Rose Blake is an artist and illustrator whose strong colour palette and warm characters have brought life to editorial features and smiles to little faces across the globe. From The New Yorker and The Sunday Times to her many wonderful children's books, Rose's illustrations never fail to delight their audiences. With her special talent for telling a visual story and excellent eye for fun details, we've wanted to work with Rose for quite a while. So we were very excited to have her partner Mark Sperring (author of our All The Things I Wish For You) on our new personalised children's book The Great Alphabet Chase. It's the most imagination-igniting way for little ones to learn their ABCs, as they are taken on their own colourful tour from A to Z.
We chatted with Rose about the new book, the books she adored when she was young and how she started out.
Hi Rose, how did you get into children’s illustrations?
I studied illustration at Kingston University but I was never really that focused on children’s illustration while I was there. A publisher came to me about 3 years ago to see if I would be interested in illustrating a children’s book and I thought ‘why not!’ and have basically never looked back. I've drawn 6 picture books now (including this one) and hopefully there will be lots more to come. I do all sorts of illustration commissions but I find children’s books really satisfying. You can be really playful and every picture book project is so different.
Can you remember the first picture book that really made an impact on you?
I loved Lola and the Chocolate Wedding by Posy Simmonds – the main character looked a bit like me as a kid. The drawings are amazing, and I can still vividly picture the (quite psychedelic!) chocolate world. The green cream oozing out of a chocolate as the kids jump on it… just brilliant, vivid drawing.
I also loved Rosie’s Walk, Peepo!, Ant and Bee and all the Richard Scary stuff. The Jolly Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg was amazing too. I remember it had lots of little letters that you could take out and play with which fascinated me as a child. I'd love to make a book like that now.
How do you hope a child will feel when poring over the illustrations in The Great Alphabet Chase?
I think it’s pretty cool for a child to have themselves featured in the book. I would have LOVED that when I was younger. I hope they have fun spotting all the little alphabet details that I have added in. I actually made myself laugh when I got sent the colour proofs from Papier and saw the drawing of the Octopus with an olive at the end of every tentacle. I’d forgotten I’d drawn it and it really tickled me!
You’ve worked with Mark before, how does the process work between the two of you?
I knew we were doing an alphabet book but I had no idea how Mark was going to write it. The minute I got sent the text, I was like, ‘YESSSS! This is going to be fun. :-)’
I started by designing some characters and the two main crocodiles. I never really draw animal characters so I was slightly nervous but everyone seemed to like the crocs straight away so that was great. Then I printed out blank spreads and basically storyboarded how I would interpret the tex. This is the hardest bit – trying to make everything make sense and link visually. I then met up with Mark, Goldy the designer and the Papier team, and took them through the storyboard, explaining the way I had interpreted the text. They had lots of nice ideas which I then worked into coloured roughs. Then once everyone was happy with those, I worked on the coloured finals. I’d love to work with Mark again in the future, his words are so clever.
Which was your favourite page to design?
It’s between the O is for Oops, P is for Panic spread, and the last spread when they enter the zoo, with all the animals welcoming them.
There's a lot of block colours in the book. Do you think there's magic in colour?
There is! I love colour so much… I actually made friends with a girl when I was drying my hair at the lido this morning. I was wearing a bright sky blue jumper and she was wearing a lilac-y pink jumper (almost like the colour of the E is for exit spread) and we both looked at each other and said ‘we look SO good together!’
Favourite letter of the alphabet and why?
From a purely design sense, I love drawing a loopy lower case l, and I like drawing a capital K and a capital Q too. But obviously, the best letter is O. Ultimate simplicity.