Archive for the 'Character Design' Category

Inside an Illustrator’s Head

So I’ve been working on a new picture book. And for the first time in a while, this one is not about a little rabbit named Squish. The other day my mum asked me what Squish thought about being ejected from my mind for another character. I think he’s coping, but he’s definitely curious about ‘the new guy’ and is reserving judgement.

This is a bit what it all looks like…

It’s a strange thing to have a little blue pig romping around your mind. A strange and wonderful thing. I’m not sure where he will take me just yet, but I’m certainly enjoying getting to know him.

I also thought I’d better put up another photo, in response to this one from my last post:

There’s been a bit of contention as to what’s real. I labelled it as Squish Rabbit reading his own book while wearing a giraffe beanie. After all, it was a cold weekend in Brisbane. Some questioned whether I was being ridiculous (and to be honest, this does happen sometimes) and felt that this was actually just a giraffe toy pretending to be Squish. But here is photo evidence that the giraffe beanie does indeed exist:

I wore it at the Ekka yesterday. In public. And took a photo. I suppose this also serves as evidence that I am sometimes ridiculous.

Squish Loves Boxes

I have to begin this post with a confession. It’s something I’m sure all writers do, but we rarely speak about it. Yes. Well. I suppose I better get to the point? So … the other day I was googling my name …(ahem)… and came across an amazing children’s bookstore in Cincinnati, called Blue Manatee. The reason they came up in my search is because a few weeks back they hosted a Squish Rabbit craft day, where kids were invited to make collage pictures from the book. How cool is that? Even now one of my favourite things to do is get messy (and creative) with paper and glue, so it was a thrill seeing my book being used to encourage this.

I contacted the bookstore to thank them, and it turns out the kids are not the only ones getting creative in store. This bookstore is soon launching something called ‘Blue Manatee Boxes‘ – a fun new way of buying books, which is described on their website:

The mission of blue manatee boxes™ is to provide unique gift boxes for babies and young children featuring books and materials that promote reading, creative play, and parent-child engagement, in a fun, affordable, sustainable, and developmentally-sound manner.

Through this you can order special packs of pre-chosen books (grouped by theme and interest) or choose your own favourites. However what’s unique about this initiative is that kids are encouraged to reuse the packaging the books are sent in. Suggestions are provided for creative ways to reuse the box in play and even the styrofoam cushioning isn’t wasted. Many children’s illustrators have joined in on the fun, sending in illustrated examples of how their characters would use boxes (which are featured on the website). John, the lovely owner of the bookstore, wrote to ask if I would participate. And as both Squish and I are long time lovers of boxes and silliness, I couldn’t say no…

They feature Squish and I on their website, but you can also click on the image above to see a bigger version.

Voices on the Coast Part 2

This was my first year at Voices on the Coast, where I ran several different kinds of workshops with both primary and secondary students. My favourite part of these kind of events is meeting the kids and teens, as they’re funny and inspiring and so much more clever than I was at their age. Here are some of the drawings we did together in the primary school workshops…

Squishy Speech Bubbles

In this session I talked about how I tell my stories visually. We discussed emotion, body language, facial expression and a visual storytelling method I use in Squish Rabbit: pictorial speech bubbles. In this activity I had the kids brainstorm what picture we could draw in the speech bubble to let a reader know that Squish is hungry. There were some great creative suggestions, including tacos, sushi, pancakes and guacamole. We also discussed what each food would tell us about the kind of rabbit Squish is (ie. sushi might tell us he is Japanese, or well travelled, or is quite adventurous for a small rabbit).

We then chose one food to draw together – in the above class we chose a burger and the kids suggested all kinds of things to fill it with (clearly, we had to sneak in a carrot). We then worked on making it look extra tasty so the reader would really empathise with Squish and feel his hunger – notice the smell wafting, the sesame seeds and the big bite mark.

Making Monsters

In this session I talked all about characterisation – how I create my characters, the research involved and the drawing process. I used the example of a picture book of mine called ‘Monster Music’, where I had to create a whole horde of little monsters. In coming up with the characters, I actually drew about 100 different monsters before deciding on which ones to use in the book. In order to make sure they all looked like they belonged together and ensure they weren’t too scary (the story is more playful) I ended up basing each character on an animal and then adapting it. After demonstrating this I got the class to choose an animal to base our monster on.

The above class chose a bird, so together we brainstormed a couple of features unique to birds in which we’d keep – you can see they chose a beak, wings, feathers and claws. Next comes my favourite bit – we worked together to monster-ify our bird. The kids came up with all sorts of crazy ideas to make sure our character was really monster-like (the girls often want to keep their monsters cute, but the boys are quick to add fangs and blood). And did anyone notice the bunny ears on my monster? It actually wasn’t my idea!

The kids were a blast, and I wish I could show you all the zany foods and monsters they created. Or maybe instead I’ll just borrow some of their clever ideas for my next book… mwa ha ha <evil artist laugh>.

Power of Suggestion

I finished editing a story the other day. It’s an early reader I first wrote a few years ago and it’s been through many drafts and rewrites. Settings have changed. Characters have been edited out. Darlings have been murdered. I sent it off to my agent and planned to put it out of my head until I heard her thoughts. I was going to be incredibly sensible about it all. ‘I’m not going to draw the characters,’ I told myself. ‘I’ll wait and see if there’s any interest in it first’.

Along comes my writing partner. ‘Have you started illustrating it yet?’ she says. I told her no (loudly), and repeated that I was being horribly sensible about it all. But my characters heard her. After that simple question, the mere suggestion of illustrating, they wouldn’t leave me alone. Talk about a riot. They pestered me until I had to draw them just to get them out of my head. And who would have thought, after I got over the self-doubt this illustration project stirred up (see my last post) I actually had some fun too.

Who needs ‘sensible’ anyway? And if the story doesn’t go anywhere, I’m still practicing and developing my style and getting more confident with each pen stroke. You’ll find some of the riot below…

Illustration Wednesday

To an outsider, my work methods may seem a little manic. It could look like I flicker between projects with no rhyme or reason, but it’s not true. Having several projects on the go at once not only helps me to stay fresh, but also provides me with time to think. I’ve learnt that much of writing and illustrating is thinking – allowing the stories and characters space / time to grow in my mind.

For instance, recently I drew little Piggy-Wilikins for the first time, simply to get him out of my head, but his story hasn’t arrived yet so afterwards I moved onto the next project. I know when I return I will have a story for him. The next project was the new rabbit story I mentioned below. I’d written a few drafts of the story and had some basic character sketches, and was finally ready to do the character designing (some of which you can see below). With that done, it’s not quite ready to be put to a storyboard yet as I want the story in my head a little longer, so I set it aside and took up the next project. So now I’ve gone back to a story that’s been around for a while – one I storyboarded out a few months back. I’ve just started the final art, which has to be my favourite part, watching the book appear in front of my eyes.

The other stories are still there, comfortably seated in my subconscious, mingling and growing and preparing themselves for the next stage. They’ll let me know when they’re ready.

Illustration Sunday

There seem to be two ways picture books develop for me:

  1. The story comes first: something triggers an idea for a story, so I write the first draft before setting out to design characters to fit it
  2. The character comes first: a vivid character turns up in my mind and demands to be drawn, and after a while their story becomes apparent

My little monsters are an example of the first, while Squish Rabbit is an example of the second (Squish was with me for about 2 years before his story turned up). Below are my latest sketches and another example of the latter. About a month ago I woke up with this character’s name and image firmly in the front of my mind. Even though I was desperate to draw him then and there, I didn’t. Just like with my story ideas, I’ve learnt that putting characters in my sketchbook too early can trap them on the page. If I leave them in my head for a month or so, they’ll grow and change. It gives me time to watch them gamble about; to observe how they move and interact with the world. Are they confident, shy, clumsy or zen like? Do they seek to be with others or prefer to wander alone? What do they look like from each and every angle?

Just yesterday I was finally ready to draw my new character. His name is Piggy-Wilikins, a tiny teacup pig with big ears:

His story hasn’t turned up yet, but I know it will – and I’m certain it wont take as long as Squish’s did! I’m starting to get a good sense of his personality already, and I think he may just be my very first confident protagonist (although he’s still a misfit, which seems to be developing into my trademark). Now I have him down on paper I can get back to the story I’m supposed to be working on – the storyboard of a new rabbit picture book. I’ll be posting character sketches from that project in the next few days.

Please excuse me while I hop off to dabble in some rabbity ink…

PS. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Storyboarding

Rabbit - balloonWhen it comes to picture books I love the initial writing and character design phases, but it’s when I sit down to storyboard that the magic happens. Images and words weave together, characters run across the page, meaning unfurls and the story comes alive.

Storyboarding is designing the 14 spreads of a picture book – combining the words and illustrations on the page to create the final layout you’ll see in the printed form. When I’m storyboarding, there are three main things I keep in mind:

  1. Mood: what is the mood of each scene and how can I capture it?
  2. Character: how can I best convey the essence of each character?
  3. Story Arc: how can I build the story towards the climax and deliver a satisfying end?

For me, these are the essential elements of story. They’re especially important (and difficult) to capture in a picture book, as there’s so little room and time in which to do so. These are some techniques I use to capture the story elements and create interest when storyboarding:

  • Vary the Layout: such as close-ups vs distance shots, different viewpoint angles, changing where you place the characters on the page from spread to spread
  • Consider Positive & Negative Space: too many consecutive spreads with full bleed images can be overwhelming, or worse, boring. Moving between full-page and part-page images creates contrast
  • Match Composition & Mood: if a character is shocked / scared, a severe close up of their eyes may heighten this for the viewer, or if a character is lonely, a distance shot with blank space around them could evoke a sense of isolation
  • Body-Language: make sure the characters’ positioning, stance and interaction with the environment is consistent, but varies across the spreads for interest
  • Use of Colour: even though I storyboard in black and white, I think a lot about colour.  Colour can be used for contrast, to create focus and to evoke mood

2009-11-03Here you can see an example storyboard from my latest picture book. I created the template in word, with four spreads to a page, and I print off as many as I need for each project. The images are small, as thumbnail sketches are best for studying composition. My rule is to keep the images quick and rough, as I shouldn’t be focusing on how ‘good’ an image is at this stage: layout is key. Most importantly, I need to be able to view all spreads at once, as this is the best way to spot repetition. I always write the text next to the images so I can work on them together – once I’ve designed the spreads I often cut back on the text in order to let the images speak for themselves. Storyboards are useful even for non-illustrators – you can lay out the words, ensuring your story fits well across the 14 spreads and gives the illustrator enough variety to work with.

I’ve finished this storyboard for now, but just like a novel draft, I’ll now leave it to simmer for a while. When I come back to it with fresh eyes, I know I’ll be better able to spot its strengths and weaknesses.


About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

Released Sept 2012:

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