Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2023

It was finally time, the Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2023 had arrived, and I was going! I had all of my materials ready: portfolio, posters, small business cards and posters.

Oh, and one of my doll characters to show, and my knitting. Never go anywhere without wool!

My suitcase was packed, my train tickets and accommodation booked. I had been contacting publishers, agents and portfolio reviewers before the fair and already had a few meetings lined up. Even more exciting was the number of friends and colleagues I was planning to catch up with over the few days I would be there. I felt organised and ready to tackle anything. I would meet everyone, photograph everything, sketch constantly, eat wonderful food, and come away laden with new contracts. The fair had already begun on the Monday and I was arriving first on the Tuesday, but I was sure it would make no difference if I missed the first day. Everything would be fine. High expectations? Perhaps…

My train left Trieste at 4:20 a.m. It was so early the station was even locked when I arrived! I had an entire carriage to myself so I got out my sketchbook to record the journey. It was pretty hard as there was nobody to draw and outside was completely dark except for the occasional light from a ship on the sea, or a lamp at a station platform. The rolling mist as we passed through the plains was very atmospheric in the early dawn.

Despite my enthusiasm, this was the first and last time I sketched on my trip to Bologna. I also barely took any photos. As it turned out, there was far too much else to do!

Bologna is a beautiful place to arrive early in the morning after a long train journey; open squares, intriguing alleyways, cafes, food markets, and plenty of good book shops. I marched my suitcase straight past these delights to get to the fair just as the doors opened on the second day.

The illustrators wall was the first experience of overwhelm for me and the first thing you come to after entering the fair. Here are a select few of the amazing illustrators whose work caught my eye there.

Andi Lovely has beautiful, dynamic work and a really great website

Michela De Spagnolis works with printed textures and gorgeous colour palettes. She makes her own sketchbooks like I do, but has a few gorgeous examples for sale.

Claudine Crangle works with a similar makerly approach to mine and I was so excited to see her work up on the wall that I arranged a space next to it to add mine. Even better, since her work was up at the fair then Claudine was possibly at the fair too… and she was! We had a chat in the sunshine outside and found we had so much to talk about. A made a new illustrator friend way from over the other side of the world!

The illustrators wall was endlessly inspiring; so much creative and varied work, it was exciting to find a corner to add my own poster and business cards alongside others. But here was another downside of arriving first on the Tuesday; the wall was SO full already, the prime spots were all gone and I had to squish in around the edges.

Exhibitions. There are really many many exhibitions at the book fair, and my favourite was the work of Suzy Lee. Beautifully expressive ink drawing mixed with collage and line to create heart-felt and immaginative images full of movement. These two pieces stood out for me as both are connected to music; another part of my creative makeup.

Talks! There are so many interesting talks that I couldn’t fit everything in! I listened to an inspiring talk about an annual competition for book illustration here in Italy, set up in memory of Livio Sossi, an illustration and children’s literature scholar from Trieste. The deadline is too close for me to apply this year, but maybe in the future… take a look all you illustrators out there: Premio Livio Sossi

People. Yes, I really met loads and loads of wonderful people. And I’m afraid I didn’t take photos of any of them! Here are two SCBWI friends and colleagues who took photos of us both and kindly sent them on to me; Peter Crawford author of the fabulous Professor Pea biology stories, here admiring the gorgeous textile work of Martin Smatana and illustrator Paul Morton of Hot Frog graphics and the Bug Belly stories. SCBWI had a great evening party in the lovely bookshop Libreria Trame where met other SCBWI members and industry professionals, and I rather inelegantly translated and read the beautiful Tutto in Una Noce for Paul. It’s a very moving story and was quite a challenge to read out loud!

The publisher stands are utterly overwhelming. There are so, so many and the books and games are just so gorgeous and inspiring. I came away with a big stack of business cards and catalogues, but these are some I also photographed. Ludattica make gorgeous educational games with an environmental theme that resonated with me both fore their ethics and for their educational possibilities (I was once an early years teacher and still subconsciously look for the teaching potential in resources). Marie-Noëlle Horvath‘s stunning flower books caught my eye for the textile collage illustrations. I would love to make a book like these!

Baek Heena makes stunning illustrations by photographing 3D model characters in settings, all of which she builds herself. I was really hoping to buy a copy of this book on the Korean publishing stand but sadly they were not for sale. I think many people had asked as they put up a big handwritten sign; ‘books display only!’

More lovely textile collage and needle-felted work by Laura Bortignon, this copy made it home with me!

Another beauty from the Korean publishing stand by Hyunjoo Song. I think. Sadly I can’t find a link to offer you for this book, it may be my inept attempt at translation.

More 3D photographed images, again from Korea. This one by Lee Yeon-sil and Kim Hyan-soo. Please forgive my lack of Korean!

The children’s bookshop Libreria Giannino Stoppani is in the centre of Bologna, right in the base of a huge tower, and it is an absolute trove.

I completely loved the sliding book cases in the book shop; it was like revealing hidden treasure!

These are all the photos I took! That’s it!

The three days at the fair were wonderful and inspiring and exhausting and completely overwhelming. I stood in so many queues; for portfolio reviews, events, toilets and food. I met people all day long, more people than I thought possible, and still there were a couple I’d hoped to catch and didn’t manage. Obviously I didn’t come home laden with contracts (!) but I did make many new contacts with publishers, agents, colleagues and new friends and I have much exciting follow up to do full of new possibilities. Thank you for a great few days BCBF, I really hope to be back again next year!

For a really great summary of the fair, and a short interview with me amongst others, please do watch this wonderful video about the Bologna Children’s Book Fair made for SCBWI BI Words and Pictures by Tita Berredo, Gary Fabbri and Paul Morton.

He, She or They?

What is it that determines the gender of a story character or a doll? Or perhaps, who is it?

I would like to create characters that could represent many different gender identities, since this is what is out there in the world. ‘Girl’ or ‘boy’ is just not enough. In my doll-making, and in my illustration, I am the creator of new personalities and I get to determine their identity.

Often, I begin making a character with a clear idea of the gender I am aiming for, especially if there is a client commissioning the work, but sometimes I just begin drawing or sewing and let the personality develop as I go along. At what point along this line does the character take a gender? When I make the bodies? Most of the characters I make are young children, or have child-like proportions, so body shape or function is not a deciding factor for me. How about facial features? Hair style? Clothing? 

I decided to photograph all of the dolls that I have made which are currently in my studio, wearing only their underwear (if they have any) and see if they already seemed to have a gender even before thinking about clothes. Perhaps there is something in the way I build faces, or sew and cut hair, that denotes a boy character, or a girl, or someone who identifies with neither or both. 

Boy or girl?
Even adding underwear can be decisive. 
So, is it clothing? 
Is this why so many dolls I make spend such a long time waiting patiently for me to make their clothes? Because in dressing them, I determine a big part of their personality? 

Again, boy or girl? What do you see?

Taking these photos led me to ask the next obvious question: since these are not living things, in whose eyes do they have a gender? What about the reader of the story, the viewer of the image, the one who plays with the doll? Regardless of what I think, perhaps they will see something different in my creations from whatever I had in my head as I was working on them. 

My daughter was given a cuddly chimpanzee toy when she was a baby. It was named ‘Bobo’ after a book character we loved, and was a favourite companion. Bobo was dressed in all sorts of clothes and played all sorts of games. When my daughter was about 2 years old I asked her if Bobo was more of a ‘girl’ chimpanzee or a ‘boy’, and after some thought she replied that Bobo was a ‘student’. So that was resolved.

Can I just dress all my characters in gender-neutral clothing? Do I even want to do that? Illustration seems to be slightly more representative than doll-making in terms of representing gender; I am aware that in the hand-made doll market there is a prevalence of girl dolls above any other identity. Is this driven by demand? Or by doll-makers enjoying the wider range of clothing and hair styles open to girl dolls? And why even is it that girl dolls have more clothing options? 

I suspect these are all questions which are difficult to answer, but which I should keep asking myself. Maybe the answers are not as important as the questions. Perhaps any question which keeps reminding me to try and represent many different identities in my work is worth returning to whether I answer it or not.

At the end of the day I am still left with a lot of dolls which will not be ready to go out into the world until I give them some clothes, regardless of their identity.

Sketchbooks from Scraps

Here’s a whole stack of my favourite work! My sketchbooks are my playground and I think they’re good examples of the way I like to work and to explore ideas. They’re full of drawings, both quick and more detailed, of things I have noticed, of textures I like or simply of patterns I felt like making in the moment. I started stitching my own books way back when I was a teenager, but since the pandemic lockdown left me without any sketchbooks to work in or any proper drawing paper, I started making all of my sketchbooks myself from whatever papers I have to hand. They come in different shapes and sizes, I use the offcuts to make tiny books that fit in my pocket for sketching on the move, and I really love the individual feel of each book. A hand-stitched book lies open more loosely to and feels as though it has character even before any drawings go inside.

Using a mixture of up-cycled paper gives a different feel with every page turn. This is a rough collage of me in my favourite dungarees (that sadly don’t come out of the wardrobe as often as I’d like), stepping from one texture to another. Walking through the book to see what the next page will bring.

Concertina sketchbooks are quick to make, and allow me to focus separately on small sections of what can eventually open out to a long single image.

Concertina sketchbooks are quick to make, and allow me to focus separately on small sections of what can eventually open out to a long single image.

The background colour I glued down to hide the unwanted text on the up-cycled paper became the inspiration for this spread. with all the collage work I do, there are often piles of tiny scraps on my desk that I can’t ber to throw away. So I make these tiny, rapid warm-up collages just glueing them down any way I fancy.

Wrinkles in the paper from what was once a bag from our daily fresh bread adds surprising texture to drawings.

Tiny concertina sketchbooks from offcuts of larger sheets of paper make a perfect emergency-sketching kit. One tiny book plus a couple of pens or pencil crayons are always tucked in my bag somewhere.

These are just a few of the books I have made and filled over the last couple of years. If you’d like to see more of the my sketches inside, have a look on my sketchbooks page.

Here’s a short film of a hand-made sketchbook I’m working in just now.

Tiny Beetle and the Purple Day

Today was the last day in which all three of my children scheduled to be simultaneously out of the house for the next ten weeks, so I made myself a focussed list of work project tasks to complete. And then promptly ignored it in favour of a day of creative play! One thing lead to another and a rather aimless beginning developed into a project idea in such a textbook way that I thought I’d write about it here.

The first element of the project happened whilst I was making breakfast in the kitchen; I met a tiny green bug climbing purposefully up the side of the box of cereal. He had such a comical face that I did some quick sketches of him before he jumped off to who-knows-where.

Hasty sketches of a tiny green jumpy insect of unknown name.

Do you ever have times when you want to do something creative but aren’t sure where to start? Today I wanted to make a little book (I love both books and little things!), so I rummaged around on Skillshare.com and found a class on making books by folding and cutting a single sheet of paper, by Daniela Mellen.

This is a lovely, clearly explained and fun class and I quickly made three different little books from papers I had in my stash.

What to do with them now?

One was made from a mustard-coloured sugar paper so I thought it would be arty to make that book all about purples and yellows colour exploration. Lots pencil crayon and bits of fabric and paper later, I had filled the whole book with colour and textures. It’s very peaceful to just cut and stick, arrange and colour without trying to produce anything more than a pleasing layout on the page.

I think I was most pleased with my idea of stitching a long purple thread across the pages and right through the book from front to back, which then doubled as a means of holding the book shut.

But there was no story here. Just colour. How to make it into a setting? To add an element of narrative? I remembered the tiny green insect from breakfast time…

… and made a tiny beetle on a wire.

And there it was. The beginnings of a new story. ‘Tiny Beetle and the Purple Day’. I don’t know entirely what it’s about yet, but it involves a beetle and a lot of purple. Tiny Beetle can wander about and explore the differently-textured landscapes of collage and thread, inspiring all sorts of exciting scenarios in my head.

I even made a little pocket between the pages for Tiny Beetle to live in. Although I say so myself, it’s a really cute little book. I haven’t quite got videos sorted out here on my blog page yet, but if you’d like a quick look through the book I have a reel here showing it on Instagram.

Thankyou very much Daniela Mellen for the starting point to a fun and productive day of play. I should definitely mess around aimlessly more often!

A Reminder of the Joy of Poetry

It had been a long time since I heard any poetry. Or read any. It’s not that I don’t like poetry, I really do, I just hadn’t been paying it any attention. It was a true delight then to attend Piero Guglielmino‘s talk dedicated to poetry in children’s literature. He read us, and discussed, so many poems in so many different styles; beginning with poetry to read to babies in the womb, moving through rhyme and action verse for babies and toddlers, then on to nonsense verse, haiku and poems that take an entire illustrated book to tell. All in Italian, some translated, and all completely new to me. Here are just a few of the huge stack of amazing books Piero worked through:

It was just wonderful, two whole hours to just stop and listen to such a range of poems. I now have a list of poetry books to seek out in libraries and bookshops that goes up one arm and down the other. There were too many to say which were my favourites, but the haiku had the biggest immediate impression on me because of their powerful simplicity. What wonderful inspiration for illustration! On my working days I now have a haiku warm-up illustration that I can choose to do: I pick out a haiku (copied from the internet, but yes I will seek out some books), think about it, then draw or collage whatever it brings to my mind. And maybe even write my own response on the reverse of the post-it.

This is the first one I made. The Haiku made me think of my Grandpa who had an armchair he loved to sit in. In his last year he had it positioned so that he could see the birds on a little bird feeder just outside the window. Rather than looking at the peonies, he would watch the birds. I remembered the way he used to curl his hands over the ends of the armchair. I made this little illustration with ink and tissue paper and pencil crayon, just quickly to capture the moment. A drawing made just for me, for the purpose of thinking and being quiet and nothing more. That’s also rather precious in the middle of working towards a big project for a publisher.

My own haiku attempt

I’ve started a little book to glue them into. I’d love to say I’ll do one every day, but even just one a week feels like a special moment of calm and thoughtfulness. Early in the morning when my household is still asleep. This new exercise alone is a precious idea that came out of Piero Guglielmino’s workshop, and one for which I am very grateful; thankyou Piero!

A slight change of plan…

“Well, I’m having a slight change of plan.”

Since my last post I (with my family) have; moved to live in Italy, begun to learn a new education and tax system, completed a big (awaiting public release) illustration contract, been locked down with the pandemic, sold our Edinburgh home without being able to return there, bought a house and moved to a new area of Trieste, taken delivery of our belongings from Edinburgh (over a year after we left, which was a very long time to be without my art and craft materials), started again at new schools, begun another big illustration contract and finally been locked down again with the pandemic. Much of this was most definitely not in my plan, and I know I am certainly not alone in having to face up to whichever monster is lurking in the grass and carry on regardless. So I apologise for being silent for so long, but that’s the way it was.

I’d really love to tell you all about the picture book illustration contract I’m working on now, but it’s all too secret so I can’t just yet! However I can tell you that the images I have been making for the project are increasingly using my doll-making skills, which is really exciting. Yarn, needles and thread and fabric are back on my work table alongside the paper collage and glue. In amongst this organised makerly chaos, some of my dolls (did you know I am a dollmaker too?) have also been sneaking onto my desk.

Having gotten away with this covert invasion, they have gained confidence and now started walking right into my illustrations! The more yarn and textiles I use in my work the more I find I want to photograph it to make digital copies rather than scan it, and an artwork photography shoot is the perfect opportunity for doll photo-bombing. Just as 2D drawn characters can often do, my 3D dolls are beginning to walk out of my hands and onto the page to tell their stories.

What does this mean for my work? After completing a truly fantastic illustration course entitled ‘Fly your Freak Flag’ with The Good Ship Illustration crew, I decided to embrace the change and allow my doll characters into some of my illustrations, which is clearly where they want to be. With them they bring more yarn and fabric and a whole world of sumptuous colours which I am loving working with. I’m hoping to be popping up here more regularly now that life has calmed down a little, and I’m really looking forward to showing you the colour and texture-full work that this change of plan is bringing to my work table these days.

Oor Wullie Seabird Spotting

Hooray, hooray, the trail starts today! The first ever Oor Wullie Big Bucket Sculpture Trail has begun. All over Scotland sculptures of Oor Wullie, made by Wild in Art and fantastically decorated in more ways than you can imagine, are being revealed to the expectantly waiting public. These wonderful pieces of art are not only bringing colour, happiness and joy to new corners of Scotland, they are also raising funds for the hugely important work of some of Scoltand’s children’s hospital charities. My Seabird Spotting sculpture is hopefully raising money for Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity.

To make all of this even more exciting, my design was selected for a sculpture and I was able to paint an Oor Wullie all of my very own! Let me tell you how it went.

Day 1

My Wullie and I first met in the painting room, kindly given over for artists to use by the Ocean Terminal shopping centre, Edinburgh. There were several other Wullies there already, all half complete and some with their artists too. Although I had been given the dimensions of the sculptures, it was still exciting to see just how big they were and how much surface area there was to cover. The last project I worked on like this was painting a double bass with a Rousseau-inspired jungle design, but that was really some time ago. How on earth was I going to transfer my flat designs onto such an undulating surface?

I started drawing it out in pencil, because I had to start somewhere.

Day 2

Next came the first layer of paint, and what a difference it made! I discovered that some parts of the statue were quite tricky to access, especially the soles of his feet. Today I learned that my sculpture could be placed outside the Scottish Seabird Centre. My first feeling was excitement, what a prefect place! I wanted people to see the birds I had painted, to count them and to maybe look for them in the sky or on the waves. Perhaps even visit the centre and learn more about these incredible special and beautiful creatures. And then a tiny seed of doubt began to grow. what if there were skilled and knowledgeable people seeing my work too? Were my gannets accurate enough? Would anyone mind that I had included black guillemots, which really don’t live near North Berwick but on the West Coast? Please forgive my artistic license, and do let me know if you spot these anomalies.

Day 3

Details! Eyes and beaks and feathers and fish. Each layer of colour made it all the more vibrant, and adding the deepening blues of the sea felt very satisfying.  It’s a lovely sensation, painting on a sculpture. You have to be constantly moving around it, altering your position to see your work from different angles. This felt much like doll-making, thinking about and feeling the surfaces, and working on art that will be viewed in different ways. How will a child see this? Or a taller adult? How do the shapes balance from a distance? How does the surface pattern relate to the shape of the figure underneath? And will anybody else enjoy the hair as much as I am?

Day 4

Almost done. Some of my Wullie’s studio buddies were now  finished, and their talented and friendly artists had moved on. I was the only one to arrive at 7:00 in the morning, in order to get as much done as possible before school pick-up time ends my painting for the day. 7:00 is an eerily quiet hour in a shopping centre.

Here is my Seabird Spotting Wullie next to his studio buddy, beautifully decorated by the friendly and talented MrASingh

Day 5

The final touches were added. My birds were ready to fly and my fish to swim. I snuck back to the studio to finish the final stages, and that evening I had the place to myself. The silver waves and bubbles were the very last thing to go on, being drawn onto the paint with thick and squeaky acrylic pens. As if in celebration, the sky had a beautiful sunset that night, which I could see through huge windows stretching the length of the painting room. What would anyone think of my work? Would people come and look? Had I really painted the right number of fish in the sea? I would have to wait to find out, but nonetheless it had been a wonderful project to work on.

If you are passing by North Berwick, do go and visit my Seabird Spotting Wullie. Go and see how many birds you can find, then go and learn about them in the Scottish Seabird Centre. And do tell me all about it, or share your photos on #SeabirdSpotting or find out more @owbigbuckettrail 

A Place to Knit: Jumper 16

So, this is the end of the project. I feel quite sad to be finishing, it’s been great fun and a wonderful challenge.

I made this patchwork design to use up the ends of the yarns; not quite enough of any single shade to make the last jumper, so a mix of all of them. Looking back over each design I remember where I worked on them, comments from friends, colleagues and followers, and late nights keeping up with the schedule. This jumper, too is a patchwork of memories. Knitting at home, in my children’s music lessons, concerts, diving classes, the school yard, cafes, airports, beaches, Scotland, Italy.

“Which number are you on now?”

“I liked your story for numbers 9 and 10, my teenager solves my technical problems too.”

“Morning Chris, how was your day off? I’ve brought you the next jumper. A latte would be lovely, thanks”

“Hey, Hannah. I had number 7 with my coffee this morning.”

“What are you knitting? Really? For beer bottles?”

“A friend of one of your friends came in this morning looking for your jumpers, she’s sat just around the corner hoping to meet you.”

“We had number 6 on our table and Maxim knocked over his hot chocolate. It went all over the colouring things, down his front, on the floor (the dog licked it up), but at least the red jumper escaped the flood.”

“You mean they’re just left there? On the Tables? Somebody will steal one.”
“No, not here. This is Marchmont.”

Little pieces of story woven through the fabric of a welcoming, bustling cafe; a wonderful community project for a wonderful community. Thank you Red Box, thank you Marchmont, and thank you reader.

This jumper was brought to you by Hannah Sanguinetti, working with all the yarns used in this project, 4mm double-pointed needles, paper collage, ink and pencil.

I am lucky enough to have a fantastic yarn shop on my road, Be Inspired Fibres, and this acts as my extended yarn stash. All of my yarn for this project is sourced from this beautiful shop.

You can go and see these jumpers as of TODAY on display as table-number bottles in Red Box Coffee, 2-6 Spottiswoode Rd, Edinburgh EH9 1BQ.

A Place to Sleep: Jumper 15

Snuffles has a blanket in the kitchen.
Snuffles has a box in the hall.
Snuffles can sleep on the sagging old sofa,
tightly curled up like a ball.

No Cats allowed in the knitting.
No cats sleeping on the bed.
Take Snuffles out of the laundry bag
and put him somewhere else instead.

The blanket is too cold and soggy
from the morning’s shower of rain
The sofa’s too full of teenager
The box is far too plain.

Snuffles finds himself a quiet corner
Snuffles seeks a smell he loves the best:
Snuffles takes his owner’s favourite jumper
to make himself a comfy nest.

What will she say if she sees him?
Perhaps it’s better not to tell.
I didn’t know, it’s not the knitting or the bed.
Is a jumper out of bounds as well?

This jumper was brought to you by Hannah Sanguinetti, working with: Malabrigo Worsted yarn in ‘Sealing Wax’, 4mm double-pointed needles, paper collage, ink and pencil.

I am lucky enough to have a fantastic yarn shop on my road, Be Inspired Fibres, and this acts as my extended yarn stash. All of my yarn for this project is sourced from this beautiful shop. For those of you who don’t have a yarn shop near by, why don’t you come to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival this March? There is more yarn than you can possibly imagine, and you could pop in to Red Box and take a look at my red jumpers too.

You can go and see these jumpers as of TODAY on display as table-number bottles in Red Box Coffee, 2-6 Spottiswoode Rd, Edinburgh EH9 1BQ.

Hey, Look!

Jumpers 13 and 14

Hey, look! We’re the same!
Yes, two read jumpers. Matching!
But yours has holes…
…and yours has bobbles.
Did you cut the holes?


No. It was a tiger. He jumped out on me on the way to school and tried to eat me up. But I twisted and turned so fast he couldn’t hold me down and I got away. But it left holes in my jumper.

Wow!

Did you stick the bobbles on?

No, these are not really bobbles. they are ladybirds who have lost their spots. They saw a boy being eaten by a tiger on the way to school and they were shaking so much with fear that their spots fell off. I found them and gave them all a big hug to feel better and they decided to stay with me until their spots grow back.

Wow!

Shall we sit next to each other at lunch?
Yes. Our jumpers can be friends.


Do you ever find that you begin writing something and then something you were not thinking about at all appears on the page infront of you? This story was perhaps unintentionally influenced by ‘On The Way Home’ by Jill Murphy, which I read many times and loved as a child. I haven’t thought about that book for years, but it’s a great picture book. I can picture just where it is still, on the shelf in my family home. Thanks Mum and Dad for holding on to all of those wonderful books.

This jumper was brought to you by Hannah Sanguinetti, working with: Malabrigo Sock yarn in Ravelry Red, 4mm double-pointed needles, paper collage, ink and brush.

I am lucky enough to have a fantastic yarn shop on my road, Be Inspired Fibres, and this acts as my extended yarn stash. All of my yarn for this project is sourced from this beautiful shop. For those of you who don’t have a yarn shop near by, why don’t you come to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival this March? There is more yarn than you can possibly imagine, and you could pop in to Red Box and take a look at my red jumpers too.

You can go and see this jumper as of TODAY on display as a table-number bottle in Red Box Coffee, 2-6 Spottiswoode Rd, Edinburgh EH9 1BQ. And if you can’t see it out, ask the staff!