Interview with 2017 Stratford - Salariya Picture Book Prize Winner Camille Whitcher

The Stratford - Salariya Picture Book Prize which welcomes all unpublished authors and / or illustrators to write and illustrate a children's picture book is now open for its fourth year. This week we are delighted to share with you an insight into the life of Camille Whitcher, Cambridge School of Art graduate, and her prize experience as she won the 2017 competition with her fantastic book 'Luna and the Moon Rabbit!' 

Every day over on our Instagram page we have been sharing picutres and answers from Camille, as she gives a personal insight and behind the scenes content of her book and life as a picture book author / illustrator. We didn't want anyone to miss out though so you can find all of Camille's answers down below. Camille's debut picture book was published in 2018 and is award-winning - chosen as one of Smithsonian's Air and Space magazine's 'Best Children's Books of 2018.'

With just over a month to go until the competition deadline, we hope that this insight will inspire some of you who are currently considering entering, to enter this years prize! Good luck!

Image: Camille Whitcher and her winning book.

Question One: What made you enter the Stratford - Salariya competition and why? How did you come up with the idea for your book?

Camille: “After graduating from the MA in Children’s Book Illustration course in early 2016, I found it difficult to get my book out there or to promote my work to publishers. I’d shown my work including the early dummy of Luna and the Moon Rabbit (then just called the Moon Rabbit) at the graduation show and subsequently on the Cambridge School of Art stand at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and had some fairly positive feedback and a meeting with a publisher but nothing further.

Getting published seemed to be becoming more and more of a pipe dream and as the end of the year drew closer, I really started to lose confidence. My friend and fellow Cambridge School of Art alumnus, Jane McGuinness (@bookshelfjane) told me about this competition. Although I was reluctant to show my work to publishers, I was quite happy to enter competitions. Somehow they seemed less personal and so I felt less rejected if I didn’t get anywhere. This competition was perfect for me! The only hitch was I needed a text to enter! 

At that time, Moon Rabbit was a silent book. I’d wanted to make a picture book based around my Japanese heritage and my love of rabbits so I used the Japanese myth of the Rabbit in the Moon as the basis to my story! I’d been working on it for quite some time during my masters so despite having no text, the story was firmly in my mind. I kept telling myself that I had nothing to lose by entering so pushed hard to write some text. I managed to get my entry sent off with 45 minutes to spare.” 

Image One: Final illustration.
Image Two: Camille’s Graduation Show.
Image Three and Four: Old cover designs.

Question Two: How long did illustrating the entire book take you and which methods do you use? If you could pick just one illustration in the book, which would you say is your favourite?

Camille: “As mentioned before, the idea had come about back when I was doing my masters and had changed over time until settling into what it is now so it certainly wasn’t a quick book to make. I used Quink ink, pencil and coloured pencil and some watercolour - with only minor digital touch ups and ‘cleaning’ at the very end. At the beginning there was a lot of trial and error as I tried to figure out how I wanted the book to look.

Although I love the results of Quink - subtle variations in colour/texture and interesting reactions to other inks as well as salt - it is quite volatile to work with. It stains the paper quickly yet is not waterproof, so you have to work quickly when putting it onto paper but also try not to go over it again or else you move/remove too much. I also found that my old Quink didn’t look or behave the same as new quink, and I was running out! Thankfully my ever patient partner scoured eBay for old Quink and managed to buy up a job lot - 8 bottles! 

I then had paper issues. Trying to find a replacement for the very white paper I was using (and had run out of) was tough. The new batch didn’t behave the same way so, after several trials and errors, I settled with using bristol board, though it still wasn’t quite the same. It all worked out in the end. But my advice to other illustrators, if you love a particular ink/paper/pencil, stock up! 

My favourite illustration from the book is the double page spread where Luna is leading the Moon Rabbit to the woods near the beginning. For me that epitomises their whole adventure together. It was also the one that I struggled many times to get right. See two older versions - neither of which was right, of course.” 

Image One: Camille’s working desk.
Image Two: Old Moon Rabbit sketch.
Image Three: Final Luna and Moon Rabbit illustration.
Image Four: Original Luna and Moon Rabbit sketch.

Question Three: What is your background with illustration and picture book writing?

Camille: “Although I’ve always been interested in drawing and painting, a career in illustration didn’t really occur to me until relatively recently. I managed to complete a BA in fine art some years ago but I didn’t enjoy it. I subsequently worked temp jobs to save up and go to teach English in Japan. 

It was in Japan that I started to become interested in illustration, entering some competitions (runner up in a few too!), and then becoming aware of lots of amazing children’s book illustrators. It still took another few years and several part time courses in various subjects (book illustration (see pic of my tunnel book exhibited in the V&A - and woodblock print (see pic) making amongst others) to really decide that I wanted to focus on children’s book illustration. And yet another year or two to save up enough money to do the masters course at Cambridge School of Art. 

As I mentioned before, Luna and the Moon Rabbit was originally a story I started working on during my time at Cambridge School of Art. Originally it started as my diploma project, but I just couldn’t move onto anything else when that term ended so I decided to continue working on it for the final masters project. 

I never pictured myself ever actually writing my own story. I know I have a lot to learn still about writing, but fragments of stories are often swimming around in my head in pictures. It’s a constant challenge putting onto paper what I see in my head and trying to make sense of the story fragments. I suppose this is part of my ongoing journey as an illustrator and children’s picture book maker.” 

Image One: Final illustration.
Image Two: Woodblock printing.
Image Three: Draft illustration experimenting with materials.
Image Four: Camille’s Tunnel Book exhibited in V&A Museum.

Question Four: What advice would you give to anyone thinking about entering the competition this year? Any tips or ways in which they can prepare themselves best?

Camille: “My advice to anyone thinking of entering the competition would be to just do it! After I entered the competition I pretty much completely forgot about it. I was only reminded when, two weeks later, Rachel Davies (@rachel_benge) - another CSA alumnus, congratulated me on Facebook for making the shortlist of 10 entrants. I checked the Salariya website for confirmation. I was thrilled about making the shortlist but no way did I think I’d win and really felt a much needed boost of confidence. Though even at this point I still never imagined I would actually win. But then, I got the phone call a few days later with the news that I’d won. 

So really, you have nothing to lose. If you have a story already, go grab it and get it ready to enter. If you don’t have one written/drawn out yet, now is the time to do it. 

And just before emailing it over, check, check, and double check that your dummy is the best version of itself. Get someone who is kind (but can give constructive criticism) to have a look at it for readability of both text and illustrations. Make sure you have read and are abiding by the competition rules too. Good luck!” 

Image One: Finished illustration.
Image Two, Three and Four: Dandelion spread progress.
Image Five: Camille at the ‘Art Of Storytelling’ exhibition with the final Dandelion spread.

Question Five: What have you been up to since winning the competition? Are you currently working on any projects or on any new picture books of your own? 

Camille: “After winning the competition and publishing Luna and the Moon Rabbit, I participated in a couple of events at the Stratford literary festival which included getting to draw alongside Axel Scheffler, Emma Yarlett, and Gary Northfield in the Big Draw! ⠀

Luna and the Moon Rabbit was then chosen as one of Smithsonian’s Air and Space Mag’s ‘Best Children’s Books of 2018’, showcasing the year’s best aviation and space themed books for young readers. 

I also took part in, and did the tweeting for, an exhibition of CSA alumni work called The Art of Storytelling (@TheArtOfStorytellingShow) organised by Caroline Gray (@carolinegrayillustration) held in Cambridge. 

I’m currently working on a few of my own projects, which hopefully will manifest themselves into picturebooks. I am also in my second year of being a Book Penpal (https://buff.ly/2LRtvTl). Schools are paired with published UK authors and illustrators who will send postcards throughout the school year with book recommendations and perhaps tips on writing or illustrating. The initiative was set up to inspire a love of reading, writing, drawing and of books in general. 

I still enter competitions here and there. This spring I entered the Plum Pudding Illustration Agency’s (@plum_agency) inaugural #PlumAwards competition to illustrate a cover and a double page spread based on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Competition was fierce as there were many amazing entries. I was fortunate enough to win third place and have a portfolio review with the agency. I am also proud to say I am now represented by The Plum Pudding Agency!” 

Image One: Finished illustration.
Image Two: Plum Pudding Prize Cover.
Image Three: Camille at her book launch.
Image Four: Camille at ‘The Big Draw’.

We would like to say a huge thank you to Camille for this wonderful Instagram takeover/interview! We are so pleased that you all love her work as much as we do! We are hopeful that this will become a fairly regular occurence as we would love to be able to give you, the reader, the opportunity to hear directly from an author and / or illustrator about their own work. One day we may even interview you! This is the last author/illustrator interview for 2019 so we hope that you have enjoyed seeing an insight into the lives of three different author/illustrators.

To keep up with all the behind the scene action be sure to follow us on our Twitter and Instagram!