Robin Robin will hit our screens this November, here we have an exclusive Q&A with illustrator Briony May Smith from the picture book published by Two Hoots.
What initially got you on the path to becoming an illustrator?
As a child, I always loved drawing and reading, and would make my younger sister and brother draw the characters we were going to pretend to be before we could start playing! That love of drawing never went away, I realised I wanted to be a children’s book illustrator and writer, and I continued with art through school until finally studying Illustration at Falmouth University.
When illustrating picture books how does the process start for you?
If it is a story written by another author, I will read the text, and start sketching. I like to create a few ‘concept’ pieces to try and capture the world and characters the way I picture them in my head. Once the characters, or any other major, important elements of a story, have been approved by the writer and the publisher, I start working on the rough layouts for the pages.
What sparked your imagination when designing Robin Robin?
I was so lucky to work with Dan and Mikey when they had first devised the story, which is a beautiful, warm tale with adventure and heart. Their passion for the characters and the world helped fuel my imagination. I worked with the wonderful team at Aardman when creating some character designs, and the brilliant Two Hoots publisher and designer creating the picture book, who steered the art direction of Robin’s world.
What were the biggest challenges you’ve faced when Illustrating Robin Robin?
There weren’t any challenges to face when illustrating Robin Robin, but the goal was to marry the animation and picture book together. As the writers and directors, Dan and Mikey were also the authors of the picture book, and I had been involved in the early stages of the animation’s character design, this meant that we had all been involved in each process and had a clear idea of what was important to the story. We could see the picture book needed to be its own, stand-alone tale, but be loyal to the vision of the animation, whilst also being contained in a shorter space to tell the story. It was important to me that I do justice to the beautiful animation Aardman, Dan and Mikey had created.
Talk us through the process of illustrating a book; how does it go from an idea in your head to a finished work of art on sale in bookstores?
Once the character sketches and any world building artwork has been approved by the art director and author, I start on the ‘roughs.’ These are sketches that loosely work out the layout of each spread. Where the text goes, what the characters are doing, the angle and the composition. Depending on the author or designer, there might be more or less art direction, and once these have been approved, I start on the ‘finals.’ These stay faithful to the compositions of the approved roughs, but are finished artwork and coloured. There may be a few tweaks here and thereafter at this stage. The cover artwork has a similar system of stages, thumbnails, roughs and final artwork.
Does Robin Robin feel part of your family once you saw her come alive?
Robin is a sweet, endearing protagonist, and so sweetly animated and voiced! I saw snippets of the animation as I worked on the book and of course, fell in love with this little bird! Any time you illustrate a children’s book character you follow them on their journey very closely, and it’s lovely to see them smiling at you from the shelves. I was so lucky to have been a part of this project from its very early days, and to see her flutter about on the screen, and printed in the picture book, is a wonderful feeling.
Finally, what will Christmas look like in your household this year?
I live in a little town a short drive from my parents. I imagine my Christmas will be similar to everyone else’s this year, feeling very lucky to all be together. We will be eating until we are completely stuffed, walking the dogs before moving onto pudding…. And of course, watching Robin Robin!
Thank you so much to Briony who took the time to answer our questions, we wish her (and little Robin Robin) a very merry Christmas.