There is a growing number of picture books, graphic novels and beautifully illustrated readers available in the English language teaching world. And here at Helbling Readers we firmly believe that the illustrations can help convey and consolidate meaning as well as recreate the all-important atmosphere of the story. Text and illustrations are always fully integrated and the one offers another layer of interpretation to the other. We would like to introduce our illustrators, talk about their work and ask them to give us a sneak peek behind the scenes to see how they create the images we love so well. Our first guest is Lorenzo Sabbatini, who has illustrated a number of Helbling Readers and young readers. Here we will look at how he created one of our latest projects, Jack's Endless Summer (written by Martyn Hobbs), a fun story about a boy whose seemingly boring summer holiday turns into the experience of a lifetime.
Lorenzo is from Macerata in central Italy. He received his diploma in Industrial Design in Ancona. He is a member of the Italian Association of Illustrators and has been working as a professional freelance illustrator since 2004. Lorenzo likes using both digital and traditional methods for his illustrations but he also enjoys painting and creates wonderful watercolour landscapes and seascapes. You can read Lorenzo's blog here where he talks us through the steps of digital image making. Using illustrations from Jack's Endless Summer he shows us how he builds a full-colour page from a a simple black and white base.
We chatted to Lorenzo about his work and asked him to recommend some picture books to us.
Helbling Readers Blog (HRB): Do you remember your very first illustration?
My first 'printed' illustration goes back more than 25 years. My father asked me to do an ink drawing for a poster for a local festival, and with that my passion for illustration started to grow. I don't know where the original is now, but somewhere in my father's house there is a framed copy hanging on the wall.
HRB: What is the biggest challenge when you are working on a children's book? What is the most fun when you are working on a children's book?
When I start a new project, I enjoy both the fun and challenge of it. The biggest challenge is to put myself in the position of the child who will look at the pictures, but not the child I was several years ago, but today's child, with their new interests and world. Each time I need to find new faces, situations and things. I have two children and when they were smaller, I often used them as the first reviewers of my illustrations without them realising it, and it was great fun to listen to their comments. On the other hand, I want to enjoy each job, and I often invent and use new styles so that I do not get bored after three illustrations.
HRB: How much creative freedom do you have when you illustrate readers? Why do you think illustrators get the same recognition as authors?
Graded readers aren't at all limiting. My starting point is that these books are used to teach a new language, and for this reason the situations I illustrate should to a shared reality, but then I have 'creative freedom' to create this reality. Of course I can't always let my imagination go wild but I've been working with the editors at Helbling Languages for a long time and they are always ready to see things from my point of view. The illustrator is particularly important in these publications because they add that extra 'something' to the book. Illustrations don't just accompany texts, but, especially in the case of graded readers, they help with understanding and teaching a new language.
HRB: Is it different to create illustrations for a book devised for non-native speakers of the language? I mean authors and editors have to be careful about language structures because we use simplified language in graded readers. I imagine that illustrators do not have to face the same constraints.
Just like authors and editors have to pay attention to the written language, as an illustrator I need to be careful with the imagery. The stories often take place in 'English' settings, and for this reason, I almost always begin a new project by researching images that reflect those 'English' settings. Even the simplest things can define cultural difference: such as a window over the kitchen sink. Another important thing is appropriateness: these are school publications and are sold all over the world, so I need to make sure there is nothing that may be deemed offensive in the various markets.
HRB: Do you think that publishers like Helbling Languages who pay attention to the quality of their books have a chance today? Is there market need for high-quality illustrated books?
Definitely! When a book is put together with care and passion and the content is motivating then it always has something extra to offer, that 'something' I mentioned earlier. The fact that Helbling Languages is constantly looking for new ideas and proposes new projects means that they care about what they do.
HRB: What is your biggest inspiration?
A couple of years ago my biggest inspiration passed away (hello Mum), but I love nature, the sky and the sea.
HRB: How do you see the world of illustrators in 10 years' time?
The world of illustrators is continuously changing and being upgraded from traditional to digital, and old and new talents continue to prosper. New technologies let us reinvent ourselves and thus improve, and the traditional techniques discover new materials and support to work with. The same digital technology needs to be produced on paper, so there is a kind of cycle that I hope will never end. I don't know about you, but the smell of crisp new paper still makes me feel like a little child.
HRB: We really like picture books for adults. Can you recommend any?
I can lose myself here, because I love comics and picture books and a host come to mind. The first comic I read and the one which inspired me to draw was 'Men, beasts and heroes' of the Ken Parker series (written by Giancarlo Berardi and illustrated by Ivo Milazzo, published by Cepim Ediotriale in 1978). A more contemporary example is 'Cinquemila chilometri al secondo' (5000 km a second) by Manuele Fior, published by Coconino Press/Fandango in 2010. In this book a traditional medium such as watercolour gives a fresh and modern tone to the narrative with its unpredictibility.
HRB: What story would you like to illustrate?
I would like to illustrate the life of a child who sees each day as an adventure – but that's another story!
Visit Lorenzo's blog here.