We are delighted to welcome illustrator Francesca Gambatesa to Story Snug. We’re big fans of Francesca’s newest picture book, The Dinosaur Who Lost her Voice, written by Julie Ballard, and it’s really interesting to read how she created the illustrations for the story.
The Story: Milly Jo has a beautiful voice and her dinosaur friends love dancing as she sings. But one stormy night Milly Jo is injured by a falling tree. Her voice is damaged and as she can’t sing any more her friends decide to sing to her. But the problem is that they can’t sing! Can Milly Jo help them to learn and also find a new way to keep singing in her life?
Francesca’s fabulously illustrated double spreads accompany Julie’s wonderful rhyming text. Despite her new disability Milly Jo finds a way to teach her friends to sing and they form a choir. Singing remains a big part of Milly Jo’s life, just not quite in the way that she planned!
Francesca has given us a fascinating insight into the way she works and it’s interesting to ‘go behind the scenes’ to see how her pictures are created.
How long have you been an illustrator and how did you get your big break?
I’ve been a children’s book illustrator for nearly 9 years and I was an animator before then, so my job would involve a lot of drawing as well. I don’t think I had a big break, it’s been more a series of positive turns that have put me in the position to illustrate books. From getting a literary agent, to meeting the first art directors and getting to work on my first commissions, each one has been important and essential. I definitely look forward to a big break in the future though!
How do you create your illustrations? Do you draw everything by hand or is the process done digitally?
I do a lot of sketching and drawing with pencils on paper. All of this initial work is literally thinking up the illustration through drawing and the first attempts to find the shapes and designs for the characters in the story.
I end up with heaps of sketches from which I choose a few to make more refined drawings. I scan my drawings and often create textures on paper and continue to work digitally.
I add colors and other elements of the illustration using Photoshop. This is very handy to create a complex illustration and have the possibility to work on it further without damaging the original hand drawn art work.
On the other hand I must say it can also over complicate things too.
We often find it difficult to know whether an illustration has been done digitally, it sounds like it can be a long process.
Do you have a favourite illustration from the book?
I’ll pick two spreads if I can. One because it’s a joyful one where the expressions of the dinosaurs are the focus and there’s no background. I enjoyed everything about this one, the ease it came with and the feeling in it.
The dinosaurs here are starting to be a REAL choir, Milly Jo is directing them and they finally sound good! Can you hear they are good here? Hard with no sound…
The second one I’ll pick is the mammoth scene where the Dinosaur chorus performs in front of a huge audience for exactly the opposite reason. I found the scene extremely difficult to create, I mean, objectively its a difficult one and I did struggle with it. But I can look at it and feel a little bit proud, with lots of extra work and the brilliant designers at Egmont that did push and support me… I can look at it and think; phew, it kind of works!
We love this scene too, it must have been fun creating so many different dinosaurs. Can you talk us through how you draw Milly Jo?
All the dinosaurs in the book are very different in sizes and they all appear together as a group in every spread of the book, so I used the head size of each one as a reference for their body height and to keep them consistent (at least I tried).
So Triceratop is around 2 heads tall, Ankylosaurus is around 4 heads tall, and so on. It’s been a good way to check if I was drawing them right.
Click on the link for Francesca’ instruction on ‘How to Draw Milly Jo‘.
Do you have a favourite place to work?
When it comes to work I really like habits so I feel comfortable where I have my art material, my monitor and computer set and ready for me. I loved sharing a studio with other people in the past but now I have a studio space at home with a huge library -courtesy of my book worm / comic book / translator partner – and my desk there is definitely my favourite place.
We love the sound of a huge library!
Thank you so much for joining us on Story Snug Francesca. It’s fascinating to gain an insight into your work and we look forward to reading more of your books.
About Francesca Gambatesa
Francesca lives in London and works as an illustrator.
She was born in Lebanon and grew up in Istanbul and Rome where she got a degree in Animation from the C.S.C. Italian film school. She worked in animation studios in Italy and the UK before starting to work in children’s book publishing.
She feels that home is in many places, she loves drawing from observation, friends from other countries, flea markets, illustrated books and comics.
Thank you to Egmont Publishing for sending us a review copy of The Dinosaur Who Lost Her Voice. We love Milly Jo’s optimism and determination to succeed despite her disability – she’s a very inspirational character.