Welcome to the brilliant Mikki Butterley, illustrator and co-creator of PICKLE AND BREE’S GUIDE TO GOOD DEEDS.
Mikki, did you always want to be an illustrator?
Art was always my favourite subject at school, I had a great art teacher early on who encouraged and inspired me…as did my dad who spent hours teaching me about perspective and the importance of observation. Having said that, I never imagined I could make a living painting pictures.
How did you break into the world of illustrating?
I came home from a couple years at art college not having a clue what my next step would be, except that I needed to start earning some money. I saw a job advert in the paper for a junior artist at a local greeting card manufacturer and went along for an interview…without much enthusiasm I have to say – My idea of greetings card artists were old ladies that painted traditional vases of flowers…very uncool, and as it turns out, very inaccurate. I got the job and started working in a lively studio full of really talented young artists, and the rest, as they say, is history. I stayed in the greeting card industry for the next 20 years, the last 10 as a senior artist at Hallmark Cards.
Three years ago I decided it was time for a change and to have more flexible time with my family, so became a freelance artist..still working on greetings cards but branching out into books too. I’ve never worked as hard in my life, but the satisfaction of being my own boss outweighs the long hours.
You came up with the original concept of the characters of Pickle and Bree. Where did they emerge from?
They were originally an idea for a greeting card range. I put a few birthday scenarios together and passed them on to my agent, Advocate Art, which is where the characters were spotted by Five Mile Press.
It must seem strange to have somebody write books using your characters. How different is my interpretation of Pickle and Bree compared to your own interpretation?
Its not strange, its lovely, especially when the author is on the same wave length with regards to the characters personalities and relationship to each other.
What medium do you use to create your illustrations?
I start with rough pencils drawings, which are then refined,traced and used as the final outline to be filled in using Photoshop on the Mac.
The books are 32 pages and include exquisite endpapers. How long would each book take to illustrate?
Its a while since I did them, but I think it took a couple of weeks to come up with the concepts and final pencils, then about a month to colour up the final artworks, so 6 to 8 weeks in total.
One of the many things I’ve loved about working with you is that I come up with different whacky ideas and you can always illustrate them. Have there been any illustrations where you’ve thought, Alison must be joking? This is too difficult to illustrate
Ha ha, I’ve never thought anything would be too difficult to illustrate, but I think the final book – The Big Snow Adventure – was the most challenging, especially some of the scenes where the friends are snow kiting. Also a challenge to keep the illustrations colourful and engaging with so much white snow everywhere.
I really adored how you created the bullies in THE PLAYGROUND MEANIES as small little bears (with definite koala overtones) instead of the stereotype of the larger, physically threatening bully. What made you think of this?
How interesting..I never even considered the stereotype. I suppose bullies come in all shapes and sizes and I wanted to have an obvious difference between them and the 2 big bears – Pickle and Jason- that were already established.
What were your favourite spreads in THE PLAYGROUND MEANIES and THE BIG SNOW ADVENTURE to illustrate?
The first couple of pages in The Playground Meanies are lovely, especially Bree reaching up to the zip wire with her little tongue sticking out. The Big Snow Adventure is trickier…I like so many of those! The simplicity of Pickle and Bree sat together on a log o P.16/17 is charming, but also P.22/23 with everyone lined up ready to fly is fun.
You always manage to have a little detail for the reader to try to find throughout the books. For example, a little bird pops up on most pages in THE DECORATING DISASTER. Is this something you made the decision to do at the beginning of each work, or did it just arise naturally?
I loved hiding little extra characters in all the books for kids to find, so a bird in The Decorating Disaster, a mouse in The Birthday Party Cake, a ladybird in The Playground Meanies and a penguin in The Big Snow Adventure. It was a conscious decision taken from the experience of reading with my daughter and the joy she had in finding similar hidden creatures in her books. Especially One Bear at Bedtime by Mick Inkpen where you have to find caterpillars on every page. Finding the caterpillars became more important than reading the story sometimes!
Is it easy to live in England and work for an Australian publisher?
It makes no difference where the publisher is based. All contact is usually by email so if I sent a query at the end of the day, it was always answered by the time I woke up the next morning.
In our series that explores social etiquette and positive behaviour, we have covered welcoming differences THE BIRTHDAY PARTY CAKE, teamwork THE DECORATING DISASTER, respecting rules THE BIG SNOW ADVENTURE and being kind (bullying) THE PLAYGROUND MEANIES. Is there a particular behaviour you want us to explore next?
Maybe good manners, fairness, honesty?
What are you currently working on?
I’ve just finished 5 Winnie the Pooh books, so am back to greetings cards for a while, currently working on Christmas, Birthday and Wedding.
Thank you, Mikki. I adore working with you on our PICKLE AND BREE’S GUIDE TO GOOD DEEDS SERIES! I hope we continue to do this for many more years!