Wednesday 3 September 2014

Working with Doctors


I've got to admit that the booklet I illustrated for the Royal College of Anaesthetists - Rees Bear has an Anaesthetic - was one of the most challenging projects I have ever worked on. But it was also one that has meant the most to me on a personal level and is certainly one that has given me an enormous sense of achievement.

Rees Bear has an Anaesthetic is part of a range of booklets for children who are about to have an operation or other procedure requiring them to be anaesthetized. I worked very closely with two Anaesthetists on this project and there were two committees involved in the decision making process. The brief was that Rees's booklet should be in picture book format for children under five years old and should inform them about anaesthesia through telling the story of a childlike character who goes to hospital for an operation. My challenge was to make sure that there would be enough information in the illustrations to answer questions young children might have about anaesthesia but not to overwhelm them with medical detail.

A couple of years before I was chosen to illustrate Rees's story I had had the experience of not knowing what to expect or how to prepare my young daughter for an operation (fortunately she was very calm on the day but I almost fainted when she went under!) so I knew how important this booklet would be, not only for children but for their families as well. 

Before I started drawing Rees there were many discussions about his story, the characters and the illustrations. We wanted to make sure that all children, whatever their background or gender, would see Rees as a character they could relate to. Using a teddy bear to represent Rees seemed perfect but then we had to decide on animals to represent other characters in his story and this was not as easy as you might think. The animals had to been instantly recognisable to children from many different backgrounds, be perceived as friendly and look like they belong together.

I was asked to keep the illustrations very simple and we all felt it important that Rees should always look confident and calm. At the top of this page you can see the front cover of the booklet and a page showing an illustration of Rees in an operating theatre being carefully monitored by an Anaesthetist.

During the course of this project I learned a lot about anaesthesia and about hospitals. I have an enormous amount of respect for any doctor specialising in anaesthesia, it is an important role but they don't always get the recognition they deserve.

Besides producing the illustrations for Rees Bear has an Anaesthetic I also worked on his story line plus the story line for one of the other booklets in the series, Davy the Detective. My involvement in this project lasted more than a year and a half and much of this time was taken up with discussions - it is no exaggeration to say that I exchanged hundreds of emails with the two doctors I worked with. At times we did not agree (for example there were many messages discussing whether a Meerkat would be an appropriate animal to represent a play therapist) but this process helped to refine the story and was certainly worthwhile.

Below is the best feedback I've ever read about something I've worked on (from the RCoA Facebook page):
"This week is the first week I've heard parents saying to their kids "like in the book about the bear". It's great that pre-assessment are handing out copies - and even better that the kids and parents are reading them and referring back to them at the relevant times :-) Thanks folks!" 16 August 2011
You can download Rees Bear and the other booklets in the series from the RCoA website.