#FlorisDesign Illustrator Interview: Nicola L. Robinson

by Discover Kelpies - July 23rd, 2014

Nicola headerIllustrator of…

all covers

Nicola has been illustrating covers for our Kelpies range for the last 5 years and we’re thrilled that she’s agreed to give us a peak into her life as an illustrator! Read on for a look into her design process for Really Weird Removals.com!


Hi Nicola! So today we’re talking about your awesome cover for Daniela Sacerdoti’s Really Weird Removals.com, where did you look for inspiration?

I worked on the cover with Helena Waldron – the then Design & Production Manager at Floris Books. Helena sent me the synopsis of the book (which I loved) and then a very loose written brief describing the main characters and the initial idea of having the removals van on the cover with lots of things falling out of it. We knew the cover needed to be bright, fun and have monsters.

We love the story too, and you’re right about the monsters! So what did you do next?

Well, with this in mind I then read the full manuscript. I make a point of reading any manuscript I’m involved in illustrating wherever possible, it helps me get a feel for style and characters, their personalities, and other visual details from the author to draw from. (I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one!) The inspiration for the look came from my reaction to the text, and making little notes of colours, bits of clothing, and other details. I have a fairly extensive mental bank of monsters and they came from there, with a nod to Nessie and other aquatic beasties for the large mummy sea monster and baby.

A nod to Nessie is always good in our book! So how did you decide where to put the monsters?

I did a couple of rounds of development roughs (for any non-illustrators, these are sort of like first drafts!) for Really Weird Removals.com before getting the final illustration approved. This is the first rough sketch I sent through to Helena…

rough sketch for cover


This looks great! I’m sure our readers will love to see how it all started out!

Thank you! It has similar elements – van, monsters – but a different angle and was agreed to be far too cluttered and busy… which isn’t unusual. I do find often it is easiest to start with a few too many things, like a visual brainstorm, before paring down to the essential core elements, which I think is what we did here.

So what was the next step?

It was all stripped back, losing the werewolf and mermaid’s tail, redesigning the baby sea monster to make him more aquatic and scaly looking, and most structurally the van turned to profile view to get a more striking composition with more movement.

It certainly has movement – the van looks like it’s about to go tearing off the side of the book! So, Really Weird Removals.com has a wraparound cover (which means the illustrator has to consider both the front and the back of the book). How did you tackle this?

Well, since this is a wraparound cover I played around with the big sea monsters tail position for a while, with its bends and loops, always bearing in mind to leave space for other important elements to be added like the title, author name, blurb on the back, and barcodes! The stone fairies were also pared down. I see one has a dress on here, and another is wearing a crown and holding a spoon… they are much more gnarly and less fairylike in the final artwork.

full cover

Gnarly is definitely the word for them, they look pretty mischievous too! Now, the cover doesn’t just feature monsters, there’s children too – where did you look for inspiration for them?

It’s funny you should ask, because during the cover design and illustration process I became aware that one of the main characters (Luca) was named after the author’s little boy, so I was a little more concerned than usual to get him right! I drew Luca on the back cover holding a chubby little baby dragon. I’ve actually had the pleasure of meeting Daniela who tells me she is very happy with the final cover illustration, which makes me very happy too!

We’re not at all surprised, it’s a fantastic cover! But what’s your favourite element?

The big sea monster tail, I love how it sweeps around the cover and over the spine then back onto the cover again, I do enjoy drawing scaly things.

It is wonderfully scaly! So where do you bring all of your monsters to life?

I work depending on where the light is! Sometimes at my desk in my studio, other times at my dining table, sometimes cross-legged on the sofa with my wooden drawing board on my knees. As long as there is good light, music and somewhere to safely rest a cup of coffee, I’m happy.

Sounds like coffee and light are key, it’s not so different here in the #FlorisDesign department! So do you prefer to work digitally or traditionally?

Traditionally. My absolute favourite medium to work in is plain old fashioned pen and ink. Although it is necessary to have a good grasp of digital media too, pending project demands, and for editing and delivering artwork for print.

That’s great advice for any traditional illustrators. So you’ve been working as an illustrator for quite some time, what made you decide to become one?

A lifelong love of drawing and creating pictures, and a very active imagination!

And what’s your favourite thing to draw?

Monsters, dragons, animals and buildings, particularly old crooked ones with lots of windows and anything a little on the creepy/gothic side. I also love history, mythology and fairytales too so I enjoy drawing things related to those topics.

Lucky for us we’ve had plenty of mythological and monster-packed books for you to illustrate! So what do you do if you get stuck or illustrator’s block on a brief?

Just keep drawing… I’ve found this solves most visual problems.

Good advice! And finally, who’s your favourite illustrator and why?

There are lots, but one of my very favourites is American writer and artist Edward Gorey, I ‘discovered’ him and his work rather late, having spent a good many years drawing my own little crooked creations before a guest lecturer at university pointed his work out to me. Darkly comic and beautifully detailed, and all set within his own Victorian/Edwardian/theatrical universe, his illustrations and books really appeal to my sense of humour and love of the archaic/macabre. I have huge admiration for the sheer amount of work he produced and the detail in each piece, all in pen and ink too!

We can see why you love his work, it’s beautifully gothic!

Thanks again for chatting with us, Nicola! We’re sure the #SummerReadingChallenge readers will have loved learning about the Really Weird Removals.com cover!

Nicola graduated with a degree in Fine Art from the Cardiff School of Art and Design in 2005. To see more of her fabulous work visit her website, blog and online shop. You can also follow her on Twitter!

Posted by: Clare at Discover Kelpies


#FlorisDesign Illustrator Interview: Leah McDowell

by Discover Kelpies - July 16th, 2014

HeaderIllustrator of…

all covers

Leah has been illustrating Kelpies for nearly three years now and has stacked up an awesome variety of fun, spooky and sinister covers. Today, as the other half of the Design and Production team, I’ll be interviewing her across our desks to give you a behind-the-scenes look into her work as a #FlorisDesign illustrator!

Hi Leah! (*cue waving in #FlorisDesign department!*) You recently designed the cover for one of our new KelpiesTeen books, Mind Blind by Lari Don. Where did you look for inspiration when designing for our moody, older sister?

The story was really quite gritty and intense so we wanted that to come across on the cover. We also wanted to make the title typography really big and bold while still conveying a suggestion of the sinister mind-reading theme. In the end we liked the idea of showing a CAT scan image of a human head behind the text so I had to do lots on interesting medical picture research! Even though we had the idea sorted, there were still lots of variables like colour, font and layout.

Well we love the use of the CAT scan, looks like that medical research paid off! So where do you like to work on your cover designs?

I work at my Floris desk as there is loads of space, natural light and all the up-to-date Adobe software I need is available on my computer. There’s also a copious amount of my favourite tea in the Floris kitchen that keeps me going!



(That’s green tea with apple and pear by-the-by!) Now, you’ve been illustrating Kelpies covers for nearly three years, but when did you decide that you wanted to be a children’s illustrator?

The first year of my undergraduate degree included a little bit of animation, fine art, illustration and graphic design. I liked the narrative element of illustration so I specialised in it in my second year. I really enjoyed editorial illustration (illustrating magazine or newspaper articles) but I also found a great deal of inspiration in the work of picture book illustrators. Picture books are much more enjoyable to look at than magazines, so that’s the route I followed!

And do you prefer to work digitally or traditionally?

A little bit of both. I create all of my line work traditionally, then I add colour digitally. I do a lot of picture research before starting to draw anything. I like to make up mood boards so that I can easily convey my ideas when I’m pitching cover ideas to the publisher, editors and marketing manager at Floris. Once we’ve settled on an idea, I’ll draw up a rough, which then needs to be approved before I move on to colour. If I’m fully illustrating the cover, I’ll draw up the final line work, scan it and then colour it digitally. Here’s some photos from my sketch book…


image[2]  image[5]



Thanks Leah! It’s great to see where all these covers started out. So when you’re not designing covers, what’s your favourite thing to draw?

I love life drawing – and especially like to draw human hands. They are really challenging to draw correctly, but when an artist manages it, they can look brilliant!

They do sound difficult. What do you do if you get illustrator’s block?

I take a break and leave my desk. When I come back, I do some more research and talk to other people about my ideas. Getting lots of different opinions is a great way of working through problems like this.

That’s great advice, it’s always good to look at things with fresh eyes! So who is your favourite children’s illustrator and why?

I have a number of favourite illustrators because I admire different areas or periods of their work. Jon Klassen, Shaun Tan, Aaron Becker, Oliver Jeffers and Alexis Deacon stand out for me in particular because of their brilliant storytelling ability. All children’s picture book illustrators aim to tell a story, but some stand out from the rest because of their talent in this area.

They’re some lovely choices. Thanks for letting me interview you Leah. Now let’s get back to work!


Leah studied Illustration at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee, Scotland. After doing a postgrad in Publishing, she came to work for Floris Books. Her main role is Design & Production Manager, but she still does a little bit of illustrating for the company. You can see more of her work here http://tracesofthem.blogspot.co.uk/ and follow her on twitter @TracesofThem.

Posted by: Clare at Discover Kelpies

Meet the Design and Production team here at DiscoverKelpies!

by Discover Kelpies - July 2nd, 2014

Hello everyone!

As some of you may have noticed, last Wednesday the Floris Books Design and Production team stormed the marketing office and declared that the day would be our very first Twitter takeover! And from now on we’ll be popping up on your Twitter and Facebook newsfeeds every Wednesday, with the occasional appearance on the KelpiesTeen website and Pinterest.

Our aim? We want to bring you a behind-the-scenes look at our work as a Design and Production team in an independent publishing house. We have so many brilliant designers and illustrators that work with us to create beautiful content – and we want to shout about them! We’ll be showcasing our illustrators, sharing exclusive interviews, sneak peeks at preliminary sketches, and lots of other pieces of exciting content. We’ll also be dispelling the mystery around how books go from being digital files on a computer to real books on bookshop shelves. To top it all off, there will also exciting competitions popping up every now and then.


A sneak peek at the Floris Design corner!

Phew! That’s a lot of excitement coming your way! “But who is it that is sharing these brilliant things with us?” I hear you ask!

Well, Design and Production at Floris Books is a two-woman team, with Leah McDowell as Design and Production Manager and Clare Fotheringham as Production Assistant. Between us we prepare around 120 books a year for print which includes everything from typesetting and cover design, to print buying and scheduling! We get to work on some really great projects with some of the best illustrators in the industry, so you can understand that we are just bursting to talk to everyone about all of it! Keep your eyes peeled for #FlorisDesign on @DiscoverKelpies and @KelpiesTeen on Wednesdays to get involved!

Cover reveal! Introducing The Fabled Beast Chronicles by Lari Don

by Discover Kelpies - May 9th, 2014

Happy Friday, Kelpies readers! And boy, do we have a treat for you. A cover reveal treat, that is!

You might have heard some whispers over on the DiscoverKelpies Twitter and Facebook page that our favourite Lari Don series, First Aid for Fairies, is getting a bit of a makeover. Well, we’re chuffed to bits to show you our shiny new covers today for all-new The Fabled Beast Chronicles. Click on the image on the left to see a snazzy animated GIF of how the cover came together – and the final cover is on the right. Go on, take a look!

First Aid for Fairies and Other Fabled Beasts


First Aid for Fairies

Wolf Notes and Other Musical Mishaps


Wolf Notes

Storm Singing and other Tangled Tasks


Storm Singing

Maze Running and other Magical Missions


Maze Running

Aren’t they amazing? We’d love to hear what you think too! Catch us on Twitter with #FabledBeasts. And watch out for the Fabled Beasts coming to a bookshop near you this autumn.

Posted by: Nuria at DiscoverKelpies

Time Travel Trouble at the Scottish Children’s Book Awards!

by Discover Kelpies - March 7th, 2014

The DiscoverKelpies team are very excited to tell you that the wonderful Janis Mackay has been announced as one of the winners of the Scottish Children’s Book Awards 2013! She won the Younger Reader (8-11 years) category with her story of time travel trouble, The Accidental Time Traveller.

Hundreds of children from all over Scotland helped Janis to celebrate at a special awards ceremony at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, after months of reading and voting for their favourites with Scottish Book Trust. Well, it’s a hard job but somebody has to do it! Make sure to check out our Twitter page for lots of cool photos of the day.

As well as The Accidental Time Traveller, Really Weird Removals.com by Daniela Sacerdoti and Black Tide by Caroline Clough were also shortlisted for the Awards.

Janis told us that she’s “totally over the moon and stars” to have won, and to say a big THANK YOU to all her readers and pupils who voted!

We are so proud of all three of our Kelpies authors! Congratulations Janis, and well done Daniela and Caroline!

Scottish Children's Book Awards

The Accidental Time Traveller

The Accidental Time Traveller coverOne ordinary day, Saul is on his way to the corner shop when a girl appears suddenly in the middle of the road. She doesn’t understand traffic, or the things in shops, and she’s wearing a long dress with ruffled sleeves. Her name is Agatha Black.

Agatha Black is from 1812, and Saul needs to find a way to get her back there. With help from his mates Will and Robbie, can Saul work out how to make time travel happen?

Want to find out more? Try the first chapter here: just click on ‘Try It For Free’!

Posted by: Nuria at DiscoverKelpies