Katie Bennett

Art Director Egmont UK Ltd

What is your professional background and how did you become Art Director at Egmont UK?

I have been working in the publishing industry for 17 years. Having left university studying graphic design, I stumbled into the world of children’s books, and began freelancing for Hodder & Stoughton. Realising how much I loved children’s publishing, I started working as a junior designer at Scholastic Children’s Books. I have since worked at Random House & Penguin before coming to Egmont in 2003. I became Art Director after 6 months of joining the company.

How does your current role differ from previous positions within publishing companies?

As an Art Director you are managing the design department, working as a team to ensure we create the strongest market appropriate covers and stories we can, appealing to all ages.

I work very closely with the designers, supporting and nurturing them which I find extremely rewarding. It does mean I have less time to design myself, which I miss, but I do feel I express my creative ideas through my designers.

Getting involved with the strategic planning of Egmont Press has given me new and exciting challenges, but it does mean I spend a lot more time in meetings!

Egmont works with a host of prolific illustrators including Helen Oxenbury and Colin and Jacqui Hawkins. How does the experience of working with established names compare with fresh, new talent?

I would say it is equally rewarding but has different challenges. It is wonderful to work with such talented & experienced illustrators. They have an established style and reputation which has been refined over many years. They use techniques and have tried and tested way of doing things. It’s great as I am always learning from them and it can make our job fairly easy as they have such a strong vision.

Illustrators straight out of college are so fresh they generally have no boundaries which is fantastic as it enables them to be extremely creative. It is then down to us to channel that energy and their ideas into a commercial beautiful picture book or book jacket.

What qualities – both professional and personal – do you look for when selecting an illustrator for a project?

First and foremost I look for an illustration style that is perfect for a text, and an illustrator who loves the story as much as we do. The illustrations need to assist the text and bring it to life.

An illustrator needs to be able to take direction positively. Working with an artist who is receptive to art direction often results in ideas being bounced around and challenged, resulting in a book that everyone is really happy with. It’s all about creating the best books we can.

It is vital that the illustrator can work to a schedule, so time keeping is important, but that is one of the many reasons illustrators have agents.

Describe the process of producing a book at Egmont, who is involved and what are the key milestones in the journey?

Wow this is a big question. There are so many departments and people involved so I will give you a very brief snap shot. It starts with the Publisher or Commissioning Editor finding the perfect text or story. From there it is shared with the Art Director and Sales team ensuring it is commercial and the right book for us to publish. The Designers then get involved finding suitable illustrators or in some cases for fiction, images. We have weekly cover meetings so at the point when the Designer assigned to the project is happy with their choices of illustrator or they are ready to show a rough for the cover or insides, they are brought to the cover meeting and discussed by the Publishing Director, Art Director, Marketing Director, Editors and Designers. Once everyone that attends the cover meeting is happy, material is sent to the Author and Sales team for the approval. Production are involved at an early stage to discuss any special finishes or formats required, decide on the best printer for that title and ensure the product costs. Once all of the above are ticked off we have the green light to print the books.

Egmont publish picture books and novelty books, full-colour Banana books for five to nine year olds, black-and-white factual illustrated books, sparkling fantasy adventures, highly acclaimed young adult fiction, classics and epic tales. Tell us about a memorable project you have art directed from this impressive list.

I would have to say Mr Gum. I have had the privilege of working with the amazingly brilliant writer Andy Stanton and fantastically talented illustrator, David Tazzyman. I remember our equally brilliant Publishing Director, Leah Thaxton coming to me about 6 years ago saying she had found a super, hilarious text which I must read. Having read the first chapter I knew it was a series I wanted to design as I hadn’t stopped laughing, and the more I read the louder I laughed! I had worked with David Tazzyman in the past and felt his scratchy style was the perfect combination. He brings the characters to life, giving them strong identities, adding even more humour.

The four of us work extremely closely and have such a strong vision for the books. It is challenging as the schedules are always very tight, but they are so much fun and I am very proud of the end package.

How many titles does Egmont UK publish per year and how many illustrators do you tend to work with?

Egmont UK is made up of Egmont Press – Fiction, Picture Books, Classic and Gift and Egmont Publishing Group – all license character, generic product and magazines.

Egmont Press publish around 115 titles EPG would be around 400.  The number of illustrators across Egmont Press and Egmont Publishing Group would be approximately 200.

Are there any particular trends that are ‘hot on the agenda’ at Egmont at the moment?

Like the rest of the publishing world it must be digital.  ebooks is a fast growing addition to our business, and the world of digital is taking over our society.  The fiction department within Egmont Press have been working closely with one of our high profile authors on a transmedia project which is very exciting.  Unfortunately I can’t divulge anymore, but watch this space!
What has been the most influential children’s book you have ever read?

I loved the Malory Towers series as a child, but influential would have to be and ‘Where the Wild Things Are’.

This interview has been syndicated courtesy of Childrensillustrators.com