Q&A: Lucy Smith, Award-Winning Children's Book Illustrator & Designer
With a sudden surge of creativity and rhymes on my mind, I embarked on self-publishing a children's picture book series. Tate's Tales was born out of my own experiences as a mother and my inherent love of books. The words flowed naturally, and I could envision the title character so clearly, but who would bring the magic of story-telling to life? Cue magic door #1 opening...
Lucy Smith. An experienced former school teacher and psychology graduate, with an in-depth knowledge of language development and the role high quality literature and illustrations play in encouraging a life-long love of reading. Specializing in children's picture books, Lucy has made a lasting imprint in the illustration field.
I was lucky enough to come across Lucy’s portfolio through my Editor’s recommendation. After perusing her beautiful work and chatting about my creative vision for Tate's Tales: Tate’s Big Birthday, I knew I had found the right Illustrator for my passion project. It was a match-made in illustrative heaven!
I’m delighted to feature award-winning and seasoned Children's Book Designer, along with Tate's Tales very own Illustrator, Lucy Smith, in today’s Q&A blog.
Q: When did your love of books and reading develop?
I’ve always loved reading. I started reading very early and it quickly became my favourite thing to do. Books take you into a magical world and your mind can be free from anything else for those precious minutes.
Q: How did your early love of reading shape your curiosity and creativity as a child?
I’d often re-enact what I’d read. I used to check in the backs of wardrobes and hunt for fairies in the garden. Books sparked my imagination and I’d like to do the same for children who are reading the books I’ve illustrated.
Q: Can you remember some of your favourite picture books growing up?
Yes! They’re etched in my mind forever. I adored Hairy Maclary; I just loved the illustrations and hilarious stories. It was my teacher’s favourite book and I had such fond memories of sitting at her feet looking up as she read it to me.
Q: How did your career from being a school teacher shift into graphic design, and specifically into children’s books?
Throughout my life I have immersed myself in artistic pursuits, with photography being a constant source of enjoyment. My father was a keen photographer, so I was taught about composition, lighting and the other principles of art very early on. Photography has remained a hobby of mine ever since.
As a teacher, I loved art and dedicated as much time to it in the classroom as the curriculum would allow. I chose to be a stay-at-home mum when my eldest son was born and left teaching after eight fabulous years in the classroom. Although being at home was a huge privilege, I very quickly felt that I needed that creativity and focus I’d had throughout my time as a teacher. I started designing and making silver jewellery for myself and friends, and it quickly became a full-time business. I produced all the marketing graphics and loved the photography of the products and the subsequent designing of marketing materials more than the jewellery making itself. I became very confident with design programs and editing software during this time.
After my second son was born, three years later, I took a college course in art as a way to get out of the house and to socialize with other people, as well as to channel my need to be artistic. During this time, I absolutely fell in love with illustration. At this point, I had paused my jewellery business and was on an extended maternity leave. The fit wasn’t there anymore as I was trying to nurse my baby, juggle a toddler and simultaneously work with metals and lead crystals. Though I enjoyed the chaos that raising two boys brought, I found small pockets of peace and quiet to draw as a hobby and photography remained a constant source of joy. I started to produce art for friends and family - from tattoo designs to family portraits. While reading with my children, I realized that book illustration was something I was drawn to as a potential career.
I joined a specialized children’s book illustration school and officially learned the ropes. I got my first children’s book contract with a small publishing house and was absolutely thrilled, but unfortunately, the publisher closed just before the book was published. I was devastated to not see all the hard work I’d put in go to waste. It fired me up all the more to keep pushing and to carve out a career as a Children's Book Illustrator and Book Designer.
I took a course in typography and book design, as I had already learned how to use editing and design programs. This cemented my knowledge and understanding of the process. I have been extremely fortunate since, have met the most wonderful clients and have illustrated an array of picture books, designed and formatted many more, including one translated into four different languages.
Alongside working in publishing, I also have a variety of corporate clients who commission me to produce work for advertisements, websites, children’s craft equipment and more. [Nicole: As I emphasize in Tate's Big Birthday, it's truly never too early or late to achieve your dreams. What a rewarding career pivot you've had, Lucy!]
Q: What is your creative process as a Children’s Book Illustrator, and how collaborative is the process with Writers?
I start with the Writer’s manuscript, and from there I storyboard how I see the story visually. The storyboard then progresses into thumbnail sketches - trying to create the most visually impactful composition in a small window. This informs a template with the text in position and the margins and trim lines marked so I know the exact spaces I have to create the illustrations. There’s nothing worse than trying to fit text into an illustrated space, retrospectively.
I very roughly sketch backgrounds and characters into the templates, getting a feel for the composition in a larger size and how the book flows from page to page. That then progresses into more refined sketches that go on to be edited with the Writer’s input.
There’s a constant process of checking for continuity and improving/refining ideas. Once the rendering is completed, it goes back to the Writer for feedback and then edits are made before the illustrations are finalized. At this point, I place the text and the illustrations together in the software and the book begins to take its final shape.
Once the covers are created, typography complete, interior pages are perfect and the files checked, the book is ready for print!
Q: Are you ever inspired to write & illustrate your own children’s book?
Yes! I have one or two manuscripts waiting to be illustrated, and I hope to be able to bring them to life at some point.
Q: Any advice for aspiring Illustrators and Graphic Designers?
Draw constantly, develop your own style and keep practising. Try illustrating a children’s classic - how would Little Red Riding Hood be illustrated and designed by you?
Q: As a mom yourself, what would you say to aspiring Children’s Book Authors looking to create a meaningful book for little readers?
Make it fun. Messages are great but find quirky or unusual ways to convey them which will bring joy and laughter to children.
"Will those muscles help me open sauce from a can,
so I can mix it up in the spaghetti pan?
Will I cook fancy pizzas, pastas and pies?
Here comes Master Chef Tate to broil, bake and fry!"
-Excerpt from Tate's Big Birthday!
Q: What is currently on your reading list?
I’m loving Matt Haig’s books at the moment; they’re so thought provoking and Matt’s an all-round great guy, so I love to support his work. I have also started to read thrillers, which until recently were not my thing at all, but I’m enjoying them (and trying not to get too scared!)
My all-time favourite books are fantasy novels with Ink Heart and Harry Potter being my favourites. They’re never off my reading list, especially now that the children are at the age to become huge fans too! My office is like a shrine to all things JK Rowling. I’d like to blame the children but I can’t!
Q: Any upcoming projects, and how can we follow your successful journey?
Yes, I’m hugely busy. I am honoured to have been asked by you to start the second book in the Tate’s Tales series! Working with authors on series titles is very rewarding, while seeing the character and stories develop. I’m so excited to continue the Tate series and to work with you has been amazing over the past 12 months. I couldn’t be happier to continue our partnership.
[Nicole: Awww! The feeling is beyond mutual. Your illustrations have brought my book series to life beyond my wildest dreams!]
The Autism with Lola series by Jodie Isitt is also continuing, as I’m mid-way through illustrating book two: Lola’s Wobbly Lunchtime. After the huge success of the first title, the activity book, plush Lola doll and an incredible Kickstarter campaign, I just know it’ll be another success.
I have my second book with Julia Inserro due for completion very soon - a wonderful story about the adventures that book characters get up to at night. Our first book together, Nonni’s Moon, went on to win two awards and Julia has a growing following, so it’s super exciting.
I have a third book that is due to start in the next few weeks; it’s with a new client and is all under wraps – shhhh!
In 2019, I started a self-publishing service called Authologie. With two friends of many years, one of whom is an experienced Graphic Designer of 20 years, and the other a successful Editor who’s worked along bestselling authors and major publishing houses, we decided that we’d like to offer our expertise to those who are struggling to know how to go about self-publishing their book. We art direct and project manage for authors, overseeing carefully selected freelancers as they edit, illustrate and design. Our experience in the publishing world helps clients to navigate around the pitfalls and often to bring their project to fruition with less stress than if they’d done it alone.
Life is very busy, but great fun right now!
You can find out more about Lucy's work at www.lucysmithart.com