Behind the Book: Hey Grandude!
last updated 25 September 2019
Meet Grandude—a super-cool grandfather who is an intrepid explorer with some amazing tricks up his sleeve. Grandude is a one-of-a-kind adventurer! Now, meet Kathryn Durst—the fabulous Bright Artist behind the gloriously colorful illustrations of Hey Grandude!, Sir Paul McCartney’s debut picture book. After a long-awaited release, Hey Grandude! hit the shelves this month on September 5th with Puffin Books in the UK and Random House Books for Young Readers in the US. Since making its way into the world, Hey Grandude! has been embraced by children, adults, and Beatles fans alike and quickly earned a spot on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Between the excitement of the release and a trip to London to join Paul himself at Waterstones for an unforgettable launch event, it’s safe to say it has been quite the month for Kathryn! It was such a delight to catch up with her for an inside look at all of the hard work that went into the making of this magical book.
Since the project began nearly two years ago, Hey Grandude! has finally landed on the shelves! Can you take us through your experience from creating the very first samples to the final spreads? As a long-time Beatles fan, has this project been a bit of a dream come true?
Absolutely! It has all been a bit of a surreal experience being able to work with Sir Paul McCartney! It was initially a bit daunting to get started because I knew who the author was and really wanted him to like my artwork, but once I trusted my own intuition about the illustrations and just treated it like any other book project, I was able to relax and get the drawings done.
In the winter of 2017, my agent, Arabella Stein, approached me and asked if I’d like to do a character sample for an upcoming book written by Paul McCartney—I couldn’t say no to an opportunity like that! I sent off a few designs to the publisher who then sent them off to Paul for review. He said he was drawn to my illustrations right away! It was still a few months before I found out I had gotten the project, and once I did I then spent 2018 working on the illustrations for the book. Paul and I were actually able to speak directly about the illustrations over the phone. It was really amazing to be able to hear his feedback and work with him throughout the process. The project was top-secret until the book was announced in September 2018, so it was great to finally be able to share the news! Since then, there’s been an amazing response to the illustrations and to the book. I’m so glad everything has been successful so far!
“Paul had a very specific personality in his mind for the character of Grandude—quirky, eccentric, and a little bit magic, with lots of pockets in his clothing for hiding postcards and his magic compass.”
While the fictional “Grandude” is not meant to be Paul McCartney exactly, he is based on Paul’s own adventures as a grandfather. Can you tell us more about the process of designing the characters in the book? What did you look to for inspiration, and did you draw any real-life similarities between the two?
For the character designs, I drew a lot of inspiration from drawings by Quentin Blake, the illustrator behind all of Roald Dahl’s classic books. His energetic lines and quirky characters such as Willy Wonka and Mr. Magnolia felt like a right direction for the visual design of Grandude. In early sketches, Grandude was a bit rounder and more old-fashioned looking. I ended up doing a few passes at the design, coming back with some updated sketches and multiple variations so Paul could pick the one he liked best. The current Grandude is a bit hipper—he is called Gran-DUDE after all, so he had to be cool. Paul said the design of Grandude didn’t need to be a caricature of himself, though he did describe the character as a hippie-ish, quirky, older British gentleman who is a bit magic. There is also a scene where Grandude is playing guitar for the children, which was definitely inspired by Paul as a musician.
Final character designs of Grandude and his grandkids
You had an exciting opportunity to join Paul at a book launch at Waterstones in London. We’d love to hear more about the event!
We had a launch for the book on September 6th, and the event was a huge success thanks to the hard work of everyone at Puffin Books and at Waterstones Bookshop! There were so many little details which made the experience wonderful. For example, they had printed a giant life-sized set of Grandude’s living room that everyone could sit in. It was just so magical, like walking into a page from the book!
Kathryn at the HEY GRANDUDE! launch event at Waterstones Piccadilly
They also had a class of school children come in for the event. I did some live drawing for them, and Paul did a story time, reading pages from Hey Grandude! aloud. Outside the bookshop, there was a long line of visitors and families hoping to meet Paul and get their book signed. Everyone was very excited about the book, and we got a great response from the children and parents!
See more from the event here.
What was it like to collaborate directly with Paul throughout the creation of the book, and what advice and inspiration have you learned from working alongside such a prolific artist?
When working on a picture book, I normally communicate with the author indirectly (with the publisher as a liaison). However, I was fortunate enough on this project to be able to correspond with Paul directly. We spoke over the phone a couple of times about his ideas and vision for the book. After sharing what he had in mind for Grandude and the grandkids, he gave me full creative freedom about the look of the characters. It’s one thing to idolize your favorite artist, but quite another to collaborate with them directly, so I feel very lucky. I’d also like to mention that the creative team at Puffin was stellar, and everyone who worked on the book was very dedicated to making it as good as it could be.
Final interior spread from HEY GRANDUDE!
One thing I’ve learned from working with someone as prolific as Paul McCartney is that, as an artist, it is so important to try new things, collaborate with new people, and work on new projects. Paul is an amazing collaborator, and it was a huge inspiration to be able to work with him.
How did your agent, Arabella Stein, help in making this project become a reality?
I would never have had this amazing opportunity if it weren’t for my fabulous agents at Bright! Arabella was the one who initially asked me if I’d be interested in the book and then showed my preliminary character sketches to the publisher. She was genuinely so excited for me when I got the project and was so helpful in working out all the contract details so that all I had to focus on were the illustrations. She checked in with me throughout the entire process to be sure I was happy, and things were working for me. Additionally, Bright agent Freddie Dawson was able to come to the launch event to support me and also to help promote the book on social media. I’m so glad to be represented by Bright because they dedicate so much time to making their artists feel support. I really do have the best agents ever!
Kathryn painting the display window for Waterstones Piccadilly
View Kathryn’s full profile here.