Meet the Illustrator

Amanda Pike: About Me

As an illustrator, my job is to create a visual life for a story and its characters – a challenge that I absolutely relish, especially when the tale is as absorbing and positively vibrating with magical appeal as this one!

It was such a treat to set about the initial ‘work’ of getting to know the characters that populate The Mirror of Pharos, first by reading the manuscript and then discussing with the author how she envisaged them.  Of course, every reader has their own unique idea of how the characters look, but it’s important to me that my artwork captures their essence in a way that’s as true to the author’s creation as possible.  So conversation and some back and forth of sketches are a key part of the process.

I usually begin by roughing out a few ideas for each character as I interpret them, and then move on from there, refining their features and working to infuse them with a sense of their whole personality – for instance, Charlie’s winning mixture of humour, defiance, fierce loyalty, courage … AND her appetite for Nan’s curious cookies!

There may be specific details within a composition where it’s important to reflect the author’s vision accurately and for which I will use reference materials. For example, Jago Flyn’s oilskin hat is integral to his dashing-but-dishevelled ‘ensemble’. With other characters a smidgen of artistic licence might be called for, as in Nan’s case: the drawing inspiration came from many different sources to create her slightly bonkers appearance.

From these initial sketches characters will emerge that are much closer to what the ‘final’ pieces will look like. I then translate these into the full colour compositions. Very often I work with traditional watercolour paints. However, for this project I coloured each scene digitally, working on a scan of the pencil-drawn image and building up layers on the computer using ‘brushes’ that mimic some of the qualities of paintbrushes.

This technique results in an image that has the texture you might expect from a hand-painted piece, but is much easier to change (and change back!) if, for example, it’s decided that beige really isn’t a suitably mystical colour for the outfit of a fledgling Magus …

The powerfully vibrant descriptions of the characters in The Mirror of Pharos (not just their physical appearance, but their ‘voices’, behaviour and mannerisms) made conjuring each of them into existence so much fun. One of the illustrators I most admire is the brilliant Chris Riddell, who has an ability to create deliciously ‘characterful’ characters through very clever observation of real, ‘everyday’ people. The humour and wit of caricature is also something I’m very interested in and I especially love the work of Gerald Scarfe. But it’s the authenticity of drawing from ‘real life’ that I think results in the most believable and reassuringly human characters. Without actual Jacks, Charlies and Jagos to observe, it is the author’s skill in ‘painting’ characters with language that enables me to set about creating them visually.

Charlie is, without a doubt, one of my favourite characters. At once impetuous and thoughtful, daring and supportive, she is a true friend to Jack. And she’s pretty impressive on two wheels!

My mountain bike was my most treasured possession when I was growing up. So Charlie’s love for her bike really resonated with me. The image of her and Jack racing along the dusky street, streetlamps pinging on and off as they pass below with the mysterious glowing disc, is a brilliantly exuberant one – especially after the rather tender but awkward conversation she’s just had with him about the newspaper clipping concerning his parents. I hope that I have managed to capture some of that determination and energy in my drawings of her!

Although I felt affection for all of the characters as I got to know them, there was something particularly endearing about the combination of the kindly but rough-around-the-edges Bill and delicate, waif-like Lily.

These two are thrown together, quite literally, as the churning sea threatens to fling them overboard. The drama and suspense of that sequence on the storm-rolled ship had me totally gripped. It seemed the perfect scene from which to illustrate a little moment that – to me – demonstrates the human capacity for kindness and self-sacrifice (Bill), and for trust and hope (Lily).

The book cover required a slightly different approach to the website illustrations. A cover should be enthralling, irresistible, and a tantalising glimpse of what lies within the pages that follow. The excitement and drama of this story, shot through with mystery and magic, really propelled the creative process towards this end.

The brooding, inscrutable eyes of Alpha overseeing the title and his phantom-like mane dissolving into the ocean, were inspired by the sense that he’s an ever-present, all-seeing, all-knowing being associated with nature. For the background, I painted the swirling teal-blue sea traditionally using watercolours on textured paper, which somehow felt like the most appropriate medium … I love the uncertain nature of watercolour and the randomness of the way the pigment blends and bleeds with the water on the page. This can create an organic, ethereal effect which seemed a fitting reflection of the sense of mystery spun by the story itself.

Finally, I should mention the seagulls. Besides human characters, they are one of my favourite creatures to draw, and seem to be my constant companions … although you will be pleased to hear that none of those that feature in The Mirror of Pharos are after your chips. They have far bigger, more magical, fish to fry … !

Illustrator Bio

Amanda has an MA in Children’s Book Illustration from Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, and was Highly Commended in the Macmillan Prize for Children’s Picture Book Illustration in 2014. While her career began with words, in an editorial role, her love of illustration compels her to explore both words and pictures in her current working life. She has been wielding a pencil/paintbrush/digital stylus on a freelance basis since 2008 alongside her daytime role as a Licensing Agent and, more recently, as a mother. Amanda lives in Surrey and enjoys long walks, discovering new picture books, and the smell of freshly-unwrapped watercolour pigments.

To see more of Amanda’s illustrations you can visit her website here.