It’s my stop on the Oh No, Bobo! blog tour and I’m delighted to be sharing an interview with illustrator, Laura Watkins.
Title: Oh No, Bobo!
Author: Donna David
Illustrator: Laura Watkins
While the rest of the jungle sleeps, Bobo the orangutan can’t get comfortable. He sets off on a mission to find the perfect pillow – he’s sure one of his friends will be able to help. But Bobo’s friends aren’t impressed when he tries plucking their feathers and pulling their tails. Then Elsie the elephant starts stroking and playing with Bobo without asking him first, leaving Bobo feeling very upset and still without a pillow! Will Bobo and Elsie learn an important lesson about asking permission? And will Bobo finally find his perfect pillow?
Hi Laura, can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?
Hello! I’m Laura Watkins, I have been illustrating books for 8 years now. How time flies! My studio with a collection of towering, leaning books is in Finchley, London. I am passionate about storytelling and have a weakness for Chocolate. When not illustrating, I am busy trying to repair my rather old boat the Aquaholic. I have high hopes of one day learning enough to make it into a Houseboat (and stop the persistent leaks).
What did you think when you first read the text for Oh No, Bobo?
I really enjoyed Donna’s story and thought it was lots of fun. I was excited to create a rainforest environment for Bobo and explore drawing new visual areas I hadn’t explored before. It was exciting to be working with the wonderful publishing team at Quarto again! They always create lovely, original stories and are great to work with.
Which spread did you most enjoy illustrating and why?
Spread 3 was the one I loved painting the most. This is the introduction page to Bobo as a character and his world. Everyone is sleeping except for little Bobo. I wanted to give him that cheeky, energetic feel, in contrast to the still backdrop of the night-time rainforest and it’s sleeping animals. I also got to play with the lighting cast from the moon, I think it sets this scene off nicely.
Can you tell us a bit about your creative process and the technical side of creating the illustrations for Oh No, Bobo?
Each books process varies slightly I have found. For this one I did a huge amount of initial research and drawing by hand. There was a lot of documentary watching and learning. I got a bit obsessed with orangutans!
Did you know that when it rains, orangutans will gather leaves and use them as a makeshift umbrella? Pretty cool!
I wanted to make sure that I got the anatomy right for orangutans. They have really long arms, short little legs and really expressive faces. Spending a day at Colchester zoo drawing their orangutan was hugely helpful and really gave me a good feel for how they move and how clever they are.
Once I had gotten to grips with the animals and the environment, I started to block out colours for scenes and to pick my pallet for the book. Being set at night you want to use warm night tones, and not to make the scenes too dark.
With everything mapped and roughly colour blocked, I sent the spreads off to Victoria Kimonidou at Quarto and she gave me feedback. From there I made a few tweaks and edits and then produced the final images in Photoshop, adding in lots of detail and texture.
What were your favourite picture books growing up?
You can’t beat the Mog series by Judith Kerr. In fact all of Judith Kerr’s stories are the best. I remain a big fan! As a child I was convinced that Mog was written based upon my cat Henry, he was such a lovely little character!
The Brambly Hedge stories I also hold dear. The detail in those books is beautiful and the stories are so warming and timeless. I still have my original copies and often enjoy leafing through them.
Did you always want to be an illustrator?
Actually, I grew up determined to be an archaeologist and spent all of my time digging and reading history books. Then I would start drawing from those books and creating little stories. Gradually I realised that I preferred drawing and then that became my focus. Fast forward though an Illustration degree and lots of highs, lows and everything in-between and here I am, happily working on Children’s books for a living.
What advice would you give to someone trying to build a portfolio to become a picture book illustrator?
It can feel very daunting finding a place to start, I would simply advise you to keep drawing. While at University I realised you really cannot draw enough. Say for example you find drawing people difficult, spend some solid hours working on just that one thing, and you will certainly improve.
Keep exploring the areas that are interesting to you, and soon you will have found that thing that sets you apart. Once you realise your spark and get a little confidence behind you, there is no stopping you.
What’s next for you, in terms of illustrating projects?
My desk is currently covered with sketches of night time scenes for a new book I am working on, the classic Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. I am also working on designs for a plush toy company and greetings cards for some big London retailers. I have just relaunched my online art shop, Watkins Prints, selling a range of limited-edition prints and cards of dogs. There’s lots to be keeping busy with!
Thank you so much Laura!
Donna and Laura have created a very real and emotive character in Bobo and you are drawn into his quest for the perfect pillow. Even though Bobo doesn’t go about finding his perfect pillow in the right way to begin with, we still find ourselves rooting for him – he isn’t trying to be mean, and poor Bobo does get squawked at, bitten, and farted on in the process!
I love the wonderfully vibrant rainforest environment Laura has created. My favourite spread was when we meet Elsie, and Bobo realises how his friends must have felt.
Oh no, Bobo! has taken the popular picture book themes of friendship and perseverance and added an original spin. Bobo is (unintentionally) upsetting his friends and, along with Elsie, learns an important life lesson: we must consider the feelings of others as well as ourselves. At the back of the book is a “Next Steps” page which is a great way to further explore the themes of this book with children.
Publisher: QED, Quarto Publishing
Publication date: 21 April 2020
Don’t forget to check out the rest of the Oh No, Bobo! Blog Tour…
I am very grateful to the publisher for providing me with an advanced copy. This feature contains my honest opinion.