Thursday 3 September 2015

About children's educational publishing and a charming illustration agent

Illustration for Folens' Key Words Dictionary. ©Amanda Lillywhite

Some time ago, back when I had only recently abandoned the relative safety of full-time graphic design for the uncertainties of freelance illustration, I was lucky enough to be taken under the wing of an agent - the wonderful Mike Graham-Cameron.

I'm not sure how we first met but I think it may have been through my work in a direct marketing agency - perhaps I art directed one of his illustrators for a project and then contacted him later when I had become a freelance illustrator myself? I can't remember now, and sadly, Mike died a few years ago so I am unable to ask him.

When Mike decided that his agency would represent me the doors to the world of children's educational publishing banged open and what sometimes seemed like a tsunami of marked-up page printouts for homework sheets and textbooks started tumbling through my letterbox.

At the request of the publishers my illustrations were done at what would be their final printed size. Sometimes I would have the luxury of a quarter of a page or maybe even a whole page of space to fill with my drawings. But generally the illustrations were tiny. I might, for instance, have to fit six characters – dressed in specific outfits such as fireman, ballerina and so on – into an area the size of a couple of postage stamps laid end to end.

The deadlines for the books I worked on were always tight, there was never enough time for pencil roughs to be exchanged with the designer. I just had to plunge in and hope I'd interpreted the brief correctly. I still remember a job that arrived one Friday afternoon. As I shuffled through the pile of instructions, adding up the number of drawings required (from memory, in the region of fifty), my eyes were blurring with nervous tears at the thought of the deadline looming within a few weeks. A phone call with Mike soon sorted me out, his sympathetic confidence bucked me up and when I delivered the drawings on time the editors were appreciative of my efforts. I think I still have the thank you letter from the publishing house tucked away somewhere in my studio. 

Once I had adjusted to the process and gained confidence I thoroughly enjoyed illustrating educational books. Some of the instructions for drawings were occasionally, shall we say, a bit eccentric and I had great fun with it all.

During the time that Mike Graham-Cameron was my agent I produced illustrations for educational books published by Folens, Stanley Thornes and Heinemann. He was always available at the end of the phone for a chat or a confidence boost and he seemed to make sure that I had enough work to produce an income I could live on. Never anything less than completely charming, he was a wonderful support to a new freelance illustrator holed up in a flat at the top of an old house in Cambridge.

Black and white line illustration ©Amanda Lillywhite

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