Drawing ‘Billy Bramble and the Great Big Cook Off’

Following on from the experiences that inspired Sally to write the book, here Kara McHale gives us some insight into the illustrations she put together for one of her most exciting projects to date, Sally Donovan’s new book for children aged 8-12, Billy Bramble and The Great Big Cook Off.


Working on Billy Bramble and The Great Big Cook Off was a joy. When I initially read the manuscript, it reminded me so much of my favourite books as a child. They always had pictures, in fact I probably fell out of love with reading in my teenage years when all the illustrations disappeared out of the books I was meant to be reading. Sally’s writing conjured up images of animated and expressive figures, and comical faces akin to illustrations from my childhood heroes Quentin Blake and Stephen Cartwright.

Illustrations by Stephen Cartwright, from ‘The First Thousand Words’ by Heather Amery and Katherine Folliot

The story and other content, such as recipes and jokes, demanded that the overall book should look sketchy, fast paced and even a little messy. As I was designing, typesetting and illustrating the whole thing, this was solely my responsibility and I really hoped it could rival other books of its type, like Mr Gum and Roald Dahl’s work. I hope that Billy Bramble can happily stand alongside them on a book shelf and look just as smart.

When I draw I always start with faces. I know this won’t impress many of my past art teachers – but that’s the way I do it and I’m sticking to it! It’s important for me to try and establish the personality of a character through their face. This is probably the most long-winded part of the process. Some were harder than others. Billy was relatively easy, whilst I found Signor Saladino the hardest. Trying to make a character look handsome and ‘dishy’ from every angle was tricky but I eventually took inspiration from Strictly Come Dancing’s Giovanni Pernice and then it was easy.


Once I’d established all the major characters (including Facebook the Chicken) I started to work through setting scenes. Not particularly conventional but I draw with a standard black biro. It’s comfortable, a force of habit and it generates variable tones to the line which I often prefer to a standard fine-liner. In this case it worked really well because it looked more sketchy and doodle-like; as though Billy had drawn some of the illustrations or annotated the text himself. With my trusty lightbox I trace over the drawing again and again until I’ve got something I’m happy with, and then I layer colour up with watercolour paint. I always restrict my palette, I’m not a fan of premixed colours and I like to have consistency across all my illustrations.

From there I created the rest of the book, picking fonts, setting it out, designing the cover and making many a tweak.

From the moment I read the text, I really liked Billy, so I hope I’ve done him, and Sally, justice.


You can find more of the illustrations from Billy Bramble here: www.karamchale.co.uk



Billy Bramble and the Great Big Cook Off

Written by Sally Donovan, illustrated by Kara McHale


Available now!

‘Brilliant and thoughtful insight into the mind of an eleven year old and the wonderful power of cooking.’
– Lorraine Pascale, TV Chef and Fostering Ambassador


Sally Donovan is a writer, blogger and commentator on parenting and adoption. She has been awarded British Society of Magazine Editors Business Columnist of the Year, Professional Publishing Association Business Media Columnist of the year and is also author of the classic memoir No Matter What: An Adoptive Family’s Story of Hope, Love and Healing and The Unofficial Guide to Adoptive Parenting: The Small Stuff, The Big Stuff and The Stuff In Between, both published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Kara McHale is a graphic designer and illustrator. She is a proud Northerner, now living in London. Kara has always loved to draw and paint and even won a drawing competition when she was eight years old. She studied fine art and graphic design at university and now never has to get a proper job because she gets paid to design cool things and draw pretty pictures.

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