Everyone Can Be a Little Shy

And what else I learned from a booth chat with Sean Julian

Sean Julian is an illustrator first and foremost, but he has always loved writing stories. I had the pleasure of chatting with Sean during one of our booth chats for this year’s School Library Journal Day of Dialog. Actually, I was laughing out loud for most of the time as Sean Julian is incredibly funny. 

I asked Sean to summarize his new book, Norman’s First Day at Dino Day Care , on sale July 6 in the US.

“The book is about Norman. He is the little yellow dinosaur. It’s his first day at dino day care. Norman is very nervous and he’s very shy—he hides a lot because of his shyness. Because of his size, he’s very good at it, but there is more to Norman than his shyness, and over the course of the book, you will find that he is also very clever—he is very caring and he’s very creative. With the help of one of the friends he eventually makes, he becomes very courageous and finds his courage that was hidden inside all along.

“His friend Jake is the biggest dinosaur. When they put on a show, Jake is shy of performing, which comes as a shock to Norman, but he realizes it’s not about size at all. Everyone can get shy.

“This is one of my favorite illustrations [image below]. I went to Iceland a few years ago, and one of the things I noticed when going from the airport into Reykjavik was that obviously Iceland is full of rocks, and they stack the pebbles and the rocks one on top of each other. All the way along the highway, all these stones were piled up. So, when I came to illustrate Norman, that’s one of the things I thought would be great to add to the book. And this is one of the things Norman is very clever at, and he likes to play this game by himself normally. Here, at the end of the book, once he’s made all of these friends, they play the game together.”

There are even more great details in the book—one of my favorites is a poster depicting evolution on the wall of the day care, but that’s for another time. Now, let’s hear what inspired Sean to write this book.

“Everyone at a certain point gets shy. It depends on the situation you put yourself in. I think everybody gets shy in different situations, and I do as well. That was my inspiration. And there is more to people than just shyness. We are all a mixture of lots of different emotions and characteristics.”

I asked Sean to tell us more about his painting style and how it has changed over the years. Sean loves painting. For him, his work is fun and relaxing.

“It very much helps if you enjoy what you do. For Norman’s First Day at Dino Day Care, I used acrylic paint and a very watercolor style. I spent many happy weeks and months painting these all in my little studio. It probably took one month to design and two months to paint and Photoshop and put the finishing touches on it.”

Take a look at the image below from Five Little Ducklings Go to School. “This is one of the earlier books, using one of the earlier styles I used to paint,” said Sean.

“Over the years, I have gone from thick acrylic styles—that’s what the ducklings are painted in—to a more watered-down style. You can use acrylic paint in a very thick way, or you can water it down to create a very loose water style, like I did in Norman’s First Day at Dino Day Care.

“On the cover of Norman’s First Day at Dino Day Care I used the acrylic style because I liked the line work of my drawings. I watered it down a little bit. And that’s why I am able to keep pencil lines. You get the best of both worlds with a line that is washed out. 

“I work a lot more now with the computer, with Photoshop and other computer packages. You can create a lot of textures by mixing the watercolor but also the computer texture as well. It’s a little more fresh.

“The reason why I change my style a lot is that I see other people’s artwork and I like what I see. I like to test myself to learn a new style of artwork, and that’s what makes me want to create something new.

“One thing I was taught at Mansfield Art College was not to use one thing separately, but to put everything together. My first love has always been pencil drawing, but I like using it all at the same time; if you look at my artwork in my books and you are looking closely, you see paint, you see pencil. Take a look at the [Norman] cover illustration. The actual line of this is very dark. It’s a pencil line, but I have upped the contrast in the computer, so you’ll see all pencil marks, but you’ll see pastel in there, colored pencil, dry paint, a loose watercolor paint—I like to get it all on there.”

Here are two more of our favorite books by Sean Julian:

Five Little Ducklings Go to School
Sloppy Wants a Hug

Sean Julian lives in Bristol, UK, and he has been illustrating picture books for more than 20 years. Sean studied at the Mansfield College of Art, and then moved to Bristol to study illustration. He has illustrated many of our funniest books including Sloppy Wants a Hug, Sloppy Takes the Plunge, and Five Little Ducklings Go To School.

Leave a Reply