A Guest Post Written by Alex T. Smith 


Illustrators Have To Think About A Lot Of Things

Alex T. Smith - explains how he created 'How Winston Delivered Christmas'




I had the idea for this book a very very long time ago and was delighted when Macmillian asked me whether I would like to create a Christmas book. It could be anything I liked. I whipped this idea out and they liked it. I wrote a synopsis and drew this as a taster…




Book Designers Are Very Important And Special


Thankfully my gang at Macmillan liked my idea and let me write the whole story and worked with me to make sure it was in tip top. Then I could start illustrating. Books start with conversations. I work with my art director, collaborator and designer Alison Still.

Alison and I talk about what this book is about and what sort of book it is and how we want it to look and feel. Feel is very important. Designers and illustrators help readers climb into the story and immerse themselves in it.

I think being an illustrator is like doing nearly every job on a film set. You are the director, costume and set designer, location scout, lighting person, special effects supervisor and editor. First you are the casting director. So I had to find Winston…




I knew who Winston was and what he looked like in my head but it’s important to be able to communicate that in an image and make sure your design for a character works throughout the whole book. Winston has quite an adventure so there’s a lot for him to do. Here he is…




Whilst I am doing this, QUEEN OF DESIGN Alison Still gets the text and decides where everything will go. How Winston Delivered Christmas is a complicated book but Alison is magic and even at this early stage it looked Very Snazzy. We have more conversations about it then I start…

The first thing to do when illustrating a book is to read through it (even if you’ve written it yourself) and sort bits to illustrate. I do this in an armchair because armchairs are good for reading in. Then I make tiny MOUSE-SIZED thumbnails like this:




After that Alison sends me the page layouts and I print them off and start drawing on top of them, roughing things out. I do this for every image then go to final art work.


An example

1. Rough on layout

2. Pencil work

3. Digitally coloured up final artwork


Alex T. Smith - explains how he created 'How Winston Delivered Christmas'


I draw everything by hand using pencils and graphite powder, erasers and sometimes paint and often my fingers too. I colour digitally because I’m very indecisive and quite clumsy with paint (I used to work in collage but I’d whistle and blow everything off my desk.

Here’s another example:

1. Very messy rough

2. Another messy rough but I tell myself it is tidier because I like telling myself lies

3. Pencil artwork

4. Final colour (Alison very cleverly digitally then put the real cover in place on the book here because again- she’s magic)

Alex T. Smith - explains how he created 'How Winston Delivered Christmas'


Book covers are very often the trickiest part of illustrating a book. They have to be very eye-catching, but also slightly mysterious to make you want to read the book. And oh boy can they take some time to get right.

How Winston’s cover came about.

1. My original idea for the cover which Alison and I worked on to make SNAZZIER

2. We tried a lot of different colour ideas but settled on this. I then refined the imagery.

3. The pencil artwork in bits (tell you more later on)


Alex T. Smith - explains how he created 'How Winston Delivered Christmas'


Why is the cover art in bits? So that it’s easier for changes to be made if co-edition publishers need a bit more space for their title. Also, the final cover SPARKLES because a designer works hard deciding where to add jazzy bits like FOIL AND GLITTER.

Here are some more photos of my original pencil drawings because I really enjoyed drawing that big fluffy cat. WHO IS SHE?!? AND WILL SHE EAT WINSTON?! I’m not going to tell you.





So… If an illustrator is sometimes the editor of a film (if you pretend a book is a film) then sometimes you have to cut things you like. Here’s a picture I cut because we need to focus on the characters more than the setting and we didn’t quite have room for this picture.




Sometimes an illustrator is a Cinematographer and has to decide how best to frame an image. This is originally how we were going to meet Winston on a pile of rubbish, hungry but smelling nice food… but I felt this wasn’t quite right…

Alex T. Smith - creating How Winston Delivered Christmas


Alex T. Smith - creating How Winston Delivered Christmas


Why? Because I felt we needed to zoom in a bit. Really see the pile of garbage and junk he’s sitting on to make him seem small but also allow us to really focus in on him.

1. Re-rough

2. Pencil art

3. Final colour art

Alex T. Smith - creating How Winston Delivered Christmas

Alex T. Smith - creating How Winston Delivered Christmas


An illustrator is also the costume designer. How Winston Delivered Christmas is set in the mid 1930’s so for this opening scene I had to research 30’s fashion. I love costume design so this was H E A V E N.

Alex T. Smith - creating How Winston Delivered Christmas


A note about that last image. Getting the opening image right was hard. I think people assume illustrators just draw and everything is right immediately. OH BOY IS THAT NOT THE CASE FOR ME. That first spread went through SO many changes…


A sneak peek at what I mean:

1. Some of the original ideas.

2. Then I doodled the top image and felt this worked better so re drew the bottom image

3 very messy rough to expand the image 4 slightly tidier more detailed rough before going to pencil stage.

Alex T. Smith - creating How Winston Delivered Christmas

Alex T. Smith - creating How Winston Delivered Christmas


Alex T. Smith - creating How Winston Delivered Christmas

Some images colour up very quickly. Some images take a long time. This image of the dolls house took me SEVEN ENTIRE AND VERY LONG DAYS TO DRAW AND COLOUR but this dolls house is Very Important Indeed.

Alex T. Smith - creating How Winston Delivered Christmas

So that was some BEHIND THE SCENES bits about How Winston Delivered Christmas. I can’t express how important the role of a book designer is. I drew the pictures, but all the tiny touches – the decorative elements, the font choice, the spacing – all that was my designer/collaborator Alison.

What designers do is take something nice and polish and shine it and add magic and sparkle and make it the best it can be and I’m very very lucky to work with Alison on my books.

That is the end of my PowerPoint presentation. Thank you for listening. I will be accepting questions and/or chocolate chip cookies. How Winston Delivered Christmas is out to buy in bookshops and borrow from libraries NOW!


Read our previous blog post HERE and follow Alex on Twitter @Alex_T_Smith to find out more!




 Join Alex T Smith at Tales on Moon Lane for a special book signing on the 8th December from 11:30-12:30

If you cannot make it to the event but would like a personalised copy, please get in touch via email info@talesonmoonlane.co.uk or phone 0207 274 5759.




You can see Alex explaining how to make some of his Christmas crafts on the Macmillan site here…

Screen Shot 2018-11-21 at 17.11.12