Thursday, 23 February 2017

Interview with Steven Lenton

Steven hails from Cheshire where he spent many a school holiday working in the family Pom-pom Factory, packing poms and designing new products. Since this somewhat fluffy start to his career he has gained a BA and MA in Animation and has become a successful animator and art director within the realms of children’s television. Steven also designs greetings cards and prints. 

BWB: Did it take you long to decide on a character design for Fred?

SL: I designed a few different versions of Fred to begin with - it's important to sketch a number of possible character shapes and sizes when creating a new character, whether it be a panda called Fred or a Princess called Daisy!  Here are some of my original sketches... 

Being a panda he had to be big, friendly and fluffy: a BFF if you will!  We wanted him to have a cheeky, wry smile and of course those eyes... interestingly, as we knew the cover was going to have moving eyes, I had to ensure that they were a certain width apart so that the eye mechanism would work perfectly.  We all decided that Fred's face needed to fill most of the cover so that partially dictated the width and height of his face and the proportions therein. Then I based his body around the face on the cover and, Stanley’s your uncle – we had found our Fred!

I am very much a team player when it comes to the design of my books and it’s important that everyone is happy with a design, look and feel of a character and fortunately the Scholastic crew were all in agreement on my design fairly quickly…and don’t forget little Stanley of course! Ssshhh, don’t tell Fred but Stanley is my secret favourite character in the book.  He is a lovely simple, graphic character designed around a series of angles and triangles to create a lovely juxtaposition with Fred’s circle-centric roundedness.  I feel quite sorry for Stanley at first, but when you see the final endpapers of the book featuring my little homage to the classic Dirty Dancing dance sequence, you are reassured that Fred and Stanley are the best of friends, despite their ups downs and round and rounds (at the funfair!) 

BWB: Are Pandas your favourite type of bear?

SL: I think so now yes!  Although, and this is another secret, used to LOVE the Care Bears when I was little!  I’m also a Koala bear fan and of course, who can resist Paddington! When I was a toddler I had a favourite teddy bear called Patch.  He was so named because I threw up on him in hospital and my mum sewed a patch of material over the offending stain (after rinsing him through of course!) so he is an all-time favourite bear of mine too.

BWB: There are a lot of panda themed picture books out in the wild at the moment. What makes Fred stand out?

SL: I'm a big fan of Steve Antony's Mr Panda series and Sophie Henn's Pom-Pom books, so it was important not to tread on my peers paws!

The humour in Let's Find Fred is quite different to that in other Panda-based books.  Fred's moving eyes on the cover and the unusual mixture of 'zoomed-out' spreads with lots to find, intermingled with larger 'paws for thought ' moments where Fred takes up entire pages with his cuddly big tummy and candy floss-filled arms give the book lots of variation and a novelty/activity book feel brought together with a fun narrative.

We decided that, with there being a number of well-known Panda characters in existence, we wanted Fred to look a bit older and more life-sized, rather than small and cute.  This makes him look funnier when he is, for example reading a newspaper on the bus or running through an art gallery! One of my favourite things about the book is that Fred is really accepted throughout each scenario - he may get the odd raised eyebrow (don't we all) but generally everyone is really glad to see Fred and enjoy interacting with him – especially in the huge panda party in the final fold-out spread.

BWB: Let's Find Fred is part picture book, part interactive. Was it first thought up in this way? Or was it something completely different that evolved?

SL: Scholastic approached me with a loose concept for the book at the wonderful Bologna Book Fair a couple of years ago. The very first idea was to have an incredibly simple cut-out novelty book using silhouettes but once I had designed Fred, the team all agreed that we needed to see much more of this cheeky chap! Fred was always going to have some sort of novelty element and everyone decided that the combination of an interactive, fun cover and a giant fold-out finale spread would give Fred that bit of extra bit of magic.  It was quite an organic and wonderfully creative process coming up with the various cityscapes and environments and the narrative and visuals developed alongside each other which was a new way of working for all of us. The reaction to the cover has been a joy at all the events I have done with Fred so far – audiences have literally been hypnotized by Fred’s cheeky grin and mischievous eyes!

BWB: Will we see Fred pop up again?

SL: I'm hoping so yes!  Myself, the designer of the book Strawberrie Donnelly and editor Sophie Cashell have had numerous chats about other adventures Fred could embark on; underwater or sky-based spreads would be wonderful, or maybe Stanley could take centre stage and Fred could do the chasing next time! And of course you can see me, Fred (AND Stanley) around the UK at various literary festivals, books shops and school events throughout the year!

Huge thanks to Steven and Olivia for a wonderful interview. Let's Find Fred is available to buy at all good bookshops right now!