This is it! Here’s my display for the exhibition installed at last! Less is more…
I had planned to display the other two pieces: the book carved into a box filled with Max and Misty’s Did you know? cards and objects memorabilia as well as the wordless tunnel book. All three books have the same narrative in a different format.This is this aspect that fascinated me and I sought to explore.
However, after having a conversation with my tutors, we decided that it may be distracting from the main book itself and its innovative format. (You have to flip the book over to read both sides of the story and the resolution is in the middle). Since the book’s ending has a 3D element inside it in the form of a pop up, I didn’t mind too much. Instead, they recommended I showcased the pop up but I chose not to. It is after all the resolution of the book and readers don’t start a book by its ending. So I will let the visitor pick the bookt up (with white cotton gloves please) and discover the surprise inside it.
Creating the book has been a roller coaster. I had to wear so many hats: author, illustrator, graphic designer, bookbinder, printer and all that with some non existent skills.
I had to learn: handling watercolour since I usually paint with oils and acrylics – manipulating my artwork in Photoshop: very different from playing with special effects. I especially had to master how to hide blemishes and enhance colour so that it looks good and real and still hand painted. I am very pleased to have retained this element. It was crucial for me.
I had to discover InDesign for the layout of my book from scratch. I have definitely only scratched the surface here.
I had to think about typeface and created my own. And even though it looks amateurish I am particularly pleased with the tile because it is mine and it enhances the meaning of the book.
I had to learn how to bind a book and needless to say I am very unskilled with a needle. Preparation (flattening your signatures before hand) and preparation are key. In the end, I had to give up the idea of the hard cover. Having hard a conversation with a book maker expert, the artist in residence, Richard Nash, I agreed that the cover would look thicker than the book itself. It would have looked ridiculous. He suggested a coptc stitching but I failed to deliver. In the end I applied a basic stitching giving it my own twist to make it look pleasing to the eye. I also decided on a book jacket having had to include the cover in one of my signatures to have a multiple of 4. You live and learn, don’t you.
The most interesting aspect was the interplay between text and image. Not so much what you say but what you leave out – not so much what you show but what you leave out. It is wonderful to write and draw, you have the ability to choose the best medium for a scene. At every time, I kept my audience in mind. And although I wanted the story to be accessible I didn’t want to do all the work for them. If not what is the point of reading?
I very much enjoyed all the research about visual storytelling, child development, child psychology, and reading about semiotics. I also tried to cover the cultural aspects by researching the distribution of picture books. Children in the world are not all equal and in underdeveloped countries books are not an accessible commodity. Similarly we get to see work by a few talented artists only. Distribution of picture books is very pricey.
I also touched on the development of publishing and expressed my concern about the trend of epublishing It has a place but it is too soon to assess the impact it has on children’s literature and its audience. I personally feel that at young age, holding a tangible object and sharing a moment with a special person enhances a child’s experience. Opening a book is entering a magic world that will hopefully resonate with you for a very long time.
Finally I wanted to bring to the fore that there is not just one format for books. Books can be sculptural and many artists have demonstrated the truly amazing possibility of paper as a medium. Creating the pop up was extremely challenging and at times I didn’t think I would succeed. I am planning to also explore book arts a lot more from now on.
I wish I had more time..I will revisit my project and very likely take it apart to start all over again! I will take my time and get it right.
A good story must be character-led. A picture book has usually a main protagonist sometimes two as in my story. I see my characters as actors who must physically embody the poses, movements and emotions needed to tell the story of two best friends who fall out over a misunderstanding and realise they miss each other terribly. The narrative runs true for a pre-school child who can easily have tantrums with his best friend over anything if he/she doesn’t get her way. The trick is to make it interesting enough for the child to want to read on and see what next.
In order to achieve this the characters must be rounded and three dimensional. They must have faults too. Little Miss Perfect would be boring and totally unrealistic if she was to behave the same way from beginning to end. For Max and Misty I designed a list of words that describe them emotionally. I also designed their bedroom as characters are never isolated from their settings. I also felt a bedroom shows a lot about a character’s personality.
This approach apart from designing the bedroom in collage didn’t depart too much from the way I begin a storytelling. Dogs come more naturally as I grew up with one and I now have a lovely yellow labrador. Whereas cats are more of a challenge as I have never had any. I had to study their anatomy more, their skeleton and their personality etc..I then looked at lot of pictures of cats and dogs and watch youtube videos to understand how they move.
Another problem is I wasnt happy with the name of my cat. I kept changing it. It started with Cleo, then Coco, then Ernest to Misty for which I settled. Max and Misty had a nice ring. I liked the alliteration and the contrast between a one and a two syllable name.
Still, it took a lot more sketches for Misty than for Max. I started in pencil but because I kept rubbing out, I decided to use pen and ink instead. I had a few happy accidents that boosted my confidence.
Once I was happy with their shape, their colouring, I put them in situation alone and then together.
Capturing the essence of Max and Misty proved a lot more difficult than I had anticipated. Keeping them looking the same on every page was even harder. Keep the same outline, the same eyes, the same number of whiskers, the same rounded ears, the same floppy ears, think of the way the fur moves etc…I also studied children’s in the park, in the street to look at their body language, their expressions. I even looked at myself in the mirror for expressions. I gave Max a red collar to make him straight away recognisable. To identify him from the Wild beasts, Sendak had given a wolf suit to his main character Max (I also called my puppy Max for this reason and my dog is also called Max). I gave Misty white paws and the tip of her tail is white.
Finally, Max and Misty had to be equal. They are given the same number of lines, the same number of pages, they both had to be likeable and they both have to change in their own right. And of course, I didn’t want any hidden patronising message. This story could happen to real children who fall out and make up as friendship prevails.
I was then able to draw the roughs, create a new storyboard, import them in inDesign to construct a dummy book. This in turn gave me a tool to evaluate the layout and the composition.
I decided that the some of the events had to be changed to make the misunderstanding clearer between the two friends. On Misty;s side of the story, Max appeared to big on the page compared to her etc…. The actions didn’t show her personality enough. Misty is calmer and tidier. She had to be seen brushing her teeths!
It is at this point that I added the text… a whole new ballgame!
I touched on the conventions of the picture book genre and already alerted of my intention of breading some of these rules.
In a nutshell, I am exploring the idea of having a double sided book that will tell the same story from each character’s point of view and the resolution in the middle of the book! I felt the idea was challenging and exciting to keep me going for months. I must confess that I have never seen it done before and maybe there is a reason for it. I will have to find out if such books exist.
The second thing I decided to change was my working process. And because I am used to writing the text first, I had decided to change my working process to develop a more visual way of thinking. I therefore sketched characters first as I also decided to have a character led story as I usually start with a plot and then create characters to inhabit my world.
Once I had decided my characters would be two animals, the logical step was to choose them. Initially I settled for a bear and a penguin. Everyt ime I drew them, I felt I was too influenced by Oliver Jeffers and Catherine Rayner’s styles, who both created books with the animals. So much so that I had to give them up and chose something that would enable me artistic freedom and I elected a dog and a cat.
I sketched the dog easily and chose his name Max very easily too. I even drew him from life (which made things a lot easier) and from pictures when he was a puppy. I also studied the anatomy of dogs to include some realistic features. Moving on to the cat was trickier. I do not have one and every time I went to my neighbour’s to draw her from life, I was sneezing away and discovered my allergy was worse than I thought. I had to study cats a lot more to understand their temperament too. I struggled a lot and couldn’t settle for a name either.
I therefore decided that to change my mind on one decision I had made earlier might do the trick. I wrote the story in full. Straight into 12 spreads even though I knew I would alter the format.Self editing would have to be done later to cut the 800 to about 500 words. Nevertheless, having the story in words led to thumbnail sketches .
Putting them in a storyboard format makes it more obvious to evaluate what works and what doesn’t. My story had subplots that made me cram sequences in. It was so confusing that instead of writing less I would have to write more. I would need to choose what to leave out and what to show in images more carefully. But the biggest problem was I didn’t have enough room to expand on each character. Let me explain. A picture book has 12 double page spread or 16 for longer ones and tell a story from beginning to end. In my case, I had 6 double spread for each of my character, an overcomplicated story or stories even.
I added 2 more double page spreads for each which gave a lot more scope to understand who they were and what they were doing.I also analysed the books of authors illustrators that I liked and tried to understand what worked or what didn’t. I annotated as if I had to write an essay about them. I split the images from the text as well. It became apparent that the more simple the books were, the more appealing they were. To get a similar result was going to take a lot more planning.