Deborah Hinde is a Aotearoa illustrator, and her most recent title is Enough: A story about community. She spends her days running her business, PictureBook Publishing, as well as illustrating picture books and working on products for markets. She tells us more about a day in her life.
My day is split between the mundanities of running a small business, illustrating picture books for her own imprint (PictureBook Publishing), and for other authors and publishers, and working on products that she sells online and at regular markets in Taupō and Tamahere.
There’s the monthly newsletter, with downloads for the kids. My partner, Mark, works part-time in the business too, doing the accounts, attending markets, and helping where he can.
Over the last couple of years, due to overwhelm and anxiety, I’ve slowly reduced the amount of time I spend in the studio. I now ‘ease’ myself into my working day which has made it a 9-to-5 job, rather than the 7-days-10-hours-a-day job it used to be. I also make sure I go for a walk every day, either on our neighbours’ farm or along the road. I find this helps keep me positive in what can be a difficult industry to work in.
I go for a walk every day, either on our neighbours’ farm or along the road. I find this helps keep me positive in what can be a difficult industry to work in.
My studio is a converted double garage not far from the house, with garden and rolling countryside views. We often have pheasants, hares, hedgehogs and rabbits, plus a multitude of birds enjoying the garden. Deer have also been spotted pronking in the neighbouring paddock! My surroundings often provide great inspiration for my characters.
Illustrating picture books for me is like a puzzle – the images need to extend beyond the words and add emotion to the story. I love the challenge! I love that I get to decide where the world in the story is located, who the characters are, how they look, and what they wear.
My surroundings often provide great inspiration for my characters.
Enough: A story about community (PictureBook Publishing, 2021) is one of several picture books I have worked on so far this year. The book was super challenging to illustrate, not only because of the amount of people in the story, but also the pressure of knowing we’d received funding for the project from Copyright Licensing New Zealand. There’s nothing like a bit of imposter syndrome to keep you on your toes!
I usually start each project with thumbnail sketches in a sketch book. These thumbnails are quite abstract, almost like a code that only I can decipher. Sketching them at this size and simplicity, I’m not distracted by detail and can focus on the flow of the story from page to page.
With Enough, I decided to do all the sketching in Photoshop. As I was working through the sketches, I went over the manuscript and made notes. I also consciously tried to vary the view points for each spread.
The street scenes in Enough naturally lend themselves to being a ‘pause’ between the other pages where the main character, Hana, is super busy helping everyone. The idea of linking Hana’s busyness to the more static scenes with curves didn’t come to me until I was working on the spread where she finally runs to get help. I wanted to impart the overwhelm she was feeling at the end of the page; the feeling, that whatever she did wasn’t quite enough. It was a bit of a Eureka moment for me when I saw how well the curves worked! Those type of creative breakthroughs, are one of the small joys of being an illustrator.
Those type of creative breakthroughs, are one of the small joys of being an illustrator.
Sarah Johnson and I worked closely on this project, something that doesn’t happen when working with every publisher. But this was Sarah’s story, one she had wanted to tell for many years. We were also donating one dollar from each book to Feed the Kids, Whaingaroa. We had to get it right! We also felt it hugely important that children would see their own lives, their own streets and communities reflected in the book. Sarah apologised to me many times for the amount of people in the book; so many times it has become a running joke!
I don’t tend to start on the character concepts until I’ve worked on the thumbnails, as I find reading the manuscript and sketching out the pages helps trigger my thoughts around each person in the story. I’ve never been comfortable ‘plonking’ characters into a page without understanding why they’re there, who they are and what they do.
With Enough, I gave each person a little back story; that they were married to so and so and lived in the two storey house or the green house on the left, etc. I started with Hana and her family, before tackling a couple of other members of the community, always keeping in mind that we need for a mix of ages and ethnicities. Once we were both happy with how the characters looked, I was able to start work on the full size roughs.
Working in Photoshop, I enlarged the thumbnails and on a new layer redrew them and added more detail until I was happy. I then placed the .psd file into an InDesign file that I had already added the text to. Because I like working with one image per spread it was super easy to adjust the layout of the roughs in Photoshop to suit the space available for that image in InDesign.
Once all the spreads were laid up, Sarah and I organised a Zoom call to go over the page layouts and make tweaks where necessary.
It’s always a good moment when the roughs are ready for me to do the final illustrations, although sometimes it can be daunting to know that you probably have another two to three months of work to do at this point. Then there’s the cover illustration and design, plus the final edits and proofing, before you’re ready to create print ready files to upload to the printer in China.
My illustration process in Photoshop for Enough was quite simple. I used separate layers for backgrounds, houses, people/animals etc and used a rough brush to make a template for each of the elements before adding another layer as a clipping mask to ‘paint’ those elements. Then I added a for each for the detail.
When the printer receives the PDF files they check that the colour specs etc are correct and then organise getting the wet proofs to you along, with an ozalid of the book. This is the last opportunity to fix anything that is missed earlier. I’ve found that having different sets of eyes looking at things is so important. By the time the book is off to the printer my eyes no longer register that anything is wrong. Fortunately we had Sarah’s eagle eyes on the job!
We signed off with no changes and then waited for the advance copies. Meantime we caught up on all the housework that goes with releasing a new book, in particular the advanced information sheet and media release for our publicist, and listings on Neilsen Title Editor and ThorpeBowker. That way, once we received the shipment from China, we could get the review copies out quickly and get stock to our distributor within two days.
It is lovely to be at this stage of the book production process; with the bulk of the work behind you and the book making its own way in the world. Of course, for me, being at this stage also means I’m already onto the next book, the next project, the next creative idea. In the life of an illustrator and small publisher, there is not a lot of time to pause.
But that’s OK! One of the great joys is that no two days in my professional life are ever the same.
Enough: A Story about Community
Written by Sarah Johnson
Illustrated by Deborah Hinde
Deborah Hinde is a Aotearoa illustrator, and her most recent title is Enough: A story about community. She spends her days running her business, PictureBook Publishing, as well as illustrating picture books and working on products for markets.