Review: Tangleweed & Brine by Deirdre Sullivan, illustrated by Karen Vaughan

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Tangleweed and Brine

Deirdre Sullivan, illustrated by Karen Vaughan

Little Island Books (2017)


Old stories new, you’ll venture where you will

Tangleweed and Brine is a collection of 13 witchy fairytale retellings.  The book is divided in two, each element of the title being one half. The Tangleweed stories are earthier and filled with ash, while the Brine tales are infused with water. The elemental nature of the stories reflects the way that fairy tales connect to the very core of our being. This collection is no exception, filled as it is with darkness and light, pain and pleasure, fear and longing. Dark, beguiling and feminist, these are haunting tales that will linger in the reader’s memory, stories that reward multiple readings. Sullivan focuses on the female experience in her tales – she allows the reader enter deeply into the minds of her characters, and does not deny the darker elements of these tales.


Ash Pale illustration by Karen Vaughan

This is illustrator Karen Vaughan’s first book, and she is definitely one to watch. Her intricate pen-and-ink illustrations catch the tone of the tales perfectly, and add an extra layer of richness to the book. Her work shows the influence of Harry Clarke and Aubrey Beardsley, in a way which ties the collection into the long tradition of illustrated fairytale books, yet she has a style of her own. I particularly like how her illustrations, like the tales themselves, make room for other types of bodies in the fairy tales. This book is not filled with dainty perfect princesses, but with women who would be considered too tall, too fat, too small or altogether too much for such tales.

She wasn’t soft threads woven into silk, but thick rough cables pulsing like muscles on the chests of fishermen. Functional.

There is a strong focus on bodily experience, on being a woman. On the body as functional and a source of power, on the body as a trap.

You like your arms that make things, grow things, mend.

Beauty and a womb. That’s all you are.

There are no quick fixes, fairy godmothers or happily-ever-afters in these stories. The endings are often ambiguous and unsettling. The heroines must rely on their own courage and resources. Some tales will resonate with readers, some will empower them, some will linger on long after reading.

With its poetic and beguiling prose, it is easy to become tangled up in Tangleweed and Brine. This is a book to savour and to treasure, beautifully written, illustrated and designed.


Guest Post: Tangleweed and Brine Blog Tour

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I was utterly enchanted by Tangleweed and Brine, a collection of feminist fairytale retellings by Deirdre Sullivan, illustrated by Karen Vaughan. The stories are dark and poetic, and focus strongly on the female experience, and the stunning illustrations tie the book into the rich tradition of lavish fairytale gift books recalling the work of Aubrey Beardsley and Harry Clarke.  I will be posting a full review of the book next week.

I am delighted to have a piece from the author and illustrator about the Rapunzel retelling to share with you.

Tangleweed and Brine is published by Little Island Books and will be launched tonight in Easons on O’Connell St at 6pm.

Come Live Here and Be Loved


I wrote this story while thinking a lot about growth and earth and babies. Many of my friends had recently become mothers, and I admired them hugely but did not feel ready to take that step myself. It seemed so huge. To grow a life inside you. It still does. I’m nervous meeting new people at the best of times. In Ireland, our abortion laws are extremely restrictive, and many women are forced to carry babies, who will not survive outside the womb, to term. Carrying a wanted, loved baby inside you, but knowing you will never get to raise them, I can’t imagine how it breaks the heart.

Reading the stories from brave women who have shared their experience to advocate for others, combined with the physical and emotional miracle of seeing people I knew and loved make brand new people, was the seed that this Rapunzel grew from.

When I saw this illustration for the first time, it was a sketch. And I gasped. The witches mouth was a little more open and Karen had put the double row of teeth in. The cultivated wilderness of her magic garden, the husband helpfully gathering Campanula Rapunculus while the women sort things out amongst themselves, it was amazing to see what Karen saw when she read Come Live Here and Be Loved, and it was so similar to what I had envisioned myself, filtered through Karen’s aesthetic, that reminds me of Harry Clarke or Aubrey Beardsley, but is also all her own.

The fat blooming flowers surrounding the witch and the woman reflect the possibility. New life is growing, but not human life. The woman’s face is so tired and resigned. The witch’s is tender and inquiring. They both want the same thing, in the end.

Come Here 3


This story was a joy to illustrate. The image came out almost fully formed on the first attempt which hardly ever happens. I wanted to show that moment of understanding and agreement between the two women while the husband busies himself with the task of harvesting the flowers.

There was a minor change made at the end that I think made a huge difference. In the rough sketch, the witch’s mouth was open and smiling, showing her double row of teeth. The more I looked at it, the more I felt it gave her a predatory look which was out of step with the character in the book. She seemed almost joyful in the face of the woman’s misfortune which didn’t feel quite right. The witch is very much of the natural world which isn’t cruel for pleasure or any other vindictive reason, it just is. There’s happiness in her face for sure, but it’s tempered with compassion for the woman who has to give up on her dream of bearing her own child.

Review: A World of Colour Exhibition at the DLR LexIcon

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The ‘A World of Colour’ exhibition in the DLR LexIcon brings together the work of Chris Haughton and Beatrice Alemagna, two very talented illustrators and picturebook makers. The exhibition  was curated by Sarah Webb, the DLR Writer in Residence. Haughton and Alemagna have very different styles, and they make an interesting pairing for this exhibition.

The exhibition showcases original illustrations from many of their best known books, and offers viewers a valuable chance to examine these artworks on their larger original scale. Charming details are evident, and it is a joy to be able to see the mark-making on the page. Seeing originals also allows the viewer to consider the process of making a book, and in comparing the originals to the finished book to think about design and particularly text placement.

A wall showing collages Haughton made when planning A Bit Lost alongside finished illustrations from the book offers a fascinating insight into his process. The information panels, by picturebook expert Valerie Coghlan, give a brilliant introduction to each artist, information about their materials and process, and fun facts too! Her introduction to the picturebook also offers much food for thought when exploring the exhibition. I like that the images are allowed stand alone, only captioned, so the viewers can read the visual cues for themselves or simply enjoy these wonderful images.

There is a wonderful sneak peek of Beatrice Alemagna’s forthcoming book On a Magical Do-Nothing Day which will be published in English by HarperCollins this year. It has previously been published in French. There is a fantastic spirit of adventure and imagination in these pictures, I love the one where we are looking up at the little girl walking through a field.

This exhibition is a delight. From mischievous dogs to sleepy bears, curious children to strange creatures, there is so much to see. The bright and bold colours of Chris Haughton’s work are a visual treat, and one of the rugs he designed for his Fairtrade company Node is also on display. Seeing A Bit Lost on the original scale and in full vibrancy is worth the trip alone. Beatrice Alemagna’s work uses such a mixture of techniques, being able to examine her originals shows this off beautifully. I love her collage work in A Lion in Paris, it’s a marvellous book, and the portraits from What is a Child? are really beautiful.

Ultimately, these images work best in context. Where better to show them than in a library where readers young and old can then go find the books from which the images originated and answer lingering questions. Does the Haughton’s little owl in A Bit Lost find his way home? And what on earth does Alemagna’s lion get up to in A Lion in Paris?

Chris Haughton and Beatrice Alemagna will be interviewed by Margaret Anne Suggs (another wonderful illustrator, see Pigín of Howth written by Kathleen Watkins) at the Mountains to Sea Book Festival next month. This will be a wonderful opportunity to learn more about their art, well worth tying in with a trip to the exhibition. I will be giving family tours of the exhibition on March 26th, do join me!

The exhibition runs until the 31st of March, and is located on the 3rd floor of the DLR LexIcon library.


Laureate na nÓg: PJ Lynch

PJ Laureate

Image from Laureate na nÓg


Today saw the announcement of the new Laureate na nÓg, or Irish Children’s Laureate. I was delighted to hear that PJ Lynch was chosen as our fourth Laureate (following in the footsteps of Siobhán Parkinson, Niamh Sharkey and Eoin Colfer). PJ Lynch is a fantastic illustrator who has recently moved into writing as well, he is the author and illustrator of his most recent title The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower.

PJ Lynch’s first book, A Bag of Moonshine (a collection of English folk tales by Alan G, was published in 1986 and won him the Mother Goose Award (now discontinued) for most promising newcomer to  illustration. He has won a number of awards since including the prestigious Kate Greenaway medal (twice!), the Christopher Medal (thrice!) as well as awards from Children’s Books Ireland and IBBY (International Books on Board for Young People). He is probably best known for The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, written by Susan Wojiechowski. This touching story saw the development of the painterly realistic style for which Lynch has been acclaimed. A 20th anniversary edition was published last year, and a film and a play have been made. Other popular titles illustrated by Lynch include When Jessie Came Across the Sea, Oscar Wilde Stories for Children,  East o’ the Sun West o’ the Moon, The Gift of the Magi and The Names Upon the Harp to name but a few. His next book will be Patrick and the President, written by Ryan Tubridy, about John F Kennedy’s visit to Ireland.


The special anniversary edition of The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey


Lynch predominantly works in watercolour, however last year saw his first book illustrated in charcoal. The book, Once upon a Place, is a collection of stories and poems by some of Ireland’s best writers for children, all illustrated by Lynch. It was produced as part of Eoin Colfer’s storytelling project during his Laureateship. Lynch has been doing live charcoal drawings at events since, seeing his pictures appear before your eyes is absolutely magical. Lynch is a very versatile artist, not only in terms of medium (watercolour, pen and ink, oils, charcoal) but also format. As well as illustrating books he has created posters for Opera Ireland and the Abbey Theatre, stamps for An Post, book covers for the likes of Marita Conlon McKenna’s renowned Famine Trilogy (Under the Hawthorn Tree, Wildflower Girl and Fields of Home) and most recently he designed a stunning mosaic for Knock.

Speaking about his plans for his term as Laureate PJ said:

Being named the new Laureate is one of the proudest moments of my career. I want to explore the magic that happens when words and pictures come together. My theme as Laureate na nÓg will be “The Big Picture” – I plan to do a regular podcast involving live drawing or demonstrating techniques and I’ll invite guests to talk about their drawing passions. I would also love to create a landmark image in a prominent place or places in Ireland as a permanent reminder of the power of pictures to incite the imagination.

(Quoted in Guardian Children’s Books article)

I was hoping that PJ Lynch would be selected as our next Laureate na nÓg, and I cannot wait to see what this incredibly talented illustrator does during his term.

Congratulations PJ, so well deserved!

Interview with author/illustrator Nicola Colton


Nicola Colton has recently released her first book, A Dublin Fairytale, a picturebook retelling of Little Red Riding Hood featuring familiar landmarks such as The Spire and the Ha’penny Bridge. The book has had a great reception, and has been shortlisted for an Irish Book Award. I was delighted to talk to Nicola about the process of writing and illustrating the book, her influences, her future projects and more!

ADF Invite

A Dublin Fairytale is such a clever book, where did the idea come from?

I’ve always loved fairytales and was avid reader of them as a child. The idea for the book began as a daydream on the bus in which I began to imagine fairytale characters inhabiting Dublin and pondering who they might be and where they might live. I chose to use archetypal fairytale characters such a troll, a witch and a dragon to work with initially. The idea’s first application was in the form of a ‘promotional pack’ to send out to potential clients and comprised of a set of postcards with a fairytale character and a Dublin landmark on each one and accompanied by an illustrated map of ‘Fairytale Dublin’. As an illustrator finding new ways to promote yourself and get your work seen is essential. I sent one to The O’Brien Press and Emma the Art Director saw the potential in the idea for a picture book. I had no story in mind as such, just some character ideas but with encouragement from Emma and Helen the editor I wrote a draft story. I wanted the book to allow the reader to explore Dublin through the narrative and pictures but with a fairytale twist. Creating the book was a chance to combine my love of Dublin, which was my home for 11 years, with my love of fairytales.

What is your favourite spread in A Dublin Fairytale?  

My favourite spread is probably the one with the Ha’penny Bridge in which you are first introduced to the character of the Troll. The Ha’penny Bridge is wonderful and it was great to get the opportunity to draw it. I also loved drawing and painting the troll as designing and conjuring up creatures is one of my favourite things. I discovered through the process of making this book that I really like drawing buildings and scenery. I realised that backgrounds are very important to me, especially when I was depicting a city that I know very well and love.

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There are a lot of fun details in the illustrations, is there one you particularly enjoyed working on?

I really enjoyed working on the spread which featured Trinity College as it is such an iconic and impressive building. It was really fun to add my own fairytale twists on the college by changing the name to ‘Trinity College of Sorcery’ and turning the statues of Edmund Burke and Oliver Goldsmith into a wizard and witch to reflect the sorcery theme. I also liked adding lots of things happening in the background like a ‘spell cloud’ billowing from one of the chimneys, a witch on a broomstick in the sky and some sorcery students chatting. I like illustrations that I can spend a lot of time on and get lost in the detail  and drawing Trinity afforded me that opportunity. It was also important to me that while I added my own fairytale tweaks that the building was still very much recognizable as Trinity College; as it is such a beloved landmark.


What are the influences on your illustrative style?

I love folk art with it’s use of motifs and patterns, clean lines and it’s naïve yet often elegant quality. I also love muted and limited colour palettes, so vintage picture books like ‘Rosies Walk’ by Pat Hutchins and ‘Snowy Day’ by Ezra Jack Keats appeal to me and I love Miroslav’s Sasek’s series of picture books that explore different cities like London,New york and Paris. Sasek’s style is restrained and elegant and he captures the spirit and enchantments of each city beautifully. I also love Michel Delacroix paintings of buildings, shops and street scenes; they are so charming and full of life.

I also have a 1960’s edition of ‘Uncle Remus stories’ featuring some of the ‘Brer Rabbit’ tales that I love and it is illustrated beautifully by William Backhouse.

Influences 1

Influences 2

Can you tell me about your technique and what media you work in?

I always start with pencil and paper sketches initially and then colour using a combination of acrylic painting and digital techniques.

What is your least favourite thing to draw?

My least favourite things to draw are horses and bicycles, both of which I had to draw this year. It’s all the components to a bike that throws me off and the anatomy and proportions of a horse that I find difficult. To draw the for projects this year I drew them over and over again until I reached a rendering that I was happy with. I usually start with detailed drawings and then pare then back more and more until the end result is in my more simplified style.

How did you get into illustration?

I studied Graphic Design in IADT Dun Laoghaire and I worked in design for a couple of years after college. Even though we didn’t do much drawing in our course it gave me a really solid foundation for illustration as I learned a lot about composition, typography, colour and very practical skills like scanning and using design software which has proved invaluable in my everyday work as an illustrator. I was always interested in illustration but back when I was choosing a college course the two choices that I had were either Fine Art or Graphic Design and I had no idea how to begin pursuing a career as an illustrator. I enjoyed college but I didn’t feel creatively fulfilled when it came to  working as a graphic designer. I was lucky enough to come across a poster for Adrienne Geoghegan’s ‘Illustration Boot Camp’ in a coffee shop and I got in touch with her straight away and booked a place on her course. During her first class I felt very nervous as I was completely out of practice with drawing but as I went through the warm up creative exercises she set for us, I felt as though a light had been turned on inside of me and I knew that I wanted to be an illustrator and I’ve been drawing ever since.

Who are the illustrators you admire most at the moment?

I love Yasmeen Ismail’s work as it has a lovely spontaneous feel to it and it’s so full of energy, colour and happiness. I also recently purchased Briony May Smith’s book ‘The Goblin King’ which is beautifully illustrated and a fantastic story. I also love Chris Judge’s work, he comes up with brilliant characters and there’s great humour to his illustrations; his new book ‘The Snow Beast’ looks like his best work yet.

What books did you enjoy as a child?

I vividly remember my very first trip to the library with my ‘Ma’ when I was five and checking out  Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl. I read and re-read it for an afternoon and then asked if I could go back to the library for more books. That was the beginning of my love of Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake, other favourites include George’s Magic Medicine (and I remember spending a day trying to concoct my own ‘medicine’ by mixing things together that I found in the house) The Twits and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I also went through a big Enid Blyton phase and I loved The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S Lewis. I  had an edition of The Brothers Grimm Fairytales which I continually returned to as well.

What are your favourite fairytales and fairytale retellings?

Revolting Rhymes contains some amazing fairytale retellings and Roald’s version of Red Riding Hood is absolutely hilarious. Red Riding Hood has always been a favourite of mine as my granny gave me a Red Riding Hood storytelling doll shortly before she died when I was 6. I was very close to her so reading that fairytale always made me feel a connection with her, which was why I included a Red Riding Hood type character in A Dublin Fairytale.

Storytelling doll

You have illustrated a number of projects before – such as the Alice and Megan covers and Castaways – but A Dublin Fairytale was the first book you have written. How did you find the writing process? Do you plan to write more books?

To be honest writing was something that I loved in school and in college but I felt rusty and out of practice with it when I came to writing this book. I had written a couple of picture book story drafts previously, one was even shortlisted for the ‘AM Heath Children’s Prize’ last year but was still in need of further development and another one that I never quite finished as I had lost interest in the idea is gathering dust in a drawer. As writing a picture book was a pretty new venture for me I was intimidated by the thoughts of  writing the first draft and also getting the pictures to work with the story. In the end I knew the best way to overcome my fear was to just write it and do the work. I had overcome a similar block with drawing using the same process. There were a few years where I held myself back from drawing and creativity in general by overthinking things. I would draw something and if it didn’t look like what I had imagined or came out ‘wrong’ I would get frustrated and give up easily. The breakthrough for me came in realising that drawing is a process and it may take lots of drawings before you get it ‘right’ and you just need to be patient and keep practicing and I think writing is a similar. Whenever I have the opportunity to do a workshop with children I always encourage them to get stuck in and not to be afraid to make ‘mistakes’. I tell them that there is no right or wrong way and that everyone has a different style of drawing and that is what is so great about illustration. I don’t want children to get ‘stuck’ in the process like I did for so many years because I was aiming for perfection each time. Writing seems to be the same process, you just have to be patient and keep working on it and I would love to write and illustrate more picture books.

Could you tell us about any projects you are working on at the moment? 

I just finished working on a poetry picture book that will be released next year. It was really fun to work on as each spread offered a chance to work a new theme.The poems included were about everything from rockets and monsters to farm animals and pirates. I got to illustrate a wide range of characters and backgrounds which was a very enjoyable and at times challenging experience. I’m also working on a new idea for a picture book and I am at the writing and thumbnailing stage. It’s a story that I started last year and want to develop now that I have some time.

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Nicola Colton painting in the window of Hodges Figgis bookshop, Dublin

A big thank you to Nicola Colton for her wonderful answers, and for the images I have used with this interview. A Dublin Fairytale was published this year by the O’Brien Press – check it out!





Review: Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre will be appearing at the Mountains to Sea Book Festival in Dún Laoghaire tomorrow and over the weekend. I am very excited for their event tomorrow, I think they make a great team!


Oliver and the Seawigs

Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

Oxford, 2013

Adventure/Comedy 5+

This is a fantastically fun book about a young explorer named Oliver, who sets off on a wild adventure when his parents disappear. Along the way Oliver meets Iris, a short-sighted mermaid with a very unique singing voice, Cliff, a wandering island, and Mr Culpeper, a grumpy albatross. Together they must help Cliff prepare for the seawig competition (at which the Rambling Isles show off the wigs made from the objects they have found on their travels), and rescue Oliver’s explorer parents.



This is a wonderful book, filled with wacky characters like the Sarcastic Seaweed, and the pesky sea monkeys.The illustrations work perfectly with the text – adding to the comic feel and bringing the imaginative seawigs to life. There are plenty of hidden details in the images for readers to find. The layouts are dynamic and exciting, and there is a fantastic map at the end of the book. It is clear that both Reeve and McIntyre had a lot of fun with this story, which makes for a very entertaining read. Plucky young Oliver’s exciting adventure is one to return to again and again. Highly recommended for young (and old!) readers who enjoy a good adventure story, and a good laugh.


Sarcastic Seaweed

But watch out for the sea monkeys!


Bookshops of New York!

I am just back from a fantastic holiday in New York, where I had a lot of fun adventures. I will be posting soon about the wonderful art galleries I saw there, but first here is a little bit about the bookshops I visited!

The Strand Bookstore (

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18 miles of books! Established in 1927, this bookshop is a haven for book lovers, packed with new and old books and much more! What an amazing shop…there are many towering shelves, packed with books. It is also the setting of the wonderful YA novel Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. I could spend hours browsing the shelves – and there is a huge selection of art books too!

I managed to resist buying all the wonderful books in The Strand, but I am delighted with my new owl tote bag – can’t wait to use it.


Books of Wonder (





Books of Wonder has an excellent selection of children’s and YA books, but what I loved most was the exhibition of illustration. It is a fascinating selection – with prints by artists such as Oliver Jeffers, Chris van Allsburg and Steve Light, works based on the Wizard of Oz, some fantastic illustrations of the Narnia books and much more! It is an enchanting exhibition – and they have so many great books to browse too.



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I bought Dangerous by Shannon Hale in Books of Wonder. I hadn’t heard of it before, but I have read a lot of Shannon Hale’s other books and really enjoyed them. Goose Girl is one of my favourite books, and I am looking forward to reading Dangerous – it seems quite different from her other work. Expect a review soon!


I would highly recommend both of these shops to any bookworms in or visiting New York City!


Happy International Children’s Book Day!

ICBD poster

International Children’s Book Day is happening on the 2nd of April and will be hosted by IBBY Ireland this year. The 2nd of April was Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday and so the event often centres around his work. A number of Irish children’s authors have collaborated on a rewriting of Andersen’s tales entitled Shoes, Ducks and Maids of the Sea – Retellings of Hans Christian Andersen. This collection will feature stories by Sarah Webb, Oisin McGann, Siobhán Parkinson, Paula Leyden, Deirdre Sullivan, Claire Hennessy, Sheena Wilkinson, Anna Carey and many more!  This e-book and IBBY Ireland’s new website will be launched at an event tonight.

As well as arranging a number of events during the day for children and adults, the host country is also responsible for the poster for the day and for selecting an author to write a message to the international community of child readers. The poster for 2014 was designed by the current Laureate na nÓg Niamh Sharkey and is very colourful, featuring one of her loveable monster characters. Former Laureate na nÓg Siobhán Parkinson wrote the letter, which can be read here.

“Without the writer the story would never be born; but without all the thousands of readers around the world, the story would not get to live all the lives it can live.”

One of the display cases in Trinity College Dublin

One of the display cases in Trinity College Dublin

To coincide with this event, the TCD Library display cases are showcasing a variety of collections of Hans Christian Andersen tales from the collection. There are many beautiful books on display, and I’ve just picked out a couple to show here.

The first is W Heath Robinson’s illustrations for a collection of Andersen’s tales published in 1913. I loved the two pages shown in the display, the detail is amazing and the contrast between the full colour image and the black and white illustration show the range of his style. The colour image illustrates The Snow Queen and the sumptuous colours and rich fabrics reflect her wealth. The black and white image is much starker, but the night sky is incredible and the skilful drawing is seen more clearly here.

W Heath Robinson illustrations, 1913

W Heath Robinson illustrations, 1913

One of my favourite illustrators P.J. Lynch is represented with his illustrations for The Snow Queen. The pages shown depict Gerda travelling to the Snow Queen’s kingdom, and the depiction of the Northern Lights is stunning. It captures the adventurous spirit of the story really well, and the sky really seems to shimmer. It is a mesmerising image!

The Snow Queen illustrated by PJ Lynch 1993

The Snow Queen illustrated by PJ Lynch 1993

Check out the blog post about International Children’s Book Day and the TCD display on the library blog here.

My personal favourite Andersen tale is The Snow Queen. The illustrations for this tale are usually fantastic, capturing the majestic figure of the queen herself and the stunning landscapes crossed during Gerda’s epic quest. The reason why I love this story is how empowered the heroine is. Gerda goes on an incredible journey to save her best friend Kai from the cruel Snow Queen and is one of the bravest and most active fairytale heroines out there. Andersen wrote a number of very well-known tales, including The Ugly Duckling and The Little Mermaid (the original tale has a shockingly tragic ending). The fact that International Children’s Book Day, celebrated by 76 countries, is held on his birthday is a testament to the enduring appeal of his work.

I wish you all a very happy International Children’s Book Day, wherever you are and whatever you’re reading!

The Copper House Gallery – Art of Superstition

I loved The Copper House Gallery’s Art of Superstition exhibition last October, but sadly never got back after the opening night to get some photos and write a review. However, when I visited recently to review their exhibition Encore! for tn2 magazine (check out the review here!) I was delighted to find that some of the Art of Superstition illustrations were still on display upstairs. I have selected three very different responses to the theme of superstition, just a small selection of the works on display. These few pictures give an idea of the wide range of styles in contemporary Irish illustration. The full exhibition will be touring in future – if it comes to a gallery near you, it’s definitely worth checking out!

Niamh Sharkey – Three For A Funeral


One of many magpie images on display, Niamh Sharkey’s work appealed to me for her striking yet simplistic style (love the stick legs!), and strong characterisation. A touch of humour is added by the magpie with a stethoscope, and the sorrow of the other magpie is conveyed minimally with the alarm lines and the single tear.

Steve Simpson – The Monarch


Steve Simpson has done many illustrations of sugar skulls, and this is one of the best I’ve seen. The Monarch of the title refers to the butterfly on the forehead, and used elsewhere in the work too. I love all the detail, and how distinctive his style is. I also appreciated the fact that Day of the Dead is written not just in Mexican (Dia de les Muertos) but Irish too (Lá na Marbh).

Derry Dillon


Dillon’s picture of Italia ’90 (the legendary football final)  is very humorous. My favourite thing was all the little details in the work – there are so many different lucky symbols to find in the image, such as horoscopes, a horseshoe, a black cat, two magpies (for joy), Paul the Octopus, and even a bobblehead Jesus! It’s a lot of fun.

Check out all the illustrations from the exhibition here on The Copper House Gallery website. There are such an amazing variety of responses to the theme of superstition, as well as these pieces, I also loved the illustrations by P.J. Lynch, Tarsila Kruse, Steve Cannon, Poppy & Red, Margaret Anne Suggs and many more!

Exhibition: Pictiúr at IMMA

Story pod decorated by the illustrators.

Story pod decorated by the illustrators.

What: Pictiúr, an exhibition of contemporary Irish childrens’ book illustration.

Where: IMMA (Irish Museum of Modern Art)

When: Ends tomorrow (12th of Jan), so if you want to see it – hurry!

Story pod decorated by the illustrators.

Story pod decorated by the illustrators.

Today I visited Pictiúr, an exhibition of work by 21 contemporary Irish illustrators. The exhibition features 2 works by each illustrator, as well as display cases showing how concepts for illustrations are developed, and exploring the process of making a picturebook. There were also videos about illustration, and a library featuring books by the illustrators featured in the exhibition. My one criticism would be that the works situated in the café can be hard to see when it is busy, but overall I thought it was very well put together and catered for both adults and children. The exhibition was curated by Niamh Sharkey, current Laureate Na nÓg (Children’s Laureate) and is the largest ever travelling exhibition of Irish illustration. Today was also the family day and while my friend and I (at 21 and 20) were a little old for the events we got involved in Monster Doodling, and creating our own Beast of IMMA.

Monster Doodle!

Monster Doodle!

With my Beast of IMMA.

With my Beast of IMMA.

P.J. Lynch is one of my favourite illustrators. I love the soft tones of his work which are created by his use of watercolour, the detail, the emotion and the often fantastical subject matter. The works in the IMMA exhibition are from The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, a very moving picturebook about an old man whose heart is softened by a young boy. These works illustrate beautifully Lynch’s mastery of emotion, and I love the warm, earthy tones. The sense of wonder on the young boy’s face as he sees the nativity figures reflects the touching message of the book.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey - PJ Lynch

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey – PJ Lynch

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey - PJ Lynch

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey – PJ Lynch

The first display case gave an insight into the development of P.J. Lynch’s illustrations, focussing on the dragon story Ignis. The case features sketches, full spreads, mock ups and finished pieces. It gave a really interesting look into his working process, and into how a picturebook is created.

Loved the steps by the display cases for children visiting the exhibition.

Loved the steps by the display cases for children visiting the exhibition.

Section of the PJ Lynch display case.

Section of the PJ Lynch display case.

Niamh Sharkey, current children’s laureate and curator of Pictiúr, is represented by illustrations from her Mavis and Marge book. The bright colours and bold outlines of Sharkey’s work is very expressive, and there is a real sense of humour throughout the images. This warmth and humour is also seen in her book I’m A Happy Hugglewug, which has been made into the Henry Hugglemonster TV show by Disney and Brown Bag Films. Another display case shows Sharkey’s working process through sketches, storyboards, dummy books and more.

On The Road with Mavis and Marge - Niamh Sharkey.

On The Road with Mavis and Marge – Niamh Sharkey.

Section of the Niamh Sharkey display case.

Section of the Niamh Sharkey display case.

Andrew Whitson’s work has a collage effect, achieved through his use of mixed media. His work in this exhibition is the cover imagery for Irish language books Cogito and Ó Chrann go Crann. Whitson works with An tSnáthaid Mhór, a Belfast based publishing house which is now developing apps of interactive picturebooks in both Irish and English. The image below is a section from the cover of Ó Chrann go Crann. I loved the different layers of the image, and the feeling of being lost it conveys. The typography is interesting, as is the contrast between the finished colour images and the pencil sketches.

Ó Chrann go Crann - Andrew Whitson

Ó Chrann go Crann – Andrew Whitson

This Paul Howard image is an illustration accompanying William Blake’s famous poem ‘The Tyger’. The bold use of colour, and striking image of the tiger prowling through the tall grass captures the vivid descriptions in the poem. It also brings the poem to life for the child reader. The image is taken from a collection of classic poetry edited by Michael Rosen.

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright - Paul Howard.

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright – Paul Howard.

I love the expressive use of line in this illustration by Donough O’Malley, taken from An Coileach Codlatach (The Sleepy Rooster). This image is one of the first in the book, and sets the atmosphere for the story. The sky is particularly expressive, and O’Malley makes excellent use of his medium – pastel with conté. There is a real sense of movement, created by his use of line, and I love how the rooster has been silhouetted against the moon.

An Coileach Codlatach - Donough O'Malley.

An Coileach Codlatach – Donough O’Malley.

Steve Simpson is another illustrator whose work I find very exciting. The images below are taken from Mise agus an Dragún, a tale about a teddy bear who dreams about an adventure with his toy dragon. The first image shows their travels in space, and is a very striking image, full of movement. I love how the constellations are mapped out in the background. In the second image, we see the end of the story. I love all the details – Simpson is written on the spine of the book on the floor, there is a makeshift telescope and a robot hidden behind a curtain! There are many more fun details to be found throughout Steve Simpson’s work.

Mise agus an Dragún - Steve Simpson.

Mise agus an Dragún – Steve Simpson.

Mise agus an Dragún - Steve Simpson.

Mise agus an Dragún – Steve Simpson.

Oliver Jeffers is a very popular illustrator at the moment, and has won a lot of awards. I love how distinctive his style is – details like the stick legs are unmistakeably his. The images in Pictiúr are taken from Stuck, an entertaining picturebook about a boy who gets his kite stuck in a tree. One picture shows Floyd carrying an orang-utan, the other shows the various objects he has used to try and dislodge his kite from the tree. There’s a submarine, the kitchen sink, a lighthouse and more! It is a simple story, but a very funny one.

Stuck - Oliver Jeffers.

Stuck – Oliver Jeffers.

Miss Brooks Loves Books, the story of a reluctant reader whose wacky book-loving teacher helps her find a story she loves, is one of my favourite picturebooks. The illustrations by Michael Emberley match the story very well, capturing the humour and the love of reading. This is a book any bookworm will enjoy, and the illustrations are fantastic!

Miss Brooks Loves Books - Michael Emberley.

Miss Brooks Loves Books – Michael Emberley.

Chris Judge’s Lonely Beast is one of the most recognisable characters in contemporary picturebooks. Simple but striking, the figure really stands out against the backgrounds. I love the stripy green and pink tie in one of the images! The story of the Lonely Beast is a touching and fun read, and I also love Chris Judge’s picturebook The Great Explorer. The Beast of IMMA workshop run by Chris Judge was a lot of fun too!

The Lonely Beast - Chris Judge.

The Lonely Beast – Chris Judge.

Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick’s book There won a Bisto book award, and two of the illustrations are shown in this exhibition. The first image shows the little boy carrying a small suitcase, about to set out on a journey. He looks very small in comparison to the green hills. It is a very sweet story, and the illustration of the little boy (in cute little wellies!) climbing a ladder to the stars is beautiful. The pastel tones give the illustrations a softness, and the journey throughout the book is very engaging.

There - Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick.

There – Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick.

There - Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick.

There – Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick.

Olwyn Whelan’s illustrations accompany Spellbound, a retelling of Irish myths and legends by former Laureate na nÓg Siobhan Parkinson. Whelan’s illustrations are enchanting, and capture the magic of the stories. I love her use of patterning and bright colours, and detail in elements such as the castles. Seeing the illustrations in person, I noticed Whelan’s use of glitter and could really appreciate how detailed her work is. I discovered her work through Pictiúr and I am spellbound by it!

Spellbound - Olwyn Whelan.

Spellbound – Olwyn Whelan.

Spellbound - Olwyn Whelan.

Spellbound – Olwyn Whelan.

These are just a selection of the illustrators and illustrations featured in Pictiúr, see the exhibition or the Laureate Na nÓg website for more. This is a really excellent showcase for Irish childrens’ book illustration, which is really going through a golden age at the moment!

A video about Pictiúr’s travels abroad: