In 2005 I was beginning to get antsy about my work. My children had started preschool which left me some time to start drawing and painting again. Except for a few botanical and insect illustrations I had been commissioned to do, work was slow and I certainly didn’t have any book offers on the horizon. Earlier in the year I had met with a friend of a friend who happened to be a sales rep from HarperCollins. We met for coffee and I brought some of my books to show her. We exchanged thoughts on the market and she said she would like to take some samples with her to show the art directors there. Sure, no problem. I had given her some color copies and we agreed to stay in touch. I didn’t think anything else about it.
About six months later, out of the blue, I got an email from an editor at HarperCollins telling me they wanted to do a new edition of a book Julie Andrews had written and first published in 1971. It was her first children’s book ever – Mandy. Julie Andrews herself had seen my work and wondered if I might be interested in collaborating. You have got to be kidding.
The backstory -
I need to explain how significant this was for me. When I was little, my mother read me various chapter books before bed. The one I remembered most and loved above all others was Mandy. It’s the story of an English girl who lives in an orphanage. One day she sneak out and climbs over the high wall where she discovers an abandoned little cottage, a little getaway house on the grounds of a large estate. Obviously no one had been taking care of this hideaway for years; Mandy spent her days cleaning it up and turning it into her own personal retreat. I loved this idea - to have your own little house somewhere – a life-sized dollhouse of your very own to sneak off to and collect your thoughts where no one could find you! It was all hers. It would be a dream come true for any child.
When I was asked to illustrate this new edition, I was floored. I think subconsciously I had been illustrating this book my whole life – I just didn’t know it yet.
There were some rights issues with the original illustrator. She had agreed to illustrate the 1971 edition for a flat fee. That means that she was paid only once for her illustrations – no royalties. Royalties are payments you receive based on how well the book sells. You get a percentage. For example, now, a children’s books typically costs about $17. You would get 10% of that, your royalty amount, for each book sold (after your initial advance for the book has been paid out). And if your book does well, you get paid for years as long as the book is in print. Apparently this illustrator had decided that she received an unfair deal and was suing for back payments to cover all the years since its original publication. HarperCollins settled it by deciding to do a new edition to mark the 25th anniversary of when Mandy made its debut. This is where I came in.
Julie Andrews has always been a personal heroine of mine. I grew up with Mary Poppins and the Sound of Music like most kids of the 1970s. I pretty much idolized her and wished she could have been my mother. What an honor - starstruck indeed! We worked on these illustrations with her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton, and together revised and mocked up the layout to reflect the best image placement for the story.
Here are the email clips we exchanged to get everything just right. The lines with the page numbers next to them are my initial ideas for the illustrations. That was a great way to begin. I sent a list of all the scenes we should consider and Julie and her daughter answered.
The final squirrel -
When I had envisioned Mandy, the character Scout from the movie To Kill a Mockingbird immediately came to mind. My Mandy was based on Mary Badham’s character in the film.
And from these prompts I came up with this -
On to the final - those apple blossoms were both a thrill and a nightmare to draw!
We had some problems coming up with the scene when Mandy is rescued - don't want to give the story away, so you will have to read what happens. The horse was causing problems. There really was no way to show the two main figures and the horse, as much as I wanted to get him in there.
Nothing was working. But then we figured out that we could get rid of the horse entirely from the image and the composition would be much more dramatic. Here is the final result.
Some more examples of sketches and finals -
And the final version from the top sketch -
Some other before and afters - you can see how the design of the house evolved as per Julie's instructions.
The initial research phase of any book is one of the best parts of the whole project. It was always my excuse to buy books! I have so many bloody books - each one has a story. Ha ha!
This is how it ended up looking -
What I loved about reading Julie's responses? I could totally hear her talking to me. They sound exactly like the things she would say!
The drawings flowed and I was completely engrossed in my work for the first time in years. I would have to say it was my favorite project I have ever worked on. The inside illustrations were all done in pencil, but I had to come up with a full color cover. It had to be designed as a wraparound. This means that the illustration had to work for both the front and back cover while also leaving room for the title.
You can see how I went from the initial sketch to the final. I had the hardest time trying to fit Mandy in the scene after I drew the cottage. Sometimes it's best to break up the elements in a scene. I drew her separately and then cut and pasted her in - really cut and taped. No Photoshop available to me at the time.
I had to design the composition to accommodate the width of the spine, so it was important not to include any key details in that space.
In my illustrations, I love to hide things that are important to me. This time, on the cover, I wrote out my children's names in the vines along the bottom cover. Here is where I hid my son Jack's name. The others are still hard to find!
Ms. Andrews was very happy with the end result and sent me a lovely handwritten letter expressing her thanks. I keep that letter in my special bookcase with my favorite books. She also sent me my own autographed copy of Mandy. I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity of working with someone I admire so deeply.
My hedgehog vignette from the book under the chapter “Spring” hangs inside her home in Long Island. I couldn’t be happier.