Ged Adamson speaks about his 'Scribbnificent' new story & his earlier books too
Discover how Ged develops his stories and creates his artwork, learn how he managed to avoid wearing glasses for most of his youth, and see some of his earlier books...
Scribbly is a sensational story about the imagination, making friends and believing in yourself from one of our favourite authors and illustrators. We spoke to Ged earlier this year about how the books he enjoyed as a child and his experience as a composer have influenced his work. We were delighted to chat to Ged again about his latest masterpiece and some of his earlier works too...
How did you get the idea for this book? Was there an event in your life that inspired it?
There was no inspiring event in my life for Scribbly but, then again, something always strikes me later about how my stories relate to me in some way, it’s sort of subconscious I suppose. I was just trying to come up with ideas as always and I thought of a kid who draws a dog and then the dog becomes her imaginary friend. I didn’t want it to be like a usual imaginary friend character. They’re always cute or magical. Or distinct in some clever way. I thought Maude should draw the dog and then the dog appears exactly as her drawing throughout the book.
I found it quite moving when Maude learns that people like her because of who she is, and that she doesn’t need to hide behind an imaginary friend. Was this message central to the story from the beginning or did it appear as you worked through different drafts?
It was something that was developed later. Originally the story was partly about how Maude’s mum is unhappy and perhaps the move to the city is related to that. She’s embarrassed about Maude’s imaginary friend because she wants them both to ‘fit in’. But in the end, she realises that disapproving of Scribbly is denying Maude her own imagination and personality. Luana (Horry) my editor at HarperCollins suggested that the mum character needed to be more sympathetic. So we developed the story and the mum is very supportive of Maude though we see her occasionally concerned. I think it works so well and Luana was definitely right to nudge me in that direction.
Did you have an imaginary friend when you were younger?
I’m pretty sure there was no imaginary friend. I grew up with three brothers in a small house so maybe that’s why I didn’t need one!
Do you have a favourite spread from this book?
They’re not spreads but there are two pages from the story that are my favourites. The one where Maude is looking at the pictures on the fridge is good I think. Also we used to have fridge like that but it wouldn’t go down the stairs in our new house! The other illustration I really like is Maude and her mum (and Scribbly) with the party invitation. Maude looks like she’s in a quandary.
What did you find most challenging about working on this project?
I wanted this to be different from the other books I’d done with Harper. For Scribbly, I had to convince Jeanne (Hogle) the art director that the illustration style I’d used before wouldn’t work as well as the new art direction I was going in. There was no big resistance to this but I did agree to add a bit more texture, shadows, that kind of thing. So, the challenge was to make Jeanne and Luana happy with the finished art despite it being different to Shark Dog and Ava and the Rainbow. Hopefully they were.
The illustrations in Scribbly have a comforting, retro quality – is this something you strive towards, or does it just come naturally?
Comforting retro quality sounds good, ha ha! I’d never thought of the illustrations in this way but I like that description! It’s definitely not a conscious thing. It must be all the various influences coming together. I am a bit obsessed with the past - particularly pop culture stuff. So I’m sure that all goes in.
How did you create the artwork for this book? How do you achieve so many different textures?
I draw the characters, buildings, backgrounds and scenes. I paint shapes and use colour pencils too. I also paint and draw loads of shadows. I’ll scan all this into my Mac and then put it together in photoshop. For texture, I’ll paint big blocks of watercolour or I’ll use pencils or pastels. I can then grab small or large parts of these and apply them to wherever I want them in the illustrations.
What came first – the plot or some drawings – or did they both emerge and develop together?
I’d say for Scribbly, the plot and drawings emerged and developed together. The idea and the outline of the story came quite quickly. I remember showing it to people and getting a really positive response. That’s not always the case!
I love Maude’s drawing of Scribbly and how it looks so much like a real drawing by a child – is it hard to create authentic-looking child-like artwork now that you’re grown-up and a professional artist?
Thanks - I’m so pleased you think it passes as a kid’s drawing. When I was little, I remember being both frustrated and fascinated by the way the other children drew things. With the blue strip at the top for sky, the green at the bottom for grass. I’m sure I have this memory of one time pretending that’s how I drew as well so I could fit in. It’s like a style I can still copy to this day.
How do you get feedback on your ideas? Are you part of a critique group? Or do you submit new work to your agent or publisher without showing it to anyone else first?
The first people I’ll show a new idea to are my partner Helen, my son Rex and my agent Isy. I’m pretty thick-skinned when it comes to criticism. It’s counter-productive to be sensitive because it’s rare that people will be negative out of spite. You can almost always use it constructively. No good idea ever arrives fully formed, so someone pointing out a potential flaw can be a very useful thing. I have friends who illustrate and write picture books and we sometimes do put new ideas past each other, but mainly we chat about experiences with publishers and stuff like that.
You’ve created Scribbly, Shark Dog and another dog named Douglas – are you a dog person?
I’m definitely a dog person! I love cats too but dogs I think are generally more affectionate and enthusiastic. Dogs are a bit more silly than cats.
Have you ever adopted an animal from a rescue centre like Maude?
We’re planning on getting a dog very soon and are hoping to get a rescue. We’d like a cocker spaniel though and they’re in such high demand!
I love the word ‘Scribbnificent’– how did you think of that?
I love Scribbnificent too! I’m pretty sure Luana came up with that so I can’t take credit. We were trying to think of the last word. I think Scribbtastic and Scribbulous were contenders.
The city scenes in this book and This is NOT a Unicorn! remind me of New York. Are you a fan of NYC?
I’m a massive fan of NYC! I intended the city in Scribbly to be obviously New York but Jeanne persuaded me to keep that open so it’s more universal. I would definitely live in Manhattan if I could. At least for a while. A few years ago I illustrated a story by the New York children’s author Linda E. Marshall and she gave me a tour of Central Park. That’s such a beautiful memory. Isy my agent lives in the West Village and I can’t wait to visit her there again.
I love the scene in Douglas, You Need Glasses! where it shows the glasses and everything that Douglas can see through them – how did you get the idea for this?
It was literally the memory of wearing glasses for the first time as a teenager and seeing the world properly for the first time. It was amazing and I was quite shocked that I’d been looking at everything through this kind of soft focus up til then. I was blown away by all the sharp edges and colours. I wanted to show Douglas experiencing the same thing.
I also love the gallery of children wearing glasses at the back of that book. Did you have spectacles as a kid and if so, were you self-conscious about them?
I managed to avoid wearing glasses as a child. God knows how I pulled this off. I had an eye test at school and the optician told my parents I was short-sighted. But somehow I convinced my mum and dad that my eyesight was totally fine. When I finally did get specs, the initial novelty of seeing things properly couldn’t overcome the discomfort I felt wearing them. I was already very self conscious about my looks, so adding glasses to this made me feel doubly horrendous. It wasn’t until a long time later that I started wearing them properly.
Friendship is central to all your books – is this an important theme for you?
It must be because it’s a thing that comes up again and again in my stories. The new book I’m working on with Nosy Crow has that element to it too. My characters are either part of a friendship group or duo - or they’re brought together with friends at some point. I’ve noticed that the solitary character who remains solitary is not really something I’ve done. Whereas that’s often the basis for a lot of picture books.
I love Ava and the Rainbow (who stayed). What inspired this story?
Thanks! As a story, I think it’s definitely one of my best. I was talking to a friend and we were saying how cool it would be if rainbows could walk around. Suddenly, I thought what if a rainbow decided to stay so you always have this beautiful thing in the sky? I thought about how people would react and then the idea of appreciating or not appreciating the amazing things around us became the theme. I always get excited when it’s sunny during or immediately after rain because I know there’ll be a rainbow. I thought that’s how I should start it - with Ava running up the hill to see the rainbow. It sounds bad to say, but I don’t really like my illustrations in Ava and the Rainbow (who stayed). I would so love to do that book again with the art style I did for Scribbly! (I have to disagree with Ged here as I think the artwork for Ava and the Rainbow (who stayed) is beautiful! - Picture Book Snob)
How did you get the idea for Bernard the flightless bird in Bird Hugs?
It was a doodle. It was a drawing of a collection of pets and one of them was a bird with really long wings. Whenever I saw that doodle again, I thought he’s a good character. So eventually I thought about what a bird with too long wings’ story would be. I like this story partly because it deals with that old idea of ‘you can be whatever you want to be’ which, on the one hand, is a positive thing to say to little kids but, on the other, is sort of not true ha ha.
Are you working on anything at the moment and if so, can you talk about it?
I’m doing a new book called The Elephant Detectives with Nosy Crow and it’s looking good and I’m excited about it. That’s coming out next Summer. I’ve also just started illustrating a book for Usborne. I’m in the character sketching stages for that which I always enjoy. Barry Timms has written a follow up to This Is Not A Unicorn and I can’t wait to start work on that. I will be doing a new story with Two Lions, the Bird Hugs publisher. So happy about this - it’s about a frog!
Finally, from my 6-year-old: “How did Scribbly get alive?” And from my 4-year-old-who wouldn’t be outdone: “Why is Scribbly scribbly?” (sorry!)
Such great questions! Scribbly got alive because Maude thought him up in her head and painted him. Her imagination created him because she wanted a friend to play with. Maude can see him but other people can’t. So she always tells them what Scribbly is doing.
Scribbly is scribbly because that’s how Maude drew him. She thinks he’s perfect but knows that he looks scribbly. So she thought this would make a brilliant name for him. Maude wouldn’t change anything about Scribbly and that’s why she says “A masterpiece!” when she finishes drawing him.
Scribbly was published in the US on 22nd June and will release in Ireland and the UK on 22nd July - read our review A massive thank you to the wonderful Ged Adamson for sending us a gift of this gorgeous book - all opinions expressed are our own.