living, often they will say ‘how lovely – to sit and draw all day!’ And it is – of course it is.
But ‘drawing all day’ is only one aspect of my work and it constantly amazes me how much ‘other stuff’ there is to do. I could fill my week, I’m quite sure, planning workshop sessions, ordering materials, doing accounts, arranging meetings, exhibitions and school visits, answering emails, chasing unpaid invoices – and on and on… And I start most days doing just that sort of thing, trying to clear my desk of all the odd jobs.
I do workshops for primary schools, libraries and bookshops and I’m also Artist-in-Residence at a refugee centre, and those days usually entail a horribly early start, rush hour on the tube with a portfolio, bags of books, boxes of collage scraps, sequins, bunches of feathers and balls of string, and the occasional golden ostrich egg…
I love doing such events, but find them completely exhausting and end each day wondering how teachers cope day in, day out, with the energy of the children, the performing and constant communicating.
But however much I enjoy working with schools, or with the students at the centre, the days I truly relish are the studio days, the days when nothing else is happening, when I can weave my way the short distance to the end of the garden, open the door to my ‘shed’, and settle down to what I love to do more than anything else in the world.
I say ‘shed’ – but it is so much more than a shed. A little wooden cabin, purpose built to my design, lifted by crane over the roof tops 20 years ago, and set down in the garden, it is my refuge and creative space, my ‘happy place’, a proper ‘Room of My Own’.
It is surrounded by trees and greenery. I have set bird feeders and nesting boxes in the branches, and the bird song is my favourite aural wallpaper.
I’m intensely aware of the seasons outside my shed. It is October as I write this, and the garden is aflame. A Japanese Maple is an extraordinary red against the fence, a few late roses hang over the garden bench and a fox saunters through the fallen leaves. I suspect he has set up home underneath the studio, and should probably be discouraged, but I like the thought of such a feral creature being so close at hand.
I have recently completed work on The Glass Maker’s Daughter written by the wonderful Dianne Hofmeyr and recently published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. The walls of the studio are covered with images of Venice, where the story is set, and references for masks and mirrors that are the theme of this beautiful fairy tale. One of the many pleasures of being an illustrator is the immersion in the visual references for a picture book – collecting ideas, photographs, paintings and cards that feed into the theme. I create a sort of patchwork on the wall as a stimulus for the illustrations, and build a sketchbook of ideas as a source of inspiration.
I have just started work on a book about Hummingbird, and I’m overwhelmed by their beauty. They are little flying jewels and I have been experimenting in my sketchbook with ways of capturing their iridescence – turquoise, blue, ruby and gold – they glow on the screen as I flick through Google Images. How to even approach that colour?
I think this is my favourite part of a new book project, when all is still possible, nothing yet set in stone. It is always the case that what one sees in the mind’s eye is far superior to what ends up on the page, and an artist’s life is a constant battle with the concept of hope over experience…
When work is going well, it is occasionally possible to reach that trance like state when the world stops and one is totally unaware of anything else apart from the sound of the brush on the paper, the mouth-watering colour mixed in the palette, the gradual emergence on the paper of something not too far from what is in one’s mind.
At other times – actually, most of the time – the interruptions are endless, the ideas flow like porridge, and putting on a load of washing or doing the accounts is suddenly massively more appealing than trying to finish the book on the desk.
I listen to music or Radio 4 when the work is going well, when I know what I’m doing, at the ‘colouring in’ stage. But at the start, I need silence – or just birdsong at least – to enable me to focus and properly plan.
I work all day, with half an hour for lunch, and at around 6 begin to feel ready to stop, to move back into the house and start cooking, answering emails and planning the next day’s work.
This is the best job in the world, at least for me it is.
Fresh ideas for a new book, a clean sheet of paper, a sharpened pencil…..not a bad life.
Jane Ray, November 2017
JANE RAY designed greetings cards, book jackets and posters before moving into children’s book illustration, especially fairy tales, mythology and folktales. Her first picture book for Frances Lincoln Children’s Books was Jinnie Ghost with Berlie Doherty, which was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Award. Her other acclaimed picture books include The King of London with Jeanette Winterson, Romeo and Juliet with Michæl Rosen, Zeraffa Giraffa with Dianne Hofmeyr, The Dolls’ House Fairy and Snow White, which she both wrote and illustrated. She lives with her family in North London. Website
She is IBBY UK’s nomination for the 2108 Hans Christian Andersen Award, alongside Melvin Burgess.
Thank you so much for this wonderful post, Jane.
As well as The Glassmaker’s Daughter, Jane Ray has another new release: The Elephant’s Garden (Boxer Books).
You can purchase both here.
All artwork © Jane Ray
Source: review copy