Imagine that! An inspiring interview with illustrator Adam Hancher

Wondering who dreamed up all the delightful illustrations in our new bedtime book, Dream Big, Little One? They’re the work of Wonderbly’s in-house illustrator, Adam Hancher! Not only is Adam a wizard with a pencil, he’s also a first-time dad to baby Miles. Read our interview to discover how he created his magical illustrations, and his hopes and dreams for his own little one. 

Headshot Adam Hancher

What was your favorite bedtime story as a kid?

I remember my Dad reading The Secret Island by Enid Blyton to me, one chapter a night. I can barely remember what happens in it now, what’s clear in my mind is being excited about bedtime. To find out what happened next, and to have my Dad read to me.

How did you approach illustrating Dream Big, Little One?

What a joy it is to go to sleep and experience the exciting wonder of dreams. This was the concept presented to me by our story team. The plot doesn’t unfold through dialogue, it’s a very visual story, so the focus needed to be emotion and atmosphere. With all this in mind I sketched ideas, made notes and produced some rough artwork to explore the mood.

With a first draft of the manuscript in hand, I began drawing thumbnail illustrations for each page. Creating a visual narrative that didn’t exist in the text, but that worked with the text to tell a complete story. As a team (writers, producers, designers) we used these sketches to narrow down what each section represents. We cut scenes, created new scenes and merged ideas together to make the entire book stronger.

sketches in dream big little one

How did you create all the dreamy landscapes and characters?

Dreams are strange experiences with disconnected logic, and the best dreams are exciting. To communicate this I chose to loosely paint backgrounds with expressive brush marks full of movement. I wanted to emphasise that sense of rhythm and movement on each spread, to keep pushing the reader on. So I made use of flowing mist, falling stars, flying birds and so on. 

It’s a magical world full of color, so planning how the color palettes would progress through the book was important. I also made the very important decision to throw a lot of stars and sparkle at every page, to really hit home that it’s a moonlit dreamscape.

I added the elephant early on, because a heavy animal walking on these light clouds felt very dreamlike to me. The Unicorn, too, made complete sense. It’s a creature of magic, stars and sparkle!

There are certain bedtime stories that you can’t help but let influence you on a project like this. Artists like Windsor McCay, stories like Peter Pan. I also found inspiration in background art from anime, Sailor Moon in particular. Dreamlike, cosmic gradients and moonlit watercolor backdrops. The character designs are a little more figurative in their proportions, so I used pencil and watercolor brushes in Photoshop as a nod to traditional storybook illustration styles.

illustration of an elephant in dream big little one

You recently became a dad for the first time – congratulations! Do you have any tips for a cosy sleep routine?

Our son is 6 months old, so we’re not quite at a cosy routine yet. The first few months were incredibly difficult, we didn’t get more than 4 hours sleep a night. Now is definitely better, but sleeping through the night isn’t a thing yet.

Here are a list of things that have helped us:

  • White noise machine (there’s a stream running through our bedroom every-night).
  • A baby monitor (keep an eye on him without disturbing him)
  • Dummy
  • Sleeping Bag (for the child)
  • Solid food. (Miles’ sleeping habits improved once we began weening)

We have co-slept, we’ve had a side-sleeper, now he’s in a cot. It’s all trial and error and it constantly changes. The irony of this book is that during its creation I was completely sleep deprived. So it’s quite likely there is some wish fulfilment involved in the artwork!

illustrations in dream big little one

What’s the best bit of parenting advice someone has given you?

We haven’t really been given any. Parents in our lives are pretty honest about the difficulties they face, and all seem to appreciate that what works for some kids just doesn’t work for others.

We are lucky to have close friends who are new-ish parents too, and we joined an amazing NCT group during pregnancy (do this if you can). Asking for advice, sharing milestones – the community aspect of it is really important. 

We make sure each of us get some time for ourselves, to see friends or even just get some time alone. I went by myself to see Spiderman at the cinema, it was a highlight of 2021. Some good advice: if you want to get a new parent a gift (aside from a personalized children’s book) buy or make them some food!  Baby clothes and toys are lovely, but delicious treats delivered to our door were the best gifts we received when we were too tired to cook.

How will you encourage your little one to dream big as they grow up?

I’m excited to introduce Miles to all the things I love in life. Share knowledge, build things, create things, explore the outdoors, cook things, take him to a Judo class (a long lost hobby of mine). I’m equally excited to see what I’ll discover through him. I didn’t share a lot of my parents’ interests, but they spent a lot of time with mine.

I’ll be curious to see what he wants to do. I’d love him to be passionate about his work, if he’s not that’s fine, there are more things in life to enjoy. Most of all I want him to be happy and kind. To have an open approach to people and the world is all I wish for him. There’s so much amazing stuff out there for him to experience, I just want him to have the confidence to explore it all.

illustration of a boy under water

What are you looking forward to illustrating in the future?

A book about fairy tales (I hope!)

Know a sweet little dreamer?

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