Illustration: The Obsessive Joy of Autism by Julia Bascom (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)

The Obsessive Joy of Autism by Julia BascomHello, Elou. You know that time you illustrated a book and completely forgot to tell anyone about it? Yeah. We’re going to blog about that now. Finally.

We’re going to take a trip back in time, back to May of this year (2015). In May, a book was released. A book I created the artwork for…

And somehow completely forgot to blog about. Well done, Elou. Top form.

For those of you who don’t know, I work as a Production Designer for Jessica Kingsley Publishers and its imprint Singing Dragon. I spend my days making books look pretty, correcting books while they go from manuscript to finished product, printing books that are low in stock, taking photos of books for the work Instagram… – it’s a lot of books. Occasionally, when I’m lucky, I also get to illustrate them!

Once upon a time, lovely author Julia Bascom (before she was an author, I think) wrote a blog entry about what it’s like to have autism. This blog entry grew in momentum, being read and shared by autists and neuro-typicals alike until one day lovely commissioning editor Rachel Menzies decided to turn it into a fully-illustrated, 4-colour JKP book!

So in it came, and after any necessary editorial tinkerings, it was passed on to Production where it fell into the laps of two budding Production Designers, Francesca Sturiale (who is yet to have a website but informs me she will get around to making one at some point) and Emma Carroll (that’s me!) – at this point, it was Emma, as it was pre-illustration; Elou is the moniker I give my creative work but Emma is the name I go by at work-work and life outside of making pretty things – Fran on typography and page layout, and little ol’ me, after a series of meetings and discussions about what this book could look like (it was an important book and we wanted to get it right), on artworking!

Normally, when a book is commissioned at JKP, the commissioning editors tend to either already have an illustrator on board or have one in mind, or they write up a brief and offer it up in house. In this case, lovely commissioning editor Rachel had an idea. It wasn’t briefed as such, instead we were told it should be colourful, playful, abstract – and we ran with it.

This book threw me completely out of my comfort zone. If you’ve been following my Inktober posts, you know that my drawings are often whimsical and liney and very much not abstract but I love a good challenge. I put on my digital painting boots, grabbed my tablet and leapt into Photoshop – never to be seen again. And the rest, as they say, is history.

A spread from The Obsessive Joy of Autism by Julia Bascom, artwork by Elou Carroll (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2015)

A spread from The Obsessive Joy of Autism by Julia Bascom, artwork by Elou Carroll (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2015)

Well, it’s not. I am going to elaborate a bit, firstly:

Tools and materials

The images were created in Photoshop using the following things.

  • Standard hard-edged round brush at 20% opacity, 30% flow
  • Standard hard-edged round eraser at 20% opacity, 30% flow
  • The custom warp option under the move tool
  • Textures including: rough paper, concrete, wallpaper and, at one point, a leaf
  • Wacom Intuos and Bamboo tablets

Pretty simple, but also pretty time-consuming due to using such low opacities. The low opacity, and the time it took to build up the colours, was worth it though, without it the images wouldn’t have such lovely soft lines and ‘fadey bits’ (a technical term) around the edges. Of course, I could have used a soft brush but the feel would have been very different (I did dabble when I was first doodling out ideas).

The style stayed pretty much the same from first drafts to end results; at first, the illustrations had more facial features and little arms but it was decided they needed to be a bit more abstract than that. The eyes and mouths were something I wanted to keep to make the figures more approachable.

A spread from The Obsessive Joy of Autism by Julia Bascom, artwork by Elou Carroll (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2015)

A spread from The Obsessive Joy of Autism by Julia Bascom, artwork by Elou Carroll (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2015)

Colours

Throughout the artwork, there are only four colours: blue, orange, pink and a deep burgundyish (and white, if that counts as a colour, it’s up for debate), with small dabs of brown in one lone image. I loved the stark contrast between the warm tones and the blue, and having one stand-out colour is a good focal point on a page – the blue is indicative of some of the content, which carries through to the typography and simple backgrounds, as well as being integral to the illustration.

The colours were a learning curve, first drafts were all incredibly colourful – I took a USE ALL THE COLOURS approach, which was a little over the top. Don’t get me wrong, lots of colours can work for some projects but this was not one of them. After a little chit, a little chat and a fair amount of guidance from Art Editor Extraordinaire Mike Medaglia (potentially before he disembarked the good ship production and emigrated to editorial island, I forget), which I have stuck to ever since, I picked out my little pallet with the help of Fran and recoloured everything (layer masks saved my life). It was the best decision we could have made.

Prior to this I was just thinking ‘pretty’, when I should have been thinking of the implications of using every colour imaginable – in this case, it was confusing and made it difficult for the eye to work out where it should be looking. Like I said, learning curve.

A spread from The Obsessive Joy of Autism by Julia Bascom, artwork by Elou Carroll (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2015)

A spread from The Obsessive Joy of Autism by Julia Bascom, artwork by Elou Carroll (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2015)

Several drafts and a few rounds of corrections later, the files whizzed off to our colour printers in China and the books were delivered to our warehouse, almost selling the entirety of our US stock pre-publication date!

If you want to see more, this book would make a pretty nifty Christmas present (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). It can be purchased in both ebook and print formats via the JKP website, but also Waterstones, Amazon and bricks-and-mortar bookshops!

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