‘There was a wealth of work to be inspired by, and yet I think the true inspiration was the real Scottish wilderness.’
The Fairy Song
By Janis Mackay and Ruchi Mhasane
Published by Floris Books
Can you tell us a bit about your approach to illustrating a picture book?
I begin by reading the manuscript several times over a few days, to really get to the heart of the story and to pick up things I may have missed during the first reading. Then it’s about seeing the book in entirety and experimenting with how the images will sit on each page. As I begin drawing, the characters, colours and places slowly get clearer as I go along. Then I use all of these experiments to create the actual finished artwork.
What does a typical day look like for you when you’re working on a picture book?
Oh, every day is quite different! I usually work in daylight, especially when I’m working with colours, so I’m at my desk in the mornings and afternoons and I try to wrap up by tea time before the light begins to change. There are days when I don’t produce anything good even after trying for hours, and there are other days when I get into the rhythm easily and am very productive. It’s quite the rollercoaster!
In the pencils stage, I’m drawing on sheets of paper, using a lightbox to try different things, and scanning in work to check it on the page. In the painting stage, I’m tracing, stretching watercolour paper onto the board, mixing paints, and actually painting. When all is done and scanned, I’m cleaning up, correcting and editing work digitally to go into the book.
What is your illustration workspace like?
I have a fairly bright room with a balcony, some plants, a bookshelf with my favourite picture-books, a cupboard for art materials and a work table and chair.
What was your favourite scene to illustrate in The Fairy Song?
That’s hard to pick; the whole story was so magical! I have to say the one where Rose discovers the mound and the music coming from it!
What was the most challenging part of illustrating The Fairy Song?
The busy scenes with fairies flying around over the page. There was so much happening there, it was hard to know how to manage the colours. But I enjoyed the process a lot.
Where did you get your inspiration for the characters in The Fairy Song?
Well, the team at Floris had thought deeply about the characters and Leah really helped flesh out the characters in my mind, especially Rose and her family and the world they’d live in; their home, clothing and surroundings. She helped me with very beautiful pictures and references.
But this is actually a perfect question to follow the last one, because it has to do with the fairy characters as well. The moment I first heard about this book, I thought of Cicely Mary Barker’s classic flower fairy illustrations, I had enjoyed them immensely as a child. When I mentioned flower fairies to my friends, they sent me these beautiful old illustrations by Walter Crane, Elisabeth Ivanovsky, Ernst Kreidolf, Elsa Beskow, Elizabeth Gordon and artwork from the Spiderwick Chronicles.
So there was a wealth of work to be inspired by, and yet I think the true inspiration was the real Scottish wilderness (which I could only experience through pictures), and the actual flowers that I spent a lot of time admiring.
What made you realise you wanted to be an illustrator?
Hmm, I never really thought about wanting to be an illustrator, I think, I just stumbled into being one! I come from a family of artists, so I’ve drawn all my life. Perhaps it turned into a conscious choice when I began to study art formally, and my love for books and children seems to have brought me here!
What is your favourite thing to draw?
Children and babies! But nature is a close second, especially in the context of magic and wonder!
If you could be a flower fairy like the ones in the book, which flower would you be?
Ah, that’s a lovely question. I think I’d be something small and simple; perhaps a buttercup? I also loved the twinflowers, but I would need a twin, won’t I? Let’s go with a buttercup, yellow could work for me!
The Fairy Song by Janis Mackay and Ruchi Mhasane is published by Floris Books, priced £7.99.
You can watch Janis Mackay taking part in BooksfromScotland’s Scottish Book Long Weekend over on the Publishing Scotland’s YouTube channel here.