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Behind the Book: H is For Hummus – A Modern Parent’s ABC

January 14, 2014

H is for Hummus

Old school friends, author Joel Rickett and illustrator Spencer Wilson, came up with the idea for their book ‘H is for Hummus‘ whilst their daughters were playing in Spencer’s garden. Joel was flicking through a traditional ABC book he found on Spencer’s table, when he joked that H should really stand for ‘Hummus’. The pair started coming up with other witty alternatives (including W is for Wine Time) and the idea for a modern ABC was born. Gently poking fun at the unwritten rules of modern parenting, it provides a little bit of light relief in a world filled with Pizza Express dough balls, Babyccinos and Micro Scooters. We caught up with Joel and Spencer to find out more. Scroll down to read our interview with them.

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Who else is in your team? Where are you based?
Spencer: I’m a co-founder of the Peepshow Collective, an illustration, animation and design company based in Hoxton, London. However a few years back I took a space nearer to home – an old studio in Berkhamsted, Herts. It use to be the kitchen area of a restaurant and then a place to dry clay pots. It’s a rough and ready place but that’s part of the charm.

For the “H is for Hummus” book, I worked with Joel Rickett, author of the book and also Publisher at Penguin. He’s based in Penguin towers London and gets to “do lunch” a lot.

Describe your creative space…
Spencer: My studio is often a clutter of paper, old cups, pens, cables, books and toys. I strive for a tidy, minimal, beautifully designed space but like my mind it’s usually all over the place.

Where do you draw inspiration from?
Spencer: Personally I find that inspiration can come from the most unlikely sources. Sometimes it’s a paragraph or phrase from a book that will spark a picture or thought, it could also be a moment in a film, staring out of a train window, a passing comment or just watching my daughters play. Being a father, most of my personal work is driven by them.

The inspiration for the book came because Joel & I (who are old friends) had kids at the same time – we each had two girls. So we shared a lot of the same experiences, the joys and hells of being a dad. The book came about because of a joke between us about how classic ABC books needed updating – and the first letter that came to mind was “H is for Hummus”. The idea was both to celebrate and poke fun at the buzzwords and brands of modern parenting – we love the way this new universe opens up when you have kids, full of “must-haves” and terms that would have been alien to our parents’ generation.

What techniques do you use to create your illustrations?
Spencer: Most of my work starts life as a very rough sketch in a battered A5 sketchbook created with whatever I have to hand – I’d liken the process to a secretary using shorthand. It then gets worked up digitally, into  Adobe Illustrator, where I can tweak, develop and finesse the idea and design until I’m happy with it.

How would you describe your illustration style?
Spencer: Clean, crisp and contemporary.

Can you describe the process behind one of your pictures from conception to print?
Spencer: In relation to “H is for Hummus”,  I worked up a few quick visuals after our initial chat and sent them to Joel to get the ball rolling. A few emails later we “did lunch” and went through the alphabet, generating lots words for each letter. These got refined into a list of what was funny, visually strong and more importantly possible to illustrate. These where then showed to family and friends before being passed through the legal department.

What is lacking from the traditional ABC stories?
Spencer: There are some beautiful classic ABCs that we love – we would never challenge them. But many were drawn and published in a different era, and even some of the modern ones feel very safe and sanitised. We wanted to create an ABC to reflect the busy life of today’s toddlers!

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What is your favourite modern parenting moment?
Spencer: Watching my youngest steal smoked salmon from my plate with a cheeky smile.
Joel: Sophie’s first full word was “robust”. She likes Olives, Organic Rice Cakes, and… Hummus.

Is this book for children or their parents?
Really the book is for parents to share, but we’ve been so pleased that kids seem to like it. They must recognise their world. Most of the words are phonetic, so it’s educational too!

What is the first / favourite picture book that you can remember as a child?
Spencer : My memory is a little patchy, but I do remember a fantastic book I had as a kid about the Barbpapas. I can’t recall the title but I can still remember looking at the cut away homes they lived in. Those buildings seemed so amazing at the time and I would sit and do my own versions.

Joel: I was addicted to The Tiger Who Came To Tea by Judith Kerr – so much that when our first daughter was born, we named her Sophie.

Spencer, you have two daughters do you create art with them?
The girls are less interested in drawing and more interested in dancing. Currently Gracie does street and ballroom dancing. Isla’s just given up ballet and will be doing street dance next term. Weekends are spent making up moves, singing and generally trying to outdo each other.

What other creative projects are you working on at the moment?
Spencer: Presently I’m back in the world of commercial art. However I’ve got a commission lined up with UCLH Hospital to create an underwater wall graphic which should be fun.

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