#FlorisDesign Illustrator Interview: Ruchi Mhasane

by Discover Kelpies - September 17th, 2014


Illustrator of…MackaySelkie Girl

Last Wednesday we introduced you to the first of our Traditional Scottish Tales illustrators, Matthew Land – illustrator of Theresa Breslin’s The Dragon Stoorworm and this week we have the fabulous Ruchi Mhasane! Ruchi is the illustrator of Janis Mackay’s beautiful tale, The Selkie Girl, and here she is to tell you all about her work!


Hi Ruchi! We’re so excited to hear all about The Selkie Girl. So how did you get started?

I looked at a lot of Scottish landscape photographs, some kindly sent to me by Leah and some by friends who’d been there. I had also seen some observation drawings by a good friend who had visited Scotland for a birding trip, and had heard and read about it. There is nothing like visiting the actual place to be truly inspired, but unfortunately, I only managed to visit Scotland many months after I’d finished the illustrations for The Selkie Girl.

We think you captured Scotland beautifully, and we’re glad you finally had a chance to visit! The Selkie Girl is a very emotional story, but what aspect gave you the strongest visual image?

I think the entire story is very evocative. The scenes at the beginning on the beach where Fergus finds the fur, were really very clear in my mind. Perhaps that is because the scene is built up over a couple of spreads, but I could really strongly see them.

page 8-9 colour v1

Fergus finding the selkie skin is one of #FlorisDesign‘s favourite spreads! The contrast between Shonagh’s panic and Fergus’ happiness is really clearly shown. Do you have a favourite?

Yes, the one where Shonagh looks out at the moonlit sea! I feel like that really touches the core of the strong sense of belonging that she has towards the sea.

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We agree, she looks heartbroken to be separated from it. One of our favourite elements of The Selkie Girl is the use of colour, how did you decide on the colour palette?

I knew that it had to be gentle and magical and include the natural colours of the Highlands, but it took a while to get the balance of gentle and vibrant right. I tend to enjoy subtle colour so it is sometimes a challenge for me to keep my images from being too dull.

Well we think you achieved that balance perfectly – The Selkie Girl is far from dull! Now, we’ve been asking our Traditional Scottish Tales illustrators if they have a favourite folk tale or if they were read any as a child, do you have any childhood favourites?

I listened to many Indian folk tales of talking animals and birds with humour, wit and much wisdom woven into them. I don’t quite have a favourite, but a funny one I remember being told (almost sung to) was about a poor little mouse who finds a piece of cloth and wants to make a hat out of it; he asks for help in the washing, dyeing, stitching of it; nobody takes him seriously at first but he perseveres and at the end makes a hat he thinks is finer than the king’s!

In terms of books, we had some Russian picturebooks which had Russian folk tales; one that I used to adore was about a clever little hump-backed horse who helps his young peasant owner in his troubles. We had the ballad, richly illustrated, in a thick large book, and I enjoyed the beautiful illustrations immensely!

Those stories sound very sweet and a lovely introduction to folk tales. We imagine those illustrations were very inspirational, but what made you want to become an illustrator?

I’ve been drawing all my life. Both my parents are artists and they gave my drawings full rein from my childhood. When I got into art school, illustration naturally seemed the way to go. Almost as if it was impossible not to choose it!

It sounds like fate! But is this what you expected working as an illustrator would be like?

To be honest, I didn’t quite expect anything. I never dreamed of being an illustrator as in India I didn’t see it as a major career choice, or even know of any illustrators while growing up. It just happened and I was doing drawings before I had time to think about how I’d like work to be. But in all, it has been very pleasant. I love getting new projects, building it all up in my head and I love doing the artwork. The job can be a bit unsteady at times, but that doesn’t bother me much when the work is so absorbing.

That’s great to hear, and we’re certainly very happy you chose it as a career! Do you find it different working under contract than for personal projects?

Not very. I think there are some differences with timelines, or with inputs from others, but those are easy to handle if you are working with nice, understanding people. I’m glad that the Floris team was really nice throughout the process and I didn’t feel the work restrictive in any way.

We’re so glad to hear you enjoyed working with our team, you were an absolute joy for us! So where do you like to work on your illustrations?

I am quite flexible when it comes to workspaces, especially as I’ve moved many times in the last few years. But I do like lots of natural light, and a bit of space around my artwork which I can clutter up (in the order I choose). Some peace and quiet is a must!

Ruchi’s current desk in India

Thanks, this is is a great picture! It’s always interesting to see our illustrators’ workspaces. Now, we can see both a paint palette and a laptop on your desk, do you prefer traditional or digital methods when creating your illustrations?

Oh, I’d prefer traditional over digital anytime. It allows for much better mark-making which you can never quite achieve digitally. I’ve found it is stricter as you cannot erase your mistakes easily, and it teaches you colour as you have to mix and create the right colour as opposed to choosing it on a screen. Traditional media is the more difficult choice, but it trains the artist more thoroughly. Having said that, using digital techniques for small corrections and enhancements saves loads of time and is definitely a practical option.

It’s always great to be able to use both, it seems that most of our illustrators use a combination of the two. So what do you do if you get illustrators’ block on a brief?

It is hard, but I give it time. Some free experimenting and playing with work helps a lot. It is important for me to keep trying something, perhaps other than the brief, instead of completely giving up all drawing. But complete breaks can also help, a day out with friends, or a walk or even a good book can all help ease the stress and I can then come back and look at it afresh.

And finally, who is your favourite illustrator or designer and why?

Oh, so many to list, but I love Lisbeth Zwerger! Her use of watercolour is amazing, I cannot stop looking at her images. Her tones and composition and weirdly strange characters just all come together very beautifully.


Ruchi studied Children’s Book Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art. To see more of her beautiful work you can visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

MackaySelkie GirlClick on the cover for more info on The Selkie Girl and to see more beautiful illustrations using our See Inside feature. You can also see all of our beautiful Traditional Scottish Tales on our big sister website florisbooks.co.uk!



#FlorisDesign Illustrator Interview: Matthew Land

by Discover Kelpies - September 10th, 2014

HeaderIllustrator of…

BreslinDragonStoorwormWith the release date of our stunning Traditional Scottish Tales just around the corner, we thought you might like to meet the illustrators! First up we have Matthew Land, illustrator of Theresa Breslin’s dramatic tale The Dragon Stoorworm.

Hi Matthew! Thanks for giving us a sneak peek into your creation of The Dragon Stoorworm! First things first, Where did you look for inspiration when you first began your illustrations?

Theresa’s words were so wonderfully written and descriptive that I didn’t find it hard to fall in love with the story she was telling. I then created a folder of inspiration on my computer and dropped into it anything I came across that might be helpful. Towards the end of the project, the folder had gotten so meticulous and extensive that I have a file on my hard drive entitled ‘Princess G* Hair’. I also watched a number of films, Disney’s Brave was helpful.
*Princess Gemdelovely is one of the main characters in the story for those of you who have yet to read it!

A Princess with her own folder of hair-dos – perhaps we should call her Divadelovely instead of Gemdelovely! So what aspect of the story gave you the strongest visual image?

The spread where Assipattle is about to thwack the Stoorworm with the sword is the strongest image. It was also the most challenging one, because I’m not naturally good at conveying action. It was the pencil rough I put off until last because I had to work longer on the ideas. I was very aware that if I didn’t work on it, the image would just be a stilted/generic hero-slays-the-dragon scene, which hopefully it isn’t.

Well we’re sure we’ve never seen a more unique (or well dressed) dragon-slaying hero, so you triumphed there! Now what’s your favourite spread or vignette?

My 1st favourite is the first spread where the dragon is laid out amongst the mountains because it was the one that flowed most easily from idea to imagery. Also it was the rough that got me the job. My 2nd favourite is the vignette on the last page, because although it is quite simple compared to some of the other spreads — though the regular human eye might not detect it — I can see some of my strongest work in it. Also everyone needs a good happy ending.

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We love your first spread too, we knew you were right for the job as soon as the rough came into the office. Now, as well as all the beautiful spreads you created, you also designed your own endpapers; are patterns something you enjoy creating?

I am a big fan of patterns, they make things look nicer, and when it all comes down to it, I (not so secretly) just like making things look pretty. Creating patterns is also very relaxing, the repetitiveness puts my brain onto cruise control. *whispers* And you can just paint a small portion and then copy and paste.

The Dragon Stoorworm- end paper patterns copy

Matthew’s rough (first draft) endpapers

Endpapers- the dragon stoorworm

The final endpapers – aren’t they smashing?!


Hurrah for Photoshop! So how did you decide on the colour palette for The Dragon Stoorworm?

Colour is the biggest part of my work but also the most challenging thing to get right. That’s the main reason I appreciate the invention of Photoshop. The biggest challenge (colour-wise) was getting the precise red of the dragon, because it needed to be a colour that contrasted nicely with the green of the Scottish landscape. Also my plan was originally to have Princess Gemdelovely with dark hair and Assipattle was going to have red hair. It turned out for the best but doesn’t stop everyone I know from pointing out that I based the hero on myself, which I didn’t… not consciously anyway.

Even the #FlorisDesign team wondered if you’d based him on yourself! So is this what you expected working as an illustrator would be like?

I didn’t really have many expectations as to what being an illustrator would be like, only, I did imagine I’d be taken out to more business lunches than I actually have been, which is mostly none.

Well we solemnly swear to take you out for a veritable feast next time you’re in Edinburgh! A medieval feast perhaps?… Did you find working under contract different from working on personal projects?

It is different, but easier, I need deadlines to help maintain a semblance of a routine, but it also forces me to be less precious over my work. If left to my own devices I will either spend a week nitpicking over the teensiest detail, or doing nothing whatsoever. I like knowing where something is headed, and at the moment personal projects don’t provide me with that security.

Knowing that, is there any advice you wish you could give to your younger illustrator-self?

I’m not at the stage yet where I can give anyone advice. I will have reached that point when my top priority is getting my teeth professionally whitened. But if I were being serious for a second, I’d say to not be overly protective, and to know when to call it a day on an image (I think that’s why I identify so much with Disney’s Frozen’s ‘Let it Go’). Also, learn to draw hands better.

Aaaand now we’re all singing it! Maybe we need that slogan on a poster for the office… So how much of what you draw comes from imagination and how much is from research?

For me it’s a tight balance between to two; research helps ground my imagination. It’s the research that provides a large portion of the detail within the illustrations, and I think that’s where my work has its appeal.

We agree, your detail is a huge part of what made you perfect for this job. So when you’re doing all of your research, is there a particular spot you like to work in?

At the moment my desk is crammed into my room at my family home on a farm in Wales. It’s been a necessary setup to allow me to focus fully on starting up as an illustrator since graduating from University. But I’m ready to move out now. However, in the summer months I can set up my workspace next to our lakes, which is nice (see pic).

Picture of my work space


Very nice indeed! Shame we don’t have a lake nearby, although we do have a park and a rather pretty canal. Now, this is something we always ask in our interviews: what made you want to become an illustrator?

It was the only thing I could kind of do, so I went along with it with the blithe confidence of a moron, and it’s going OK so far. But don’t worry, I have back up careers if all doesn’t go so well… like flight attendanting, or librarianing.

We’d be happy to be attended by you on a flight, although we’re rather glad you’re illustrating! And finally who is your favourite illustrator or designer and why?

I have so many, but I’ll always have a very particular/special fondness for Beatrix Potter.

A most excellent choice! Thanks again for chatting with us, Matthew!

Matthew studied Illustration at University College Falmouth. ‘It was terrific and I recommend it to anyone who’d like to learn how to turn drawing into a profession by the sea.’ To see more of Matthew’s fabulous work you can visit his website, his blog, or follow him on Twitter!


Click on the cover for more info on The Dragon Stoorworm and to see more beautiful illustrations using our See Inside feature. You can also see all of our beautiful Traditional Scottish Tales on our big sister website florisbooks.co.uk!


#FlorisDesign Illustrator Questionnaire: Luke Newell

by Discover Kelpies - September 3rd, 2014

Luke Newell header image

Illustrator of…


It’s been just over a year since Luke Newell began to design his eggs-cellent cover for Alex McCall’s Kelpies Prize-winning Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens. Since then, Alex’s chickens have been conquering bookshelves across the land and just last week were shortlisted for the Scottish Children’s Book Awards 2015! In light of this most eggs-citing development, #FlorisDesign thought it was high time you met the cover designer and luckily he thought so too! Read on for our exclusive interview with Chickens cover designer, Luke Newell.


Hi Luke, thanks for chatting with us today! Now something we always ask our illustrators is where they looked for inspiration when designing their covers, where did you find yours?

From the story and the brief, there was a clearly a tongue-in-cheek 1950s sci-fi ‘B-Movie’ feel that we wanted to go for, so I looked at posters for movies like Forbidden Planet (Robbie the Robot!) and Attack of the 50ft Woman (a giant woman attacks California!)












Crumbs, we bet California wasn’t expecting that! Then again, we doubt Aberdeen was expecting giant robot chickens…! So where do you like to work?

I work in my lavish studio… the corner of my dining room!

Perfectly positioned to check your fridge for egg-based inspiration! Speaking of which, what was your favourite part of the Chickens cover to illustrate?

I really enjoyed designing the chicken. It was a great challenge to try to find a balance between funny and scary!

Well we think you managed with aplomb! So what made you want to become an illustrator?

I’ve always loved drawing, but I really love telling stories with drawings… and I REALLY love making people laugh, so if I can do it with a drawing that’s great. Growing up, I loved The Beano (Dennis the Menace!) and Tintin. Hergé who wrote and drew Tintin is a GENIUS. Also I love Aardman Animations (Wallace and Gromit, etc) and The Muppets!

So do we! (The Muppets Christmas Carol is a particular favourite of the #FlorisDesign team!) The influences you’ve listed are a real mix of traditional and digital art, how do you prefer to work?

I work digitally for the main bulk of final artwork. There are so many great tools nowadays, it’s easier, faster, and generally I deliver artwork digitally via email so it just makes sense. But for all ideas work, and foundation design work, pencil and paper is still the best!

A lot of our illustrators have said the same thing. So when you’re not drawing apocalyptic robotic chickens, what’s your favourite thing to illustrate?

I think people are really appealing to not only draw, but watch. Even if I’m drawing a tree, or a building, I still apply a human character, or emotion to it. Other people are a source of endless inspiration.

And what do you do if you get stuck on a brief?

Exercise is really good for this! Either a walk or a bike ride… gets the blood pumping, takes your mind off the brief for a moment and lets the ideas ‘occur’!

Exercise seems to be the key! Almost all of our illustrators have said this too! You mentioned a few illustrators and animators who inspired you to become an illustrator/animator, do you have a favourite?

This is an incredibly hard question. Hergé is probably the biggest inspiration, but I could list twenty-five people that I admire who are working today: Annette Marnat, Scott C, Vera Brosgol, Oli Josman, Graham Annable… I’ll stop there. Why? They all have excellent drawing skills, and are able to boil something down to its essence.

And finally, because you are both an animator and an illustrator, do you ever think about how your 2-D characters would move and act if they were animated? Do the two disciplines compliment one another?

Absolutely. Animation is really just a sequence of illustrations… Or, to put it another way, an illustration is a chosen moment from a potential animation! I will often try out various poses for an illustration to find the right one, almost as if I’m taking the character for a walk, and then seeing which one works best. Also, to animate a character, you have to have a good sense of what that character looks like from all angles… even something that ends up looking ‘flat’ in the final illustration, I need to know what it (might) look like all the way round to get the shapes right.

That’s a really interesting way of looking at it! Thanks again for chatting with us Luke!

Luke was awarded a BA in Illustration at Kingston in Surrey in 2001. To see more of his amazing work you can visit his blog, his website or even follow him on Twitter.

 Posted by: Clare at Discover Kelpies



Meet the new Scottish Children’s Book Award shortlist!

by Discover Kelpies - August 28th, 2014

Not too long ago, we were super-excited to tell you all about Janis Mackay’s win at the Scottish Children’s Book Awards 2014. But hold the bus, readers! We’ve even more great SCBA news to share with you this morning…

Drumroll, please, because we can now tell you that we have not one, not two, but THREE Kelpies books shortlisted for the 2015 Awards! And for the first time ever, we have books nominated in 2 categories: Younger Readers (8-11 years) and Older Readers (12-16 years). Our two fantastic shortlisted books in the Younger Readers category are:

Pyrate’s Boy, a swashbuckling historical yarn by E. B. Colin

Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens, a cracking tale of fowl play by Alex McCall

And in the Older Readers category, a big well done to:

Dark Spell, a dark and spooky witchcraft adventure by Gill Arbuthnott

We are so proud of Bea, Alex and Gill, and they’re very excited to get out and about visiting schools all over Scotland. If you’d like to have them visit your class, why not ask your teacher if you can take part in this year’s Awards? Your teacher or school librarian can find out more on the Scottish Book Trust website.

Our three shortlisted authors!

Summer holiday secrets win Kelpies Prize 2014!

by Discover Kelpies - August 15th, 2014

KP-logo-2014 emailThe wait is finally over! After months of reading and weeks of waiting, we’re so excited to tell you that the winner of the Kelpies Prize 2014 is… Lindsay Littleson, with her brilliant story, The Mixed-Up Summer of Lily McLean!

Lindsay attended the Kelpies Prize 2014 award ceremony on Thursday, along with her friends and family, where the winner was announced by awesome teen fiction author Claire McFall.  It was really difficult for the judges to choose between The Mixed-Up Summer of Lily McLean and the other shortlisted books, The Superpower Project, by Paul Bristow, and My Fake Brother, by Joan Pratt.

The judges loved all three books for their exciting and original storylines but there could only be one winner. Lindsay’s tale about shy Lily trying to juggle her mixed-up family, a summer holiday with Gran, and a very mysterious voice that keeps telling her NOT to go on holiday, stood out as a funny and sweet story.

We can’t wait for Lindsay’s book to make it into the shops next spring so that you can read it – The Mixed-Up Summer of Lily McLean really reminded us of Jacqueline Wilson’s great books so we know you’re going to love it!


Lindsay receiving her giant cheque from Claire McFall!

Posted by Nuria at DiscoverKelpies