Somewhere in Great Britain….

The biggest selling children’s picture book in the UK in it’s time; the greatest treasure hunt in Britain. By March 1982 the golden hare was found.

First published in 1979 with two further reprints, Kit Williams’ detailed art and inquisitive nature threw this reclusive artist into the limelight with his book Masquerade which made him a millionaire.

Searching for the golden hare, the treasure the book alluded too and provided clues for, gripped the nation and saw people digging up plots of land in the hope they had understood this beautifully illustrated book and would find the hare made of solid gold.

Although written as a children’s book, these pages intrigued grown-ups, Kit Williams broke boundaries with his creation which enthralled the nation.

Golden Hare

“The artist achieved unwanted fame when the search for the hare became an unlikely national obsession, with lawns dug up around the country as a result of the bizarre and often misleading clues contained in the elaborate paintings that comprised the book.” (The Telegraph, Matt Warman, Consumer Technology Editor, 13 Apr 2011) (1)

When the treasure hunt came to an end, the news of the jackpot find was on the front cover of the Sunday Times in March 1982.

Sunday Times

Kit added complex clues throughout the pages of his story of the moon falling in love with the sun which lifted the tale to a new level. Within my research into books that are more than a story but ones that can be used to develop multiple facets of storytelling, Kit Williams developed a masterpiece.

“Within the pages of this book there is a story told of love, adventures, fortunes lost, and a jewel of solid gold. to solve the hidden riddle, you must use your eyes, and find the hare in every picture that may point you to the prize.” Williams, K., Masquerade, 1979.



The Manual of Illustration Techniques – Catherine Slade

The Manual of Illustration Techniques

I love learning new things, new approaches, new ways of creating. I am also aware that for the majority I am self taught.

So, when I saw this book by Catherine Slade (1) in the library it was a definite borrow.

Within the 171 pages there are sections on how to use coloured pencils, watercolour, ink, and acrylic paints amongst many others. Plus there are examples of how illustrators have made the medium of their choice work for them, to enhance their style or to aid their storytelling.

I was particularly struck by Jean Hirashima’s illustration of tea in the jungle (page 142). Not only its humour, but how Jean has drawn the readers eye through the page from the couple in the boat, to the baby dangling over the hungry crocodiles – and then to the cheeky dog! Expertly crafted flow.


Jean Hirashima

If I was to draw a line flowing from one character or point of interest to the next, what would that shape be? Is this a technique which could be used in illustration? This links neatly into my research on story structures (see my recent blog post where I review Austin Kleon’s book ‘Show Your Work’ (2). I would like to experiment with different mathematically inspired flows to tell my story.


Kurt Vonnegut graphed the world’s most popular stories

The Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio

So, as part of an experiment and making use of prompts provided on Instagram’s Fairytale Week challenge, I have used the Golden Ratio over the top of Kurt Vonnegut’s Story Graph (3).

Little Red Riding Hood.jpg


  1. The Manual of Illustration Techniques
  2. Austin Kleon, Show Your Work
  4. The Golden Ratio

Story Structure

Another book on our reading list for the MA in Illustration course I am studying is Austin Kleon’s book ‘Show Your Work’. A great read with lots of juicy ideas which links tightly into our digital age.

Show your Work, Austin Kleon

As artists in the twenty first century, much of promoting art falls into the storytelling category. To show an audience a series of images exposing our passion, reminding people as artists we exist. Austin has a lot of information within this books pages, lots of tips, reasons and how to thoughts. The book is mainly about an artists journey to exposing art to an audience; sharing the steps taken when creating a masterpiece.

One section of this book is devoted to creating a structure with references to ancient techniques and more modern applications. Aristotle’s Beginning, middle and end quote is fab, but as Nick Morgan from mentions other things such as a pencil, flights and dentist appointments also have a beginning, middle and end; there is more to creating a great reading experience.

When following up with one of Austin’s quotes I came across a great interview of Emma Coats, a former storyboard artist for Pixar. Emma stated that to create a great story the creator needs to develop these attributes:

  • Keep the audience engaged
  • Keep things simple
  • Keep the audience guessing
  • Provide a context which explains the main characters actions

As artists we can do all of these within our art. Our stories are developed without words, just making use of our instinctive creativity but, do we assign known values without thought or does one need guidance to develop a credible outcome?

I am amazed that writers can pluck exciting themes from seemingly nothing, however, no-one works in a vacuum. Each writer depends on previous scribes to develop their craft. This is true of artists in all professions. Each one walks on the shoulders of the previous, each new movement in art is based on earlier barriers broken, boundaries pushed.


Study for the lovers in the Beethoven Frieze The Beethoven Frieze is a painting by Gustav Klimt.

Currently there is a new exhibition at the Royal Academy of Gustav Klimt and Schiele which was introduced by George Saunders on Radio 4’s Saturday’s Review (3rd November 2018) as “Drawings without books”. The exhibition focus on early exploratory sketches rather than finished pieces of art, but each is a stepping stone in creation. The panelist discussion focused on Klimt and Schiele’s relationship as much as the self portraits which would not be accepted today in our modern world just as it wasn’t accepted in Vienna in the late 19th Century due to their explicit nature. My interest in this program was as much to do with the wrapping of the discussions outside the confines of a book as to finding out about two artists who pushed acceptability.

Austin Kleon’s book concentrates on how to go about developing social media engagement which can lead to amazing opportunities. By showing your work, concentrating mainly on social media; amazing technology which is opening up self promotion, providing great opportunities for everyone who wants to take hold of it. The book is certainly worth a read as the tips provided are great and ones that I have adopted since reading these pages over a year ago. But a good book is worth holding on to and delving into for new inspiration and ideas and Austin’s words are as good today as it was when published in 2014.


Illustration – A Theoretical & Contextual Perspective



Alan Male’s Illustration, a theoretical & contextual perspective

My MA studies includes reading as well as creating art; I doubt there are any surprises that we have a book-list and we chat about our reading, what has enlightened us, what has spurred our creativity, what has made us sit up and think. Alan Male’s. 216 page insight into illustration past and present has been a bit of an eye opener – sharing information about some amazingly talented creatives with a succinct insight into this


Notes and Sketches


For me, how the information is presented is brilliant, so easy to navigate with lots of pictures (I love pictures, they ‘speak’ to me – no wonder I am in this creative field). But with so much information, so much great content, where should I start? The answer to this was provided by a fabulous list given by one of our tutors on how to be quizzical, what texts to hone in on… with this clearly in my sight I turned to the contents list. Thanks Rosa, I took your handy guide to the library with me!

What caught my eye? So much good material! I am intrigued by ‘The Role of the Illustrator’ but decided to leave this until later. Turning the pages, I went to the ‘Notes and Sketches’ section where I must admit to being a tad surprised; shame this is a library book or it will be filled very quickly with my thoughts.


The Pricing and Ethical Guidelines Handbook

I am lucky enough to have a couple of illustration jobs on at the moment, but as a creative the business side of things can be a bit of an issue. I have often heard myself, after providing a price for my treasured work saying, “is that okay?” I have lost work because I need that commercial part, conversely I have lost work when my quote has been perceived as peanuts. Why? Why do people think artists can do work for nothing? Why are some business professional stuck on paying lots when the price is not really realistic? But that is a subject for a different post. One of my recent purchases, a copy of The Pricing and Ethical Guidelines Handbook. Alan’s explanation of how to price work is very clear on pages 199-201 of his book – I could have saved myself some money! On the library copy of Alan’s book the pages fall open on this section, so of great interest to many.

Travelling through to the section on Storytelling I stopped to admire the work of James Vinviguerra, such an energetic reportage style (page 137). “If photographic imagery can be evidence as a form of journalist practice, why not illustration?” To my thinking, illustration came first – sketches made on location (think war correspondent with a pencil and maybe a watercolour set rather than a camera), even Winston Churchill is known for his depiction of war scenes = reportage.

Moving on to the section of Alan Male’s book which I am keen to have a peek at – page 138, Storytelling. From an age when reading was for the wealthy and powerful and concepts could just as easily be used as propaganda or at least a statement of wealth, Alan’s comment “Commended written fiction not only maintains the readers attention, but does well to describe and unfold the narrative whatever style or genre it is concerned with. The best will engender an emotional and imaginative engagement with the writing, whether classic or contemporary poetry, novel romance or a thriller” made me question why is storytelling illustrations only in children’s books (and dust jackets)? Are illustrators not competent to convey a story to a reading adult market place or audience? Or are we all so grown up that it’s just too childish to enjoy great illustrations? Who are the modern fiction illustrators who create the identity of fictional character? Can we see Harry Potter as anyone else other than Daniel Radcliffe? Is storytelling purely the juxtaposition of text to images – a balance or combination? Can the image not work if there is no text?

Characters and events conceived and animated to their visual form by illustrators have given rise to many cliched accepted representation; Long John Silver, Bill Sykes, Superman, Snow White, Homer Simpson, says Mr Male. “Imagery that is intrinsic with the story will often convey scenes of dramatic representation using the best practices of image construction” Alan Male, Page 142.

In my mind, looking at creative illustration to depict a scene, a feeling, and atmosphere is skillful. To show this alone, with no words is creativity; the onlooker needs to open their minds to the images and ask the questions portrayed. Is this art?

As I said in my opening statement Wow!

The Moon

Native American Story Stones

These Native American story stones are a traditional way of cultures sharing, warning children, informing them and developing cultural understanding. The stones have a sun and night, but not an icon for the moon; I was keen to see how I could make the nursery rhyme ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’ work in the same way, but develop a more interactive way of sharing the rhyme, to help the teller become creative!

The first thing is to make my story stones –


My painted stones for He Diddle Diddle

An easy enough task when you have cupboards full of art materials! I painted the collected stones with gesso and when dry, drew the icons with a sharpie pen.

But these need a background and I set about painting a piece of cotton to achieve something non-descriptive scene.


Story stones and background cotton

I like this idea of interactive storytelling, using little items that can be moved around a board. It gives a flexibility and can be adapted to suite events which may be happening with those sharing the experience.

Fixing the stones was my next task. I painted a new stone black with a white face and hot-glued a curtain hook on the back & stitch curtain tape onto the background. This works, but, surprise, surprise, the stone is fairly heavy and if all are hung in this way the whole thing doesn’t really work.

Adding a mediun to fix the pastel paint

Painted cotton for the story background with a stitch line to represent the horizon and curtain tape for hanging the story elements.

On with the thinking cap.

Hoop and Blanket

Embroidery hoop and blanket ready for stitching


A ‘rug’ moon

My next idea was to make use of a small rug making tool I have and create a small circular motif. This worked but it was painful to use & I am now wearing an array of plasters on my fingers!

But what about embroidery and quilting. I have some experience of creating quilted pictures and this could work to make an interesting backdrop and the additional story items – not stones now, more like embroidered badges.

Fabric story book

My new background is in the process of being made, it will be quilted by hand and pockets and hoops added so the embroidered badges can be stored. This may work. I would like to develop it enough to test how effective it is with a young audience.

The Man in the Moon

An array of iconic moon images using different techniques.

Exploring media

Most stories are illustrated with drawing and painting techniques, filling the pages with interesting visualality. Since starting to look more quizzically at visualising stories, I have been intrigued by how different illustrators have approached this task. Has the traditional line and wash been used, or more complicated 3 dimensional elements? The ancient story telling technique of using painted stones has a simplicity yet complexity which intrigues me.

Medium and Media

I enjoy the the texture obtainable through making use of different materials such as stitch, melting and bonding fabrics as well as painting and drawing. Taking this a stage forward and linking traditional, time honoured techniques with modern ways of creating interactive experiences, I am embarking on an experimenting storytelling.

American Story Stones

My initial thoughts are to use the interactive element of the American Native story stones and see how this concept can be adapted.

By mixed this age old technique of story telling but with a well know nursery rhyme represents an in interesting experience and potentially, not only numerous variations by a development of spacial awareness which could be used within a learning environment. This can be seen in these colourful painted stones that create a problem solving activity – how to get to the middle.


Using painted stones to develop solving skills with young learners

On my stones I have added icons from the fun and quirky poem He Diddle Diddle; each stone has a different element of the traditional nursery rhyme, just like the American stones have an icon to represent an animal or place.

He Diddle Diddle story stones

These stones are fun and represent a great opportunity, but I feel they not only need a background but need to have a temporary fixing to a background. My next step is to look at creating something more traditional.


Concept sketches for interactive, 3d storytelling

By developing a base on which to place the story line that can help develop the creative and learning process rather than forcing the user to engage with the story placement as a town, country, indoor or outdoor venue.

Initially I used easily blendable soft pastels in my sketchbook to create a base for my interactive storytelling background which could used as a home for the stones to be placed, but I felt this was limiting in detail, although the blending from dark to light could represent night and day, or scary and happy places.


Soft pastel background as a base for story telling


Painting the prepared cloth with pastels

My next step was to recreate my pastel image onto fabric which I could then add extra elements such as pockets, hanging spaces and intricate details. My first step was to paint my cotton fabric, which has been cut to size and pinned on top of an old blanket (blankets are a fabulous based of quilting and machine embroidery as they give body to the fabric whist acting as a stabiliser). The fabric is then painted with an acrylic medium allowing standard paints to be applied.

Cotton fabric pinned to an old blanket then sized with an acrylic medium to make it suitable to accept paint.


Adding the soft pastel background and story stones

By placing the basic story stones onto the background I can see that more detail is essential to engage with an audience. Either or both the background and the stones need to have more appeal.

In the following picture you can see the curtain tape stitched in place and coloured to match the background. I have also added a stitch line to show the land/sky sections. I have then added an acrylic medium to seal the painting so far.

Adding a mediun to fix the pastel paint.jpg

Each step forward opens more opportunities alongside more questions. The stone need to be refined. Are the stones too heavy? Are there other options other than stones? How can the fabric edging be used to help with storing the ‘book’ – maybe as a scroll, or hanging strips.

My journey has just become interesting!

Story Lines

Not so much how a story reads, more exploring how lines are constructed in different ways.

Using stitch, or stitched marks as part of the story telling process.

Storytelling was told through handmade quilts, using tools to hand and in ready supply. This practice was widely observed with newly weds as a gift from the community. Friends and family members would come together and produce a fabric throw for the new couple, each person adding their own take, own personal story, a good wish or thought. These embellished mementos told of a life the couple were living and could live, and passed down the generations as time moved on.

This quote from the Metropolitan Museum mentions:

Bedcovers were often wedding gifts, or made by a young woman to take with her to her future husband’s house. If that new home was distant from friends and family, a bedcover became an important keepsake from her old life. Quilts were also made to celebrate the birth of a child, as gifts to thank important members of the community such as the local minister, and even sometimes in remembrance of the dead.”

Depicting the American civil war, the following quilt shows one woman’s life before, during and after.

Going back in time in time, one of the earliest stories used to convey a message is the Bayeux Tapestry

Thought now to be more of a propaganda piece, the image depicts how the Normans came to rule Britain. Commission by William the Conquerors brother, Odo and made by nuns in a monastery, does this convey a true record of events?

Sharing stories, telling stories using textiles is age old. Old houses and large houses used tapestries to keep heat in rooms as well as embellish homes and castles and display importance, power and wealth.

Modern tapestries explore techniques as well as story telling, using more line work and different textures than pure stitch. Often an emotion is embedded too which aides the reader to appreciate the tale.

The following quilt is by fibre artist Anna Torma, entitled Rainy Day. Anna uses images created by her children and shows a warmth and inquisitiveness that young minds have.

Rainy Day

Jude Hill, a children’s book illustrator in New York, now creates small handmade, handstitched piece which evoke a glimpse into a quieter, satisfied life.

In the heat of the moment : Handstitched

Of my own work, this piece tells the story of Fukishima’s nuclear plant disaster and how the old men stayed as portrayed in Taro Aizu’s poem to share the horror of the disaster but new life growing.