Val Brathwaite is the Art Director for Bloomsbury U.K. Val has a wealth of publishing experience, having worked at Belitha Press, HarperCollins, Kingfisher, Orchard Books, and Scholastic. She lives in London with her husband and two sons. Anita Loughrey interviewed her in November 2007, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).
What made you decide to go into children’s book publishing?
VB: I was offered a job with a children’s publisher Orchard Books based in London. After nine years working for an adult publisher, I thought it would be an interesting change.
In your opinion, what makes a good art director?
VB: Good communication and organization. Adaptable creativity.
What makes an artist’s illustrations stand out for you?
VB: Someone who is a good draftsman, who is able to bring their own style and individuality to their work and who is professional in their approach.
Do you think a website is a useful tool for illustrators to showcase their work? How often do you look at a portfolio online?
VB: I think it is very good and often look at work online.
What kinds of things can turn you off of a portfolio?
VB: Bad draftsmanship and a disorganized folder.
What do you believe is the most important part of your job?
VB: Communication, organization, being creative, and understanding commercial needs.
What is your favorite thing about being an art director?
VB: I love meeting and working with the many different artists and authors.
Do you make suggestions for revisions to art work? What sort of suggestions have you made, and how in your opinion have they improved the final product?
VB: I suggest changes when they are needed. Generally, the comments range from specific details not being correct to the inconsistency of characters and/or color in picture books. The revisions ensure the final art is in tune with the story and character descriptions and that the artist has the right approach for each book.
How would you go about matching an illustrator to an author?
VB: We look at the style of the story, i.e. quirky, fantasy, traditional, etc. and then look at different artists’ styles that will match the character of the text.
What are some of your favorite children’s books and why?
VB: I am a great fan of French picture books. I think they are very creative and stylish.
What book(s) are you proudest of having worked on?
VB: I feel proud of most books I have worked on–in particular the new young fiction series we have created at Bloomsbury.
Is there an area on your list that you would like to “grow” at this time?
VB: We are looking at developing color young fiction for early readers. They are more of a fiction format aimed at beginner readers (age 5-7): These around 48 pages with color illustrations throughout but more text than a picture book.
What is the ideal art sample submission?
VB: I am happy to see samples on email, disk, or prints.
How involved in the marketing of the book(s) are you? What is the average marketing budget for a picture book at your house?
VB: We work very closely with our marketing team, but do not market the books–they do that. The budgets vary, depending on the title and author.
Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children’s non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers’ Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008’s Bologna Conference.
The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.