When Bloomsbury Publishing brought the Wombles books back into print in 2010, they turned to Nick Price to give them a fresh look for a new generation.
The paperback editions had black-and-white drawings with colour covers, while late 2011 saw a full-colour hardback gift edition of the first book. For Christmas 2012 there’s a new picture book of The Snow Womble, ideal for younger children, with bright and colourful full-page illustrations.
Nick Price has illustrated numerous books for children, including Pongwiffy, Clover Twig and Tumtum And Nutmeg, and also worked on animated television series including Doctor Snuggles. He’s kindly answered a few questions for Tidy Bag about drawing the Wombles and his career as a popular illustrator.
Could you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your background? How did you get into professional illustration?
I moved to Devon around 20 years ago, to give our children the best childhood we could, between the moor and the sea.
Light years ago, I was an art director in an advertising agency, and I found I was sneakily designing ads incorporating my own drawings. The drawings kept on coming… so I gave up the job to go freelance. And here I am, all those years later, still doing the drawings.
How did you get involved with re-illustrating the Wombles?
I was approached by Val Brathwaite, art director at Bloomsbury. I had the good fortune to have done quite a number of books for her over the last few years.
Did you like the Wombles before this – had you read the books or watched the TV series?
Yes, I’ve always found the Wombles fun, and their recycling is really relevant and timely, particularly now. I wasn’t of the age to read them or see them on the TV, but I was aware of them, especially as I had a cousin I used to see quite a lot of, who lived by Wimbledon Common!
Do you look at the earlier styles of Wombles illustrations? How did you decide which classic features to keep and what to change?
I just tried to do my own version of them, based on the original TV puppets. It was a bit of a challenge at first getting character and movement into them, as originally the stop-frame animation was very simple and, dare I say it, a bit crude! We got there in the end, though.
Did your Wombles go through different iterations, or did you come up with the final style straight away?
I just did them the once, but we had a bit of a struggle getting the faces not to be too ratty, and their limbs not too articulated.
Do you have a favourite Wombles character that you enjoy illustrating the most?
My favourite is definitely Great Uncle Bulgaria – he’s such a grouch!
Did you ever meet Elisabeth Beresford?
No, sadly I never got to meet Elisabeth Beresford.
Are you told what to draw, or do you read the text and draw what you think would best illustrate it?
I did have quite a few guidelines, but there were still plenty of opportunities for my own input, happily.
What materials and techniques do you use?
I use concentrated watercolours, then beef them up with Caran d’Ache coloured pencils afterwards.
How big is the original artwork? How long does each illustration take?
I work more or less the same size, and each spread would take me two or three days to finish, depending on how complicated it was.
Do you approach the full-colour illustrations differently from the black-and-white illustrations for the paperbacks?
The gift edition drawings were pen and ink, which I then coloured up with watercolours. For The Snow Womble, I drew them in pencil, coloured them with watercolour, then finished them off with the coloured pencils. And the black-and-white drawings were just pen and ink.
How did the Carphone Warehouse adverts come about?
The ad agency handling the Carphone Warehouse account saw the Wombles books I illustrated, and got in touch with my agent, who got in touch with me.
Did you get a chance to see any of the big billboards?
Yes! I saw the posters… everywhere, weren’t they?!
What else have you illustrated? What was your favourite?
I am rather attached to a couple of picture books I did called The Snagglegrollop and More, More, More! But I really enjoyed doing the Pongwiffy books too, written by Kaye Umansky – she conjures up such great characters.
What are you working on next?
I have written some stories about a small furry creature called Boldo who lives on a tiny planet, spinning very fast in the middle of nowhere. They were originally conceived as a series of short animated films. I’m now in the process of turning them into books, or chapters in books, I can’t decide yet… All this is going on between all those other things that keep popping up in life and going ‘BOO!’.