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How a Horse Inspired a Picture Book Sensation | Catherine Rayner Guest Post

We're thrilled to be featuring a guest post from Hello, Horse illustrator Catherine Rayner. Catherine tells us all how her lovely horse Shannon served as the inspiration for her and Vivian French's picture book.

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I have had the privilege of knowing Shannon, my horse (and the star of our new book 'Hello, Horse') for 21 years exactly.

The first time I saw her I was 15 years old. I fell in love with her immediately and we have been together ever since. We used to live in Yorkshire, and when I moved to Scotland, I brought her with me. She now lives on a lovely old farm in the hills just outside Edinburgh just ten minutes from my home in the city.

Shannon is not only absolutely beautiful - she's also very funny. She is an old lady now and is very stubborn. She can also be a bit grumpy; if she's not in the mood for a chat she will just turn herself around so you end up talking to her bottom!

However, she's the kindest animal I have ever known. If I'm feeling sad she always knows and leans on me for cuddles. Despite her size she has never, ever hurt me and I have never fallen off her - not in 21 whole years! She likes to look after me, and I like to look after her.

Shannon absolutely LOVES children. I have 2 small boys and whenever I take them to see her she is always incredibly gentle and calm. She lets them tickle her and stroke her, and if they ride her she walks very slowly and carefully, to make sure they are safe. You can see that she enjoys their company and loves having them around. Although she is very big, they are not scared of her (they are very always sensible when they are near the horses).

I have sketched Shannon the whole time I have had her. I have sketch books full of drawings of her grazing in the field. She's lovely to draw. There are so many curves and also straight lines in her body. Her coat is smooth but her mane and tail are spiky - she's is a wonderful creature to look at.

I always thought of Shannon as my 'anti work'. Visiting her was a special time in the day when I could spend time with her and enjoy the peace. I kept my sketches of her private. I know her so well that I could never write a story about her. My books, so far, are all about fictional characters and the thought of writing something factual was a bit scary.

One day my lovely friend, Vivian (French) and I were talking all about a non-fiction picture book she was working on. We then somehow came up with the idea of writing one about Shannon! This seemed perfect: I love Vivian's writing and I got to draw Shannon in a way that would teach people about horses and she could be her own character! Vivian drafted a text, I did some more drawings, and work on our book 'Hello Horse' began (with a long break in the middle when I had my second baby!). Shannon is a very old lady now and I'm so pleased I'll always have this book about her.

The illustrations were made using ink, pencil, watercolour pencils, charcoal and silk-screen printing. It was a brilliant excuse to spend more time with her while I drew her for 'work'! I used blocky brush strokes to describe her body. She is so muscular and strong I felt this was the best was to paint her. Her fur changes colour in the light so I used lots of golds, oranges and different shades of brown to paint her coat.  There's even a bit of green in her! Her textured mane and tail are drawn in charcoal pencil crayon, ink and fine pen. Her whiskers are drawn with the finest pigment pen I could find (I love drawing her whiskers!).

I really hope children enjoy this book. Vivian and I are really pleased with it for many reasons, and we hope it encourages people all over the world to enjoy horses in all different kinds of ways, from looking at pictures of them, visiting them in fields or riding them. They truly are one of the world's most magnificent creatures!

Guest post by Catherine Rayner.