Monday 9 February 2015

'Her Idea' Picture Book Review

It's probably a little obvious considering my profession, but I'm a huge fan of picture books. My shelves are stacked full of them and I can barely walk out of a bookshop without a few in tow.  Flying Eye Books (an imprint of Nobrow) publish particularly gorgeous pages of loveliness, so I was more than happy to receive a copy of Rilla Alexander's new picture book 'Her Idea' to have a chat about.

The thing that really grabbed me about Her Idea is the theme - the trials of seeing an idea through to completion - it's something that we all encounter at some point in our lives (professional creative or not), and it certainly hit home for me.  I know that I have sketchbooks full of little drawings and story scribbles that have remained stuck in closed pages for years.  It can be tricky to avoid losing motivation when you first snag a concept; but 'Her Idea' definitely inspires you to grab hold of those little flashes of inspiration and run with them.  

I wanted to find out a little more about Rilla's working process, and she so eloquently described the peaks and troughs of creating (as well as a few other inspirational gems) -

‘Her Idea’ comments on the theme of the struggle to follow through on the first sparks of ideas – is this something you struggle with in your own work? How do you stay motivated?

"I love thinking up ideas – they’re so full of potential and I just can’t wait to be able to give people the finished book/drawing/story/thing. Unfortunately, that initial creative adrenalin can come to a screeching halt once you’ve started work. It might be the moment you put pencil to paper or maybe it doesn’t come until half way through a story when you realise you don’t know how it’s going to end. For me, it is often when I am committing to a final line with ink. Whenever it is – there comes a moment when you you are confronted by the fact that you are not the genius you were hoping you were and that it might be a harder, longer road than you had envisaged.

When you are disappointed by how things are turning out, it can be tempting to simply start another idea and go back to the excitement fuelled energy of beginning. But, of course, that idea looks better – you haven’t discovered its flaws yet!

Instead of thinking about the overwhelming and impossible goal of my finished idea being a masterpiece – I have learnt to concentrate on each step of the process and be satisfied by reaching each milestone. The more small goals, the more satisfaction! I also remind myself that even if I’m not completely satisfied by the finished result, by completing one idea and getting started on the next I will only get better."

When you’re starting work on a book, does the story first spark through visuals or through words? Do you follow a set structure for story creation?

"Ideas for stories normally come to me in words. My idea book is full of notes about things I see around me, memories from dreams, interesting comments I hear on the radio and collections of words I like the sound of. 'The Best Book in the World', for instance, came from seeing a little boy reading a book while sitting on a pile of suitcases on a trolley being pushed by his father through a busy airport. And as I wrote 'Her Idea' I was feeling every bit of the rollercoaster of creation that Sozi (the main character and my alter-ego) was experiencing. 

The process of writing these books was very different – though I am very drawn to meta ideas and writing about my own experiences. No matter what the structure of the story, though, I find writing directly onto spreads (whether you’ve already drawn anything or not) very helpful in solving the story." 

What steps did you take to have Her Idea and The Best Book in the World published?

"Years ago I started a book I never finished because I allowed myself to be overwhelmed by the search for a publisher. Now, I would never start a book if I didn’t want to make the book no matter what. Finishing it is the most important thing – even if you don’t have a publisher you can always print it yourself and have an exhibition. I met Nobrow (who published both books) just by making and sharing my work."  

Her Idea features strong, graphic illustration with a limited colour palette and a lot of movement.  Rilla has such a distinct, arresting style that it's instantly recognisable as her work; it's a story with a bold visual voice. There's a great atmosphere to the book and the pace and flow is spot on - you're with Sozi every step of the way!

Nobrow and Flying Eye Books publish a lot of cutting edge illustration, and this number is no different - there's a simplicity to it, which works well with the crispness of the linework and a strong sense of dynamic shape. There's just so much character in 'Her Idea', you really feel for Sozi and her story.  Physically, the book's got gorgeously thick, textured paper and vibrant printing.  You can really appreciate how well made it is (and it's one of those books that smells amazing too!).  There's definitely been a lot of care put into it at every stage.

I won't deny feeling a little emotional after reading this, it's just such a great reflection of what it's like to be a creative person, or, in fact, a human in general.  Letting ideas slip away because of a dip in motivation or confidence is so universal - and it takes a leap to go and chase them down.  I wanted to ask Rilla how she tackles her own creative burn-out and how she stays positive and motivated whilst working:

"This year marks my twentieth working year and I have been self employed for 15 of them. I think the most important thing is to keep changing. What might be the perfect situation for you right now, may not be next year. I work very flexibly and probably solve most of my ideas walking my dog or having a rest. I always take weekends – they are just not usually the same days as everyone else’s!"

I don't often write picture book reviews, but I just loved how relevant 'Her Idea' is to a lot of the freelance advice articles I've written recently, and it's a great flash of inspiration if you're struggling for motivation on a project.  

There's so many things that come together to make this book as lovely as it is - and you can tell the story has been written from the heart.  As a creative person, I'm definitely going to be grabbing this book from the shelf when I'm feeling particularly Page 19, and I know I would've absolutely loved reading this when I was little! 

Well then...I'd better go and track down some of my old ideas!

Huge thanks to Flying Eye Books, and to Rilla for the answers.  You can find out more or grab yourself a copy on Rilla's page, or the Flying Eye Books website!

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