‘Behind the scenes’ interview – Mary Weatherup, illustrator of the ‘Harry’ books
When did you begin to draw and when did you decide that you’d like to illustrate children’s books?
I’ve enjoyed drawing ever since I can remember. My sister and I were always doodling at home and we sometimes made ‘books’ and ‘magazines’! We were always running out of paper and drew on anything we could find. It wasn’t until I got to secondary school that I realised I could draw realistically from life. My favourite thing in Art class was when the teacher would set down a few random objects and tell us to draw them. I didn’t choose to study Art at A level because I felt the emphasis was more on design than drawing, but the thought was always in the back of my mind that I’d like to draw pictures for books. When I look at a book I always study the illustrations!
The illustrations in the Harry books are beautiful and suited to the countryside theme. What medium do you use and why?
From the start, I’ve always favoured pencil work as I feel it gives me the most control and I like the soft effect. I’ve studied watercolour in the last couple of years and I was getting the hang of it but I’m not as confident in it yet. For the countryside theme in the Harry books, I was inspired by the work of Kim Lewis.
Talk us through the process of illustrating a book.
I read through the script a few times and ideas will begin floating through my head for pictures to go with the words. For a few weeks I mull over it, form stronger ideas and start collecting photographs that capture a scene, a person or a pose as I visualise the picture should look. I print a full size mock-up copy of the book so that I see exactly how big the picture needs to be to fit with the writing. Then I draw frames the correct size for each picture on drawing paper and label them all. For each page, I’ll look at all the photographs I have gathered that relate to the picture (particular poses, clothes, background objects and so on) and from them construct a draft on tracing paper. When I get the outlines exactly right and transferred to my drawing paper, I can begin the fun bit – colouring in! I always do faces first because if I can’t get them right I have to start again. When all the pages are done (several months later) they need to be scanned or photographed and saved as computer files. I’ve found this to be probably the most frustrating part as getting the coloured pencil artwork accurately reproduced on the printed page is a particular challenge!
Do you use real-life models and where do you find them?
For Harry and the Lost Sheep, I had a very obliging local family who posed as directed on their farm and allowed us to photograph them! This made it much easier to realistically capture the people for the book, especially Harry. I was still drawing from those photos for Harry and the Muddy Pig. For some pictures I took photographs of my long-suffering husband climbing gates and opening shed doors so that I could get the exact pose I wanted. I took photos around our farm of animals, trees, walls, fenceposts, gates and tractors and I visited local agricultural shows for inspiration for Harry and the Muddy Pig. Other useful sources have been our family albums when our children were Harry’s and Susie’s ages, sheepdog magazines, and of course Google images comes in handy for details.
Describe the place where you usually draw.
I get the children out to school, give the house a quick tidy and sit down at the kitchen table with my computer, printer, papers, and pencils. I find it is best to draw in daylight hours, and my kitchen faces east so I get the best light in the morning. When the drawing is going well I can work for hours at a stretch and not notice the time passing. I try to have everything tidied up by the time my youngest gets home from school because after that things get busy with homeworks and school runs.
Which illustration has been your favourite to work on so far?
I think I enjoy the backgrounds most! I like going into detail with the leaves, buildings and landscapes and they are often made up as I go along, while the people and animals are carefully composed. In Harry and the Muddy Pig, I had to think about the layout of the farmyard, house and sheds so everything made sense together, so while Harry’s exact farm doesn’t exist I have a wee map of it in my head! There’s something special about just finishing off the last page too – for the first half of the book the task can just seem insurmountable. The Slemish picture on the back of Harry and the Lost Sheep was one of my favourites to draw.
Harry and the Muddy Pig is due out March 2017. It is suitable for ages 3-6 and is published by John Ritchie Ltd. ISBN-13: 9781910513743. For more information click here and to purchase from the publisher click here.