In Bloom with Fiona Woodcock and 'Book Lover Jo'
last updated 22 August 2017
If you love children’s books as much as we do, you might have heard of a blogger named Book Lover Jo. Jo Clarke is a primary school librarian with a passion for picture books, and her blog is full of beautiful articles on books she highly recommends.
Animation by Maki Yoshikura @MunchkinJack
Jo recently reviewed Poppy and the Blooms, Fiona Woodcock’s newly published and much anticipated second picture book. In turn Fiona has written a feature for Jo on the making of Poppy, which we are delighted to be able to share here:
Last week on the blog I reviewed the glorious ‘Poppy and the Blooms’ by the lovely and talented Fiona Woodcock. Exquisitely produced and filled with the most sumptuous and delicate spreads, it really is a joy to behold. I’m always fascinated to learn about the creative process that the author/ illustrator goes through when developing a book so I’m thrilled to welcome Fiona to the blog today for a special guest post on the story behind ‘Poppy and the Blooms.’ JC
The story behind ‘Poppy and the Blooms’ – a word from Fiona Woodcock
Like a lot of my stories, this one started with the characters.
My then agent at Bright, Vicki, spotted a rough sketch of the Buttercup character in some ideas for a different story, and encouraged me to develop her further and create a gang of flower characters. The original suggestion was for a woodland tea party with Poppy initially on a toadstool rather than a skateboard. I later changed that in favour of making them active and urban, giving them all skateboards (apart from Dandy who got a scooter!)
This BLOOM image from the previous year fitted with the flower theme and hinted at where I could head with the treatment of the flowers.
I chose wild flowers, partly because I love the way that they pop up with determination through the cracks in the pavement. Their strong willed nature appealed as something to explore and the initial concept started to form of feisty wild flower characters, running wild on skateboards and scooters in a riot of colour, spreading flower seeds and colour as they go.
I liked the ethos of guerrilla gardening, seeing potential in neglected and unexpected places and I knew that throughout the course of the book there would be a transformation and that between them they’d have the ability to dramatically change the urban environment.
An important reference point I came across at the very beginning of the development is this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson
“A weed is a plant whose virtue has not yet been discovered”.
I was interested in showing common garden weeds in a different light, and the flip side is that they are also allowing us to see the potential of the urban environment too.
I wanted it to be about contrasts. The man-made monochrome structured world, contrasting with the unstoppable freedom and power of nature. But how to get all these ideas into a story proved quite tricky!
Early Development Stages
In the early stages of working on it with Lara Hancock and Jane Buckley at Simon and Schuster there was initially an abandoned fairground that was being saved. We’ve all seen the haunting images of abandoned places being reclaimed by nature and again I had an old rough sketchbook drawing of a disused roller-coaster covered in foliage that I’d been thinking about for years. But soon we realised that it was much simpler to communicate the idea with the last park in the city. Although it was hard to sacrifice the potentially striking images, it was a bit of a turning point in terms of getting to grips with the story.
Defining the Theme and Setting
Whilst I was working on the idea, Leicester City won the premier league at odds of 5,000-1. Although I’m not a die-hard football fan, I grew up in Leicester so inevitably got caught up in their fairy tale story of achieving the impossible. I loved the idea that the Blooms are also challenging preconceptions of what they might be capable of. It also ties in with the idea of the collective ability to change things and do good if you work together as a team/ gang.
So with a lot of guidance from Lara and Jane I tried to inject as much drama into it as possible and we talked about the Bloom’s adventure almost being like a game of snakes and ladders, as they slide down and then climb up again overcoming all the challenges that come their way. I’d sketch out the roughs on post-it notes stuck into a tiny dummy book, which allowed us to easily try different sequences whilst checking the impact of the page turn.
Creating the Visuals
From a visual point of view it was challenging to convey the idea of a big city when our main characters are only a few inches tall, but I tried to turn this into a positive, with dramatic changes in scale.
The artwork process was very rewarding, carefully placing the pops of colour in an entirely grey monochrome world. I experimented with rubber stamps, charcoal and children’s blow pens creating all the elements on paper, which were then collaged together digitally.
Finally, another quote that had a big impact early on was that
‘One field poppy plant can produce as many as 50,000 seeds.’
This staggering statistic reminds us of what one flower or individual is capable of and that even something very small can make a big difference.
A huge thank you to Fiona for stopping by the blog, ‘Poppy and the Blooms’ is available to buy online or from any good bookshop.
With thanks to Jo and to Fiona for sharing a fantastic blog! Follow Jo’s recommendations on her blog here.