View From The Rose Garden

SCBWI Picture Book Rretreat 2015

Wood pigeons are dictating to me on the last morning in the rose garden at Holland House. There is chipping and chirping all around me as I write. I've ended in a place I hadn't planned.

I started the SCBWI Picture Book Retreat thinking that I was coming to play with my picture book characters but everything changed with the workshops and experimenting over the next few days.

How amazing that in all my 'Scoobie' (SCBWI_BI in conversation) years, I hadn't thought about harvesting my own childhood memories of wonder and discovery - as early as aged 4.

Loretta Schauer and Alexis Deacon played the Post-it quiz, pairing us up to ask each other questions about our childhood experiences.

We ended up with a wall of post-it note inspiration - real childhood moments that could spark a story idea.

It has been a weekend of telling stories to each other and I've met so many new Scoobies with fascinating other lives and we didn't stop talking about picture books all weekend.

How amazing to still be in the conference room after midnight sharing art and character and ideas.


Each morning, I woke at 6:30am and went into the garden for an hour. On the first morning, I packed my paintbox and mini stool and sat with the cat beneath the sundial and drew in the fairtrade sketchbook I'd bought from the Holland House gift shop (why wait until the end of the retreat to exit with a souvenir?).

I made several ink sketches focussing on colour. I returned later to add the watercolour when the ink was dry.


Concertina Sketchbook Holland House Sue Eves

Last year, I made great progress with my colour work and dummy book. This year I made my first concertina sketchbook (Bockingford lightweight paper with cardboard box end pieces) - cutting, sticking (PVA glue) and making something that looked a little like my childhood ice-cream wafer sandwich.

My concertina sketchbook was a little blank invitation to play (I made the shortest version - 6 pages of watercolour was less intimidating and as it turned out - enough for me to complete one in the weekend).

Well, you could knock me down with a paintbrush. How come I didn't know about these?

I finished painting my little sketchbook this weekend because Lynne Chapman showed us how to make the most of them - paint tones rather than outlines - keep the flow from one page to the next - add snippets of overheard dialogue or your own text. Use small bulldog clips to stop the pages expanding out of control. Limit your colour palette. I'm pleased I brought my folding camping stool - essential to getting exactly the right POV of your chosen subject and I finally had a use for my Pentel water brush ( I carry a screw top plastic pot of water too).

I always thought that to paint in watercolour, you dipped your brush in water, loaded it with your colour and sploshed it on quickly before it dried. No! No! Wet your watercolour paper first where you plan to colour and then add the colour. As soon as the paint was dry, I added line and text. 

I had worked in acrylics, oils, pastels and inks at art school but I had never tried watercolours because I'd been painting with them all through my childhood. I wanted to try something new.

This weekend, I rediscovered them and plan to make a full length storyboard for one of my picture books.


Emily Lamm, Commissioning editor at Hodder Children's Books. From the bigger picture to 'the finer detail' of picture book making


Andrea MacDonald, Executive Editor for picture books at Penguin Random House Children's Books.

The picture book is a '32-page stage'.

More photos of the SCBWI Picture Book Retreat on flickr


Harvest stories from your own childhood.

What was your memory of the death of your first pet?

What food did you most fear or look forward to at school?

What accident did you suffer through your own stupidity?


Unwinding Into The Weekend


Concertina Sketchbook


Lavender sweet and long

Barrows short and strong


Don't sit under the apple tree


How sweet the sound


We all went away knowing we had work to do - but we left with new tools to tackle it

But first we are in need of sleep
But first we are in need of sleep



Copyright 2015 - Sue Eves