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While You’re Sleeping: Behind the Scenes with Illustrator John Broadley

With the nights drawing in, we are turning our minds to everything that happens in the dark. A new picture book, While You’re Sleeping, is a celebration of the night, of the people who help to keep things running smoothly by working through the night hours, of nocturnal animals and of moonlit scenery. Written by Booker Prize shortlistee Mick Jackson, the detail-packed illustrations are by the wonderful John Broadley and are sure to reward many repeated readings of the book. We asked John to tell us more about his process for illustrating this unique book and here he shares some of his sketches, offering a unique insight into an artist’s work.


Following the publication of While You’re Sleeping by Mick Jackson, I’ve had several people asking me about my drawings for the book, with many people wondering if they are woodcuts or some other form of prints. To show how I constructed the illustrations I thought I would share some photographs of the original black and white drawings, as well as an explanation of how I made them.

My studio is basically a section of the living area in our house. I have an iMac tucked in one corner of the room and a few drawers which house all my drawing equipment. I work on a fold-up table, usually packing everything away at the end of the day.

I work almost exclusively in black and white ink initially. If a piece of artwork is destined to be in full colour, this is done digitally in Photoshop. I also always only ever work with A4 lined exercise paper. If a drawing is bigger than this, I glue together however many sheets I need. The largest drawing was of a life-sized figure of a tattooed man which I made for Quo Vadis Soho and required around 70 pieces of paper.


My drawings all feature lots of textures. Some of these are hand-drawn patterns, while others are made up using my own pages of textures which I have been compiling over a number of years. These I print out in various sizes and store them in a couple of wooden boxes ready to cut out and collage into my drawings when I need them. For the line work I rely on a dip pen and chinese black ink as well as fine-line pens and a black Sharpie.




The first two drawings I did for While You’re Sleeping were the delivery trucks and the postal sorting office. These were also a dry run to see if I would be suitable to illustrate the book, as I’d no previous experience in the children’s book field.






Here are the final versions which appear in the book – the scene with the lorries was originally planned to sit on a single page.

Here are two of the very early versions of the two first pieces.



The final original drawing of the night-time delivery trucks.


Below are some close-ups showing how textures are added. For some of the collaged elements I cut the shape out of the drawing and glue the texture onto the back of the paper.


Here is a selection of some more of the pages from the book including further examples of how the textures are added.

The boat, back and front of the paper.

This is the first version of the nocturnal wildlife drawing, which originally featured badgers that were later replaced with hares. Below is an earlier, abandoned draft.


The final published illustration, and below, the digital file with the black layer removed.


This vignette of the book shop being cleaned gave me the opportunity to include three children’s books which inspired me. As a child I loved to wander inside Tolkien’s drawing of Hobbiton.

When I first read Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, it was Faith Jacques’s illustrations which seemed so magical. Later, when I had children of my own, I discovered the marvellous Maurice Sendak.




Working out the bedspread here proved to be a cut too far and the drawing began to literally fall apart due to there being so many parts of the original drawing cut away. In the end, I had to create the bedspread digitally.


Meanwhile, I am hoping that keen-eyed young readers will notice that the boy has fallen asleep reading his own copy of While You’re Sleeping.




The book’s cover illustration proved to be the most challenging part of the project. My idea to incorporate the barcode within the lorry and Pavilion’s logo on an actual pavilion on the back cover was a complicated task when I discovered I’d underestimated the space needed for these elelments. Below is my first rough sketch for the cover. The coastline was originally planned to be on the back cover before it was decided to flip this to the opposite way around.




To end with, here is the final working rough and below, the finished drawing which I drew without the extra elements to allow for repositioning of the title and bed etc.