The Real Witches series by author Kate West, are the longest series of books I have illustrated. These were published by the Thorsons imprint of publishers Harper Collins. When receiving a book commission, it is rare to have any contact at all with the author. It is far more common to work through the publishers via the art director. Working on the Real Witches Series eschewed the common route.
By the time I received the commission to illustrate the first of the series, The Real Witches Handbook, I had already illustrated numerous books for Thorsons. The Real Witches Series begun differently from any other commission I have ever had; from Thorsons or other publishers. Without any actual commission brief, I was passed the author’s phone number and asked to give her a call and find out what she wanted. Possibly because the publishers had not worked out for themselves.
Many phone calls
It was to be the first of many phone calls I had with Kate. We would talk for hours. Sometimes the subject of our conversations would actually be about the books I was meant to be illustrating. Most of the time not. We could ramble on in countless directions of discourse. There were a number of editors involved over the course of the series of books. I am uncertain why they changed as much as they did. The working process can really vary, depending on the editor.
One in particular did not like the rapport I had built up with Kate. She phoned Kate at home one day, saying she no longer wanted Kate to speak to the illustrator (me). Adding that all dealings with me from then on would be via the publishers. Kate’s response was that not talking to me would be quite difficult, as I was sat on her sofa having travelled across country to visit Kate.
A simpler way
From then on we let the editor think they’d had their way and I was getting my instructions from the art department. It was simpler that way. What they did not know was that weeks before Kate would tell me a book was near completion and run through ideas with me and I would come up with a list of illustrations I would like to do for her.
She would then contact the publishers with an illustration list. They would, in turn, phone me and say there was a new Real Witches book to be illustrated. “Is there?” would be my innocent-sounding response. I’d follow that by asking if there was a list of illustrations. If so, could they send them to me to think about it. I would then say I would see what I could do and get back to them in a couple of days, once I had thought about it. It was an arrangement which kept everybody happy.
An Important Series
The Real Witches series was an important one to me. Having spent many years attending Summer Solstices, Winter Solstice and Equinoxes at Stonehenge, working on the first book tapped into something which made a lot of sense and was innate in me. The turning of the wheel of the year in sync with the seasons. Working with Kate and illustrating the books led to me attending numerous events; at first working back stage, then later as an exhibitor with my art. This series was easily more personally transformative than any of the numerous books I have illustrated in over 25 years.
Some of the Real Witches series of books can be bough as e-books from Hive Books in the UK.
More of my book illustrations can be seen in the gallery section.