At Work With: Cathy Olmedillas, Anorak

As it’s the half term school holiday, we look at the week ahead with Cathy Olmedillas, founder and editor of Anorak, the ‘Happy Mag for Kids’. Launched in 2006, Anorak has grown to include French and US editions as well as book and app spin-offs.

Where are you today?
I am sitting at my desk (above), facing a print from Rob Flowers which I guess sums up how I have felt lately. The last month has been about production, production and more production. Firstly, it was the May issue (out now) . Currently it is about a super exciting project ‘The Big Book of Anorak’, coming out in September but I am not saying anymore than that! Later in the week, I’ll be finalising the July edition which goes to press in a couple of weeks. Altogether it’s about 350 pages to devise, write and check. Not that I am complaining as poring over all this beautiful artwork is a joy, but one needs to stay focused!

What can you see from your window?
The overground train passing by, a giant drill, rooftops and flats. I work and live in Haggerston (East London) which, from my window, looks more like Manhattan than London. A month ago, my view was blocked by an ugly old office building. It was knocked down a couple of weeks back. I loved looking at the great big cranes smashing it to pieces. Regeneration can be a good thing!


What is your favorite magazine this morning?

During intense production periods like this one, I don’t tend to look at or read magazines because all I seem to see is hanging words, widows or spelling mistakes! So right now, I am reading ‘We, The Drowned’ by Carsten Jensen. It is the history of a Danish town from the 1800s onwards and it’s the perfect escape from typesetting hell!

How many emails are waiting in your inbox?
66, which is a good day! Pointless press releases (“Such and Such celebrity seen in such and such shoes”). Happy emails from kids. Invoices. Requests for free copies. Printing quotes. Distributors sales reports. But a lot of them are portfolios from illustrators. I do go through each of them and reply to all of them eventually but it takes me time as I receive on average 3 to 4 a day.


Who buys Anorak – parents or kids?

Parents, kids, grandparents, aunties, uncles, godparents etc… parents will make the first purchase but kids will want to receive it through the post after that.

You’ve experimented with Anorak apps. Do kids prefer print or digital?
If you were looking purely at it from a sales perspective, you would deduce that they prefer print as we sell more copies of the magazine than we have sold apps. If you look at national stats, physical books and magazines are still more popular than e-books. Kids love digital culture, but I think, increasingly, parents want their children to spend time away from the screen. It will never replace kicking a (real) ball in the park or taking a (real) pencil and doing some (real) drawing. Oh at least I hope not!

I think each medium has its merit and its own specific use, and while I was tempted to go digital a couple of years ago with Anorak, I soon parked the idea. I thought very carefully about what Anorak is and what it stands for. I think its essence is in being a beautiful object that you cherish, thumb through, smell, colour in, keep, go back to and display proudly on your shelves. All these lovely things that an e-book just doesn’t do.

The move from a regular design partner to working with different designers each issue has given Anorak a visual lift. How does that work in practice?
Thank you. I really enjoy the process, even though it involves a lot of planning ahead and discipline.

By definition, Anorak has always been about inspiring kids with visually amazing work, as well as giving them something truly new, surprising and unexpected every issue. Working with different illustrators and designers makes it easy to keep variety and surprise going.


For the covers and themes, I work roughly one year in advance, which was difficult to get used to at first, but it’s now part of my routine. I have a wish list of illustrators who I want to collaborate with and once I have drawn up a brief and budget, I match them with the most suited theme. I usually pick illustrators because of their consistent portfolio so I am confident that what I see is what I will get. This also allows me to give everyone plenty of freedom. I think people produce their best work if you are not too prescriptive. Sometimes I may request a certain colour palette because for some strange reasons, even though everyone is briefed independently, we sometimes end up with three consecutive covers with the same tones! But, otherwise it’s a pretty free and trusting process!


What was the last thing your latest design collaborator said to you?

‘I am here all day and all night.’ That was from the amazing Asa Wikman who has been working so hard on the ‘Big Book of Anorak’.

What are you looking forward to this week?
Being a Mum! It’s half term holiday week so plenty of fun is lined up. That’s one of the advantages of running your own business: you can be flexible with your own hours. So while work doesn’t stop completely at half term and while it is hard to disconnect from Anorak, half term gives me an opportunity to spend time with my son Oscar, step away from my computer and get inspired by visiting museums or foreign lands.

What are you least looking forward to this week?
Nothing really. Waiting for issues to come back from the printers is always an anxious time but I don’t want to think about that for too long!

What are you doing after this chat?
We are off to Coram Fields for their sports day (egg and spoon race, yeepee!) and then off to John Soanes Museum for a spot of ‘staring at old things’ which I love doing!


On a typical Anorak day, I start the day by doing the school run (on our bikes), go home where I work from, have scrambled eggs, Tweet, process sales, Facebook, answer emails – which vary from ‘HEY ANORAK I AM HECTOR AND I AM 5, YOU ARE AWSUM’ (sic) to ‘would you be interested in designing this poster for us?’ – , Instagram, listen to cheesy tunes on AbacusFM, email journalists or bloggers, chase invoices, Tweet again, write a blog post, jump back on my bike for the school run, get a treat from the ice cream van (weather permitting), Instagram again and go home. While my son does his homework I answer more emails, do tweaks to the flatplan and together we pick books to send to our little editors for them to review. I tend to leave anything creative like writing or commissioning for the evenings or on quiet weekends so I have a clear-ish brain.

Anorak magazine.

 

Comment on May 27, 2013 by Saskia says:

Great interview. Anorak is an absolute inspiration. So happy to see it not only survive smack-bang in the middle of the digital age, but prosper! My son and I look forward to it every issue. So pleased to see original illustration respected and celebrated too!

Comment on May 28, 2013 by Kate Johnson says:

I’m lucky enough to be part of Cathy’s Anorak team – as a freelance writer and editor, an illustrator’s wife, and a mother of two small boys, it is an absolute PEACH of a job that I look forward to and genuinely get excited about starting every couple of months.

I’m so glad Anorak has remained in print and not gone over to digital – its touch quality can’t be replaced or emanated, and Cathy’s point about children having time away from the screen will become even more valid over the coming years. My nearly-five-year-old is a couple of years younger than Anorak’s target age, but he pores over its pages when it arrives, and when I watch him looking through it, I see that his experience of it is fully ‘interactive’. We never look at an issue just once – he insists on returning to it again and again.

Comment on June 1, 2013 by MIGA Magazine says:

I totally agree with you,Cathy’s work is great. Interesting interview!

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