From Care Bears to Paddington: Emily Charles on designing licensed jigsaw puzzles for Gibsons

Emily Charles reveals what makes an image right for a licensed jigsaw by Gibsons

Emily Charles, how did the house move go?!
Good question, thanks for asking… Don’t they say moving house is one of the most stressful things you can do?

They do…
I can attest to that being true!

Ha! Sorry I asked! Let’s draw a veil over that. So, we already know a little about your background from the interview you did with Mojo Nation. People can read that here. I wanted to follow up, though, on your licensed jigsaw titles. For context, what are your two new releases?
Two of my favourite puzzles to have had the pleasure of working on… Care Bears and Paddington 1000 piece puzzles for adults like me who are still big kids at heart!

And why those licenses, Emily? What – after all these years – still gives Paddington and Care Bears so much appeal?
It’s that warm, fuzzy, nostalgic glow that you feel when you think about these wonderful characters. They formed such a big part of childhood for so many of us, from books, films, TV adaptations and toys in their many forms throughout the years, we’ve all experienced them and for some, experienced them again with children and grandchildren. The Care Bears was a particular favourite of mine as a child.

Emily Charles, Gibsons, Toys & Games, Art

How are people reacting to the Care Bears puzzle?
It’s amazing how many people let out a little squeal of excitement when they see it for the first time! Paddington has also had a fantastic few years recently with his links with the Royal family and the success of the recent movies and another one due next year.

Yes! Anyone that doesn’t want to celebrate Paddington after he met the Queen needs their head examined! And what does working on those brands mean in terms of assets?
With both licenses, the artwork and assets that were available to play with were amazing. These puzzles aren’t just an assortment of images slapped on a puzzle: they’re super satisfying and enjoyable puzzles to piece together thanks to the details and vibrant colours.

And on that point, we’ve discussed before – although not on the record, I don’t think – the process you go through to publish a jigsaw. I suspect many people think you find a nice picture and say: “That’ll do. Stick it on a bit of cardboard, cut it up.” Is there more to it than that?
Ha! Yes I think you’ve borne witness to one of my lectures on “What makes a great puzzle?” before! Of course, there are some images and paintings that instantly lend themselves to being great puzzles. It’s hardly ever as simple as spotting a picture, printing it and cutting it up though. There’s no one solution fits all approach to creating puzzles.

Walk me through a scenario!
My team and I spend a lot of time working closely with artists and designers to create the best puzzle images. Sometimes the ideas come from the artists, and we give them feedback and make suggestions as to what we’d like to see included. At times it can be as simple as asking them to include plenty of colour variation and not leaving too much blank space. At others, the feedback can be as detailed as including a specific dog breed, outfit style, poster or vehicle within the layout.

Emily Charles, Gibsons, Toys & Games, Art

Right. And in terms of marrying someone’s artistic style with an idea… Is that a consideration?
Absolutely! There are certainly times when we might come up with an idea for a puzzle and we’ll brief an artist whom we think has the right style to bring it to life. All artists work slightly differently, so I make an effort to get to know them and collaborate with them in the right way. The aim is to create images that tell stories, are attractive to look at and are challenging to piece together… But not impossible!

Not impossible… I’m making notes! And with licensed titles, the processes differs somewhat, presumably, because you already have existing styles and imagery to which you need to adhere?
Yes, we create brand-licensed puzzles like Care Bears and Paddington are in a different way altogether. In most cases, rather than briefing an artist, our graphic designers work with the assets provided by the brand and combine them together to create a puzzle image.

Care Bears was a lot of fun to create because of the personalities and range of characters and the amazing colours. Paddington was more challenging as we were working with the original Peggy Fortnum illustrations which were drawn in black and white.

Oh! The original drawing for that is in black and white? It never crossed my mind!
Yes! We had to get really creative, but I’m so pleased with the end result! The creative teams for both brands were great to work with. They provided us with plenty of guidance and support to make sure the puzzles fitted within the brand guidelines.

Emily Charles, Gibsons, Toys & Games, Art
That’s great! And how does it work with less obvious licensing, Emily? Independent artists, for example? Do they get a royalty from every jigsaw you sell with their work on?

Yes! We have licensing deals in place for all the artwork we use on our puzzles, and with around 300 in our range each year, that’s quite a lot of deals to keep track of.

Oy, oy, oy… I can’t imagine being that organised. So let me ask you this: if other license holders are interested in partnering with Gibsons, how would they start looking into that? Can they contact you?
Of course! I speak to a lot of licensing agents and brand owners regularly; we’re always open to new opportunities. It’s usually best to contact to propose new ideas to Gibsons.

Fantastic. Thank you, Emily. Gosh, this has been a really fascinating insight into it all… I’m never going to look at a jigsaw the same way again! Let’s wrap it up with one last question: what’s the one thing I could’ve asked you about license jigsaws today but didn’t?
Oooh! I struggle with these sorts of open ended questions, Deej… Maybe: What would be my dream license to work with?

Well, your struggle is over! That’s an excellent question. What’s the answer?
From a purely personal perspective, it would be Harry Potter. I’m a huge Potterhead. Books, though – not films. I would want to have my own version of the Harry Potter world illustrated, not use stills from the movies. From a more practical, Gibsons perspective, I’d say the winning formula is anything with a healthy dose of nostalgia and a wide bank of assets!

Fantastic. Thank you so much, Emily; great stuff.

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