James Gulliver Hancock is the man who created the illustrations behind the David Jones Christmas campaign. We chat to him about how his latest children's book, Colour Me In Christmas: The Expedition of the Elves came about and what he's hoping Santa and his elves will gift him for Christmas.
How did your collaboration for Christmas with David Jones come about?
I worked with David Jones on a window display for my book, All the Buildings in Sydney which came out really great. We did a kind of naïve stage set, with flat buildings forming a 3 dimensional staggered scene that looked very dynamic in the end. After the success of this, I think David Jones decided to work with me again on a more developed version of that window.
Was Colour Me In Christmas your first children’s book? And what inspired you to create a Christmas book?
I've done many books for children, including ones about engineering and explaining things, which I love doing too. This was my first Christmas book for kids, and it was so much fun to play with the fantasy of Christmas. I loved developing the story of these cheeky playful elves and their adventures, and giving quite well-known Christmas characters my own spin.
How did the story of the elves come about?
My wife Lenka is a singer/songwriter, and she is well known for her playful lyrical sensibilities; so it was an easy choice to turn to her to bring a story alive with my pictures. We've worked together a lot over the years on music videos and packaging for her projects, so it was nice to collaborate on something like this. I hope we get to do more story books together, I think the words really brings the Expedition to life. In so far as process goes, I basically did all the drawings then handed them over to Lenka and she developed the story.
Your illustrations are quite intricate; do you start off with a plan of what’s going to be in the page or does it happen quite organically?
I usually start with a rough idea or list of what a scene will be about about. Then I start really roughly sketching it in, drawing almost just shapes in the areas they should be. I also work closely with clients to agree on these elements then I work up a more detailed sketch, fleshing out the ideas and getting characters in the right position, etc. After that stage I work up the final drawing, usually tracing over that second sketch. This final stage is interesting because it really all solidifies, and you get to play with all the details, putting buttons on jackets, adding details to windows, and usually I find little gaps in the composition that I can slip little extra bits into, little hidden things to find. I really like having layers of experience in my drawing, so having big things you can immediately jump into and then if you delve deeper finding all the extra things in there.
Nowadays, colouring books are not just for kids and are quite popular with adults too. What’s your take on this?
It is quite the phenomenon and I think it's great that there is a shift from digital activity to a more tactile, craft-like work. I think it's great when relatively non-creative people get into this kind of thing and are opened up to the relaxing meditative state that colouring in takes you into. A large part of my work is similar to this and I think that it really influences my personality and chills me out a lot. I love generating black and white linework drawings, so it's a perfect fit for me to create this kind of work.
Do you create your illustrations by hand or digitally?
I make all my drawings by hand, with a simple pencil or pen on paper, nothing fancy. I love working by hand, you get all the lovely, unexpected happy accidents; especially when you're using ink and pens, and even with pencil, things happen that are always surprising. And again, going back to that meditative state, drawing does that too, there's something about using your hand, eyes and brain to bring it all together mechanically on the paper, I never get bored of it. I do use the computer a lot though, I like to collage my drawings a bit in Photoshop, moving things around a little and cleaning things up. I also do a fair amount of colouring in on Photoshop, mainly because it gives you a lot of flexibility to try different colours and change them easily. The way I use Photoshop is almost like printmaking though, which I also love, so I only have a couple of layers and really treat it like laying down the colours in steps, one on top of the other.
Going back to Christmas, what are you hoping Santa and the elves will gift you this Christmas?
I'm actually way more excited about the presents my three-and-a-half year old boy will be getting. I spend as much time as him building Lego so it's super fun opening a new Lego kit and building it together.
Watch the storybook come to life:
You can buy the Colour Me In Christmas: The Expedition of the Elves storybook here.
There are many Christmas events happening in-store for the whole family. Visit our Christmas Hub to find out what's happening and how you can join in on the fun.