Behind the Book: River Rose and the Magical Christmas illustrated by Lucy Fleming
The Illustrator: Lucy Fleming
Lucy Fleming knew from her teenage years that she loved illustration and, as an adult, has turned that passion into a very successful full-time career. Through cheerful characters and vibrant scenes, her artwork has helped tell countless children’s stories.
Her latest book, River Rose and the Magical Christmas, written by Grammy Award winner Kelly Clarkson and published with HarperCollins, is full of magic and wonder…
We chatted with Lucy about what inspires her creative process, how she has created a career illustrating children’s books and more…
What originally inspired you to become a children’s book illustrator?
I can’t say that I’ve always wanted to be a children’s book illustrator. When I was very little I wanted to be everything and anything when I grew up — a supermarket worker, a witch, a chocolate brownie baker, and the person who takes photos in beautiful hotels for travel brochures. It wasn’t until I was 14 and I had the best art teacher in the world that the idea first planted itself in my mind. From that moment on I became obsessed with my sketchbook and I was drawing every day. I knew pretty quickly that I would want to draw and paint for the rest of my life.
The text of this book is written by The Original American Idol and Grammy Award Winner Kelly Clarkson. What’s it like to work on such a high profile title?
I remember it being late in the evening here in the UK when the e-mail pinged on my phone letting me know that I’d be the illustrator for Kelly Clarkson’s latest book. I was walking back from the cinema and I was completely bubbling over with joy. It was raining but I didn’t care, the streets were glittering to me. I just couldn’t have been happier in that moment. I was really excited to be on board. I was a bit nervous at first, but I thrive on a challenge and knew that I would give it my best.
Character sketches from River Rose and the Magical Christmas
What was your artistic process like for this book? How did you bring the text to life in pictures?
I’m a lover of Christmas and all things snowy and magical so my mind was brimming with ideas as soon as I read it. The story is about a fantastical North Pole adventure — sweet, lyrical, and so magical. I chose to interpret the imagery in a dream-like way, where anything can happen, even a hot-air balloon made from candy canes flying River Rose up to moon.
Early sketches from River Rose and the Magical Christmas
How has your career developed since first becoming an illustrator?
I have always thrown myself into every project I’ve been lucky enough to work on. I try to listen to art directors’ and agents’ advice. I’ve learned many lessons along the way that have helped me develop as an illustrator and gain confidence. It has been a slow process, and one of constant learning. But the key to progressing, I believe, is to be open to change and never shy away from hard work.
You describe yourself as a bookworm since early childhood. What were a few of your favorites as a kid?
When I was very little I was lucky enough to have a wonderful selection of Picture books. A few favorites were The Rainbow Fish and Owl Babies, and Mrs. Tiggy Winkle by Beatrix Potter.
On Christmas morning, I wasn’t allowed to wake my parents up before 7:30am, but I woke at 4:00am anyway. It seemed so impossible to sleep, so I read all of my books over and over, and after I got bored of the words I looked to see what I could spot in the pictures. I have such strong memories of sitting in bed with books strewn all over, waiting for morning.
Lucy’s rendition of Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patric Benson she created in honor of Picture Book Month
With which picture book character did your childhood self most closely identify?
In many ways I think I was a bit like Little Miss Scatterbrain from the Mr. Men series by Roger Hargreaves. I was quite a messy and clumsy child, always accidentally breaking my toys. I would play with my toys until they were muddy and falling apart. My head was often in the clouds daydreaming.
In the spirit of the holidays, what is your favorite tradition this time of year?
My favorite festive tradition is definitely putting up the family Christmas tree. We have collected baubles and decorations gradually over the years my sister and I were children, and even some from when my parents were children, too. It’s a lovely walk down memory lane as we reminisce and spend time together, and of course munch a mince pie or two!
Little Lucy Fleming on Christmas Morning