Writing Henry – getting the covers spot-on!

It occurred to me that people might be interested in the process I use to write these childrens’ stories, which are very different to writing either stories or novels for adults. In the first of this mini-series, I introduced you to Henry. The second talked about the inspiration for the stories. The third discussed story structure, and some of the mechanics of getting the stories to work. In this last post in the series, my daughter – a professional artist, who does all the covers – talks about her process.

Fi11Nov2014Fi says:

“My mum is the best client ever. This, however you may beg to differ, is not bias. It’s not because she’ll still love me if I miss deadlines (my services come with a certain amount of inbuilt procrastination) or because the content is easily achievable (it varies, and I’m never against dinosaur reference researching when unaccountably she doesn’t have a full topical lecture prepared with slides) but because she knows what she wants.
  This simple aspect derived from her process of storytelling, means that when she skypes me, or we’re face to face (either at home or on rare and happy occasions beer festivals) I get a clear understanding almost straight away of what is needed from the image and how it fits in around the other covers she wants from me. I am completely spoiled. It’s wonderful.
  Take one of the latest books for example (check them all out, they’re awesome *shameless plugging*). We sit down. I sip my mead, then open my sketchbook and grab my trusty black biro. ‘I want a Viking’ she says ‘a proper one, without the horned helmet. Did you know that there’s no evidence of them wearing them? Depictions around the 8th to 11th centuries had them bare headed or with simple helmets.’ This continues for a little while, ‘he needs to look confused please, as well.’ During this dialogue I am happily sketching away, I like vikings. They remind me visually of Tolkein’s dwarves and I’m drawing an expansive beard and a comically confused expression. Even, after 5 minutes of Viking hat history, adding a helmet because after receiving all that new information. Yes, he will have one. Without the horns.
  From this meeting it becomes fairly straight forward, she’s approved my preliminary sketches of this character, we have been over two other book covers in the same session. I’ve justified my composition choices and we’ve oohed and ahhed over what the primary background color should be (the books are sold in threes so some visual tying together is nice). I go home, rosey, and sit down before my computer and my graphics tablet.
  My first job is to upload my preliminary sketch to the computer, I do usually like to get a rough one down first using pen and paper. It feels a lot easier to me, in a digital format mistakes are too easy to undo, this takes away from the end quality which keeps a lot of its original charm from those first imperfections.
  I settle into photoshop now, drawing over the sketch on different layers. The colours are blocked in and the hair layer kept separate from the clothes layer, for example. Once these first steps are done I add in the agreed background colour, this might be the first time I use the primary brush of these covers. A chalk brush gives a great amount of texture, I like the soft effect that can be achieved.
  Shading is completed throughout the picture, then the colours adjusted so they look good next to each other and as a whole. At this point the original sketch has vanished, so I dig it up again and make sure I haven’t strayed too far.
  I add the familiar ‘Henry Baker’ to the bottom then Skype my mum. At this point in the process the image is usually (in my mind, unless I’m stuck and actively looking for guidance) 75% done. She has been known at this point to declare them finished and grab them for final text addage. I find this slightly stressful. I’m looking for feedback and changes! But the customer is, in this case, right as she is happy. I then simply save the image as a jpeg in the highest quality setting and sit back. Trying really very hard to not look too closely at the picture again, the urge to tweak is deadly and ever looming.
Onto the next cover. “
See why I love my darling daughter so much, not only for her sweet self, but as a co-creator? She listens to my random history outbursts without compaining! (much.). She takes my ramblings and draws EXACTLY what I wanted, much, much better than anything I had in my head. She puts up with me nagging her at increasingly frantic intervals, as my arbitrary self-imposed publication deadlines approach. And she still comes home to visit 😀

The first three Henry stories have been available for some time, either as a bundled paperback, or as individual electronic stories. The next three have just been released, with three more planned early in 2015.

The stories are:

Book 1

Henry and the Necklace – In which Henry meets a surprisingly large elephant.

Henry and the Magic Teapot – Henry tries to give his Nan a present – but she is not happy with the results!

Henry and the Football Boots – Henry has to choose between being brilliant at football, or hurting his friend.

Book 2

Henry and the Viking – a trip to the museum has some interesting consequences.

Henry and the Dinosaur – Henry’s brother Mike creates a big problem!

Henry and the Bird Bath – Henry swears never to try karate again…

They are all on my Amazon page: UK and US

As a bonus, I’m recording Henry and the Football Boots, and will be giving that recording away.

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Connect with me online:

Twitter: http://twitter.com/moxeyns

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/nicky.moxey (Nicky)

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Henry-and-the-Magic-Pencil/542341045784909 (Henry)


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