Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Rebecca Cobb

h1 December 20th, 2012 by jules

Poor Santa. Looks like he’s having a rough time.

That illustration comes from Richard Curtis’ The Empty Stocking, illustrated by Rebecca Cobb, who is visiting for breakfast this morning. “My favourite breakfast,” she told me, “is a banana and some toast, and I don’t like tea or coffee, but I do like the comforting idea of a warm drink, so I always drink hot water instead.” I gotta have my coffee, but I like the way she thinks. Comforting, indeed. I’m setting out some hot water for her and my own coffee mug.

If Rebecca’s name isn’t familiar to you, that’s because she lives and works in the UK. But you all know I like to see what illustrators across the big, wide pond are doing.

Rebecca has both written and illustrated some of her own titles and has also collaborated with authors such as Helen Dunmore and UK Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson. Rebecca’s Missing Mummy, a picture book about the death of a young boy’s mother, was shortlisted for the 2012 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal.

I thank her for visiting this morning and sharing her art. Let’s get right to it.

* * * * * * *

Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Rebecca: I write and illustrate my own picture books, but I also illustrate books by other authors, too.

Illustration from Helen Dunmore’s The Islanders

Jules: Can you list your books-to-date?


Jules: What is your usual medium, or––if you use a variety—your preferred one?

Rebecca: I like using different media to make different types of marks in my pictures, so I mostly use a mixture of ink, watercolour, coloured pencil, and pencil.

(Click to enlarge each spread)

Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Rebecca: I moved to Falmouth in Cornwall (UK) to study illustration ten years ago and loved it so much, I have lived here ever since.

“Some time ago we said goodbye to Mummy. I am not sure where she has gone.”
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“I feel so scared because I don’t think she is coming back.”
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“He wishes she was here too, but we are still a family.”
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Jules: Can you briefly tell me about your road to publication?

Rebecca: It was the scrambly, steep, uphill road that probably most freelance illustrators and authors have to climb. Lots of perseverance, sending samples of my work to as many people as possible, and constantly trying to improve. It was difficult for a few years but definitely worth it.

Jules: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?


Jules: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?

Rebecca: I’ve just handed in the final artwork for a new picture book that I have written for Macmillan Children’s Books, which will be published next year, and I am just starting work on a new picture book by Helen Dunmore, which is a beautiful, magical story, set in St Ives in Cornwall.

Mmm. Coffee.Okay, the hot water (for Rebecca) and coffee (for me) are on the table, and it’s time to get a bit more detailed with seven questions over breakfast. I thank Rebecca again for visiting 7-Imp.

1. Jules: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?

Rebecca: When I first get the text for a picture book, I sit down and read it through several times. Usually, by the second or third read, my head is filling with images for the illustrations.

The first thing to draw is the characters, to work out what they look like and what they are wearing, etc. Then I think about how the text is going to be divided up amongst the pages of the book, where the page turns will be, which pages will have more text and less illustration and vice versa. The next stage is to storyboard the book, drawing little boxes for the pages and filling in very rough sketches of what the illustration might be on each page. After that, I draw full-size pencil drawings of each page, leaving enough space for the text, and draw in as much detail as possible so that it is a good impression of what the book will look like in the end. After perhaps two or three stages of revising the rough drawings, I then make the final colour artwork.

When I am writing my own stories, the ideas usually come to me in pictures, as well as words, so it is a slightly different process, because the text and the illustrations seem to evolve at the same time.

Character work from Lunchtime
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Rough storyboard from Lunchtime
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“So I sat at the table. I sat there for a long time.”
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“‘Are you going to eat that?’ asked the crocodile.”

“‘Can I have some?’ asked the bear.”
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“I said, ‘But I thought you liked eating small children.’
‘Oh no!’ said the crocodile. ‘Children taste disgusting.’
‘Horrible!’ said the wolf. ‘Revolting!’ said the bear.”

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

2. Jules: Describe your studio or usual work space.

Rebecca: I work at a table and a lightbox, which my boyfriend kindly made for me, in the corner of the front room of our flat. It is quite a big room with a lovely big bay window, but it is a bit crowded, because it is also our living room, dining room, and guest bedroom when family and friends come to stay.

(Click to enlarge)

3. Jules: As a book-lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

Rebecca: The first book I learned to read through repetition was The Three Billy Goats Gruff, which I absolutely loved, because I was scared but, at the same time, fascinated by the troll under the bridge. He was bright blue and wore a brown hairy outfit, and I would imagine similar trolls to be lurking close by whenever we were out and about.

I also loved Helen Craig’s books, particularly Angelina Ballerina, and Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s books, especially The Jolly Postman.

As I got older, my favourites were The Owl Who Was Afraid Of The Dark by Jill Tomlinson and Roald Dahl’s books with Quentin Blake’s illustrations.

4. Jules: If you could have three (living) authors or illustrators—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose? (Some people cheat and list deceased authors/illustrators. I won’t tell.)

Rebecca: Quentin Blake, Brian Wildsmith, and David McKee. I would be too shy to speak, though!

“And a nice mother who helped her to make some paper dolls.”
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“They were Ticky and Tacky / And Jackie the Backie /
And Jim with two noses / And Jo with the bow …”

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“But the paper dolls sang, / ‘You can’t get us. Oh no no no! / We’re holding hands and we won’t let go. / We’re Ticky and Tacky and Jackie the Backie /
And Jim with two noses and Jo with the bow!’ / And they jumped …”

(Click to enlarge spread)

“Into the little girl’s memory / Where they found white mice and fireworks, /
And a starfish soap, / And a kind granny, / And the butterfly hairslide, /
And more and more lovely things each day / and each year.”

(Click to enlarge spread)

(Click to enlarge)

5. Jules: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

Rebecca: I am currently listening to the soundtrack from the film Amélie by Yann Tiersen.

I listen to music while I am working and also a lot of Radio 4 and audio books.

6. Jules: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Rebecca: I quite like volcanoes.

7. 7-Imp: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.

Rebecca: Probably to ask about the importance of life experiences to inspire my work, because then it would remind me that I need to leave the flat sometimes! It can be very easy to forget this when I am very busy and have deadlines to meet, but I am slowly learning that it is more useful to take some breaks and get some fresh air every day, because I often work much better afterwards. I think experiencing the world is so important for fueling ideas and getting inspiration.

I will try to do this more!

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

Jules: What is your favorite word?

Rebecca: “Tomfoolery.”

Jules: What is your least favorite word?

Rebecca: “Belly.”

Jules: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Rebecca: Eating chocolate.

Jules: What turns you off?

Rebecca: When I’ve run out of chocolate.

Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

Rebecca: I love the sound of rain through my open bedroom window at night, and it makes me feel lucky to be cosy and warm indoors.

Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

Rebecca: BEEP this vehicle is reversing, BEEP this vehicle is reversing, BEEP this vehicle is reversing …

Jules: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Rebecca: Astrophysicist or volcanologist.

Jules: What profession would you not like to do?

Rebecca: Anything that doesn’t involve illustration, picture books, astrophysics, or volcanoes.

Jules: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Rebecca: “We’ve got plenty of volcanoes here.”

* * * * * * *

All artwork and images used with permission of Rebecca Cobb.

The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred, © 2009 Matt Phelan.

6 comments to “Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Rebecca Cobb”

  1. Love the sweet bear and the umbrellas and Santa’s sleigh! Thanks for sharing these!

  2. My pleasure, Jess.

    I meant to include a note to say that the colors in the art from Lunchtime are a bit off. This happens sometimes. I need to figure out how to fix it so that the colors appear as they do in the book. The greens, as they appear here, are way too bright.

  3. Cool! I love her illustrations, all the colors and the characters have co much life. Thanks for spotlighting.

  4. Her artwork is so lovely, Jules; light and airy. I need to see these books in real time. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Thanks for introducing me to Rebecca Cobb! Beautiful and delightful work. Her pantheon of heroes could possibly include Helen Oxenbury don’t you think?

  6. […] Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Rebecca Cobb December 20th, 2012 &nbsp&nbsp by jules […]

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