Blogging is a funny thing. You get on a nice schedule and do it weekly, and then life happens, and suddenly you haven’t posted anything new for two months. I almost had an excuse in June, as I was getting married and off on my honeymoon, but the last month has just been busy, and the routine was broken, so I slipped.
One good thing in the case of this blog is I have incidentally been incredibly busy with art, so now that I am back in action, I do actually have things to talk about.
Several months ago I was hired on as the illustrator for an independent Children’s Book called “Kikir of the Walking Trees.” It is a unique and interesting book because it doesn’t have an ending. The idea behind the book is to get kids thinking about global environmental issues as well as humanitarian issues such as the refugee situation, but in a fun mystical setting. Children come up with their own ending, while being (hopefully) inspired by exciting and imaginative characters.
This is where I come into play. Illustrating a book has been a completely new artistic experience for me and while it has been extremely fun and rewarding, it has also been extremely challenging.
Over the next few blog posts, I will talk about the challenges I have faced in Illustrating a children’s book, and how I worked through them.
This is the first major challenge I have had to face, and certainly one of the greatest challenges.
I typically work from photographs that I have taken and take quite a realism approach, so creating characters is a whole new field of art. Especially when the main characters of this book are walking trees! Walking trees with no knees, mind you, so I also couldn’t just take the Lord of the Rings approach on Ents. It had to be a whole new thing. There are a few references of various tree people on the internet, but really nothing along the lines of what we were looking for. Dee, the author, wanted to go for something tribal and tough, but also very caring. I personally wanted to make sure these characters were inviting and friendly for children, without coming across as soft or goofy. Phew, an undertaking!
It took a multitude of sketches first to figure out the bodies, and then to perfect the faces. I even did a full painting of the main character, Kikir, and then scratched that and started over. Technically I did use some of the same key elements in the body shape, but the look was entirely different.
Another thing I wanted to focus on for these characters was to make sure that they all looked similar, but also all looked very different. For the older trees I have tried to take my inspiration from different species of trees. The leader “Big Tree” is a nice solid oak, while his wife is fashioned after a swirling eucalyptus (though with deciduous hair because I like color), and an elder is a somewhat gnarled birch.
For these characters I have spent a significant amount of time perusing the internet as well as the local botanical gardens in order to design the right looks for each different tree. I actually walk past a small birch tree every day on my way to work that gave me the inspiration for the elder tree. The tree on my walk transitions from Dark rough bark at the bottom and then becomes the smoother white bark a few feet off the ground. I thought this look would make for a wonderfully unique character. He may be a relatively tertiary character, but he still helps bring the book and tree tribe to life!
For the children, or saplings, like Kikir, I tried for a range of young plant characteristics. Kikir, is a nice smooth green sapling with flower petals for hair. In contrast, one of her companions is very woody, with spiky bush like shoots sprouting from the top of his head.
To tie all the tree characters together, they are each marked with unique but related green facial, arm, body and root tattoos, tying the tribe together.
Despite the challenges, it has been a lot of fun to create these quirky characters.