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Interview: Illustrator of the Year Helen Kellock on Her New Book

Posted on 31 Oct 2019

'The Star in the Forest' is the debut picture book that won illustrator and author Helen Kellock the title of 2019 Picture Hooks Illustrator of the Year. We sat down with Helen to discuss her new book.

Helen Kellock in her studio

How would you describe your debut picture book, The Star in the Forest?
The Star in the Forest is the story of two sisters, Maisie and Pip, who venture into a nearby forest one night to find the source of a mysterious light that has fallen from the sky. On one level itis an adventure story that takes the reader alongside the sisters as they navigate their way through the dark woodlands and encounter nocturnal creatures on their way to finding the fallen star. But really at the heart of the story, is the sister’s relationship and how together they learn together to mindfully notice the wonder in the ordinary and extraordinary around them.

Where did your inspiration for The Star in the Forest come from?
The main inspiration for The Star in the Forest was Pollok Park, a beautiful country park in Glasgow that is nearby my studio. I have spent countless hours walking in the park which is full of much of the wildlife found in the book, and one night when I was walking through the park at dusk, I started to imagine two little sisters exploring through the trails. When I began writing the story, I also came across the amazing meteorite collection in the National Museum of Scotland (apparently approx. 20,000 meteors fall across the earth every year!) which also quickly fed into the shaping of the story.

After studying Fine Art and English Literature as an undergraduate, what made you want to become a children’s book illustrator? 
I think really it was quite simply my love of story that drew me to making children’s books. In particular I love the way children’s books allow me to create stories through both words and images in one integrated place. When I was first beginning to create my own stories I also came across exciting children’s book makers, such as Beatrice Alemagna, Jon Klassen, Tove Jansson and Kitty Crowther, all of who greatly inspired me and allowed me to see how beautiful and innovative children’s books could be.

Helen Kellock sketching in her studio

Can you talk us through your creative process? (Do you work on the words or illustrations first? Which medium do you work in?)
I tend to start off with an idea or concept that I find interesting and then spend a lot of time thoroughly researching this before I move on to shaping a narrative or sketching any final illustrations. With The Star in the Forest, for example, I had an idea of my setting and characters, but before I plotted out the story I spent a lot of time drawing out in nature and filled lots of sketchbooks with studies of animals and meteors. After I have a sense of the main building blocks of the story, I then write and create the line work for the visuals simultaneously. Once this has all been nailed down, I then use a combination of water colour, gouache, water colour pastels, and pencils to create the final artwork.

Do you have a favourite spread or image from the book that you’re particularly proud of?
If I had to choose, it would be the spread when Maisie and Pip first enter the forest and the reader can see foxes lurking around in the shadows. I like the light and feeling of depth.

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