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.
There is more than one way to tell a story. I explored a few possibilities and this is the outcome…
Fairy tales sand classics are layered with meanings and symbolism not just make believe and magic tales. Picture books are too but this is not as readily recognised. The stories can in the same way be used to analyse child development from a scientific and philosophical point of view.
The swiss psychologist Jean Piaget developped a model of cognitive theory of development. It has been modified since but it is still widely used today. Basically child development is divided in three stages. In the first one between 0 and 2 years, children are egocentric and can only recognise what they are discovering through all their senses. In terms of literature, board books and novelty books are best tailored to enhance their experience. The second stage between 2 and 7 years of age is what Piaget referred to as the pre operational stage whereby a child only begins to develop logic and a basic understanding of the physical world. Abstract concepts are not understood very well yet but basic concepts such as colours,shapes,sizes, texture…are within reach so much so that it is the best time for picture book to further develop their worldwide knowledge. During the third stage between 7 and 11, children have developed rudimentary logic and can problem solve. They understand abstract thoughts such as time and space. There is where fiction in the form of chapter books and in Europe and USA illustrated storybooks are totally appropriate. I would argue that sophisticated picture books would be ideal to but often they are frowned upon by parents and teachers as going backward. This would be another debate.The final stage is for 11+ onwards where Young adult fiction is great.
Lawrence Kohlberg an American psychologist, also developed a theory on moral development and identified 3 levels with two stages each. the first level from 0 to 7 years is the preconventioal level. Children cannot measure the consequences of their actions the first stage is the assimilation to bad behaviour and punishment and the second is positive reinforcement. The second level occurs between 7 and 11 where the child develops a better idea of the world around him and the values of living in a community. In the first stage, the child wants to conform as he does not want to disappoint. In the second, he conforms not to be disruptive. Int the final level, the post conventional level (11-15 years) a child understands the idea of exchange and morality and in the second stage he can debate and accept the views of others.
ERik Erikson, a German born American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst identified five stages of psychosocial development. The first one(0-18 months) where the child has unconditional trust for a carer. Books themes are reassurance and unconditional love. The since sate (18months-3years) is when the child starts becoming more independent and explore the world, overcoming self doubt and fear. The children’s market provides a plethora of imaginative stories for this age group. the thirds stage is when a child aged 3 to 6 years develops an understanding of conflict and learn to deal with their emotions. the fourth stage (7-11 years) sees the child learning to cope with failure for the first time as he understands the concept. The final stage is identity and its crisis when the child becomes an adolescent.
Understanding theories can help an author/illustrator shape their stories to meet the need of their audience. Often, it will be spontaneous especially if as in my case you are a parent or have been teaching children.
Reflecting on my work for the final project, this is the way my book could be analysed according to the 3 models highlighted above:
My target audience is 3-6 years.
Piaget: Max and Misty will be accepted as talking animals. A child will believe they sing and cook together. And will be eager to follow their adventure.
ERikson: We are in the second stage. Max and Misty exercise their autonomy and explore the world. We are also in the 3rd stage where they both establish their responsibility and are willing to resolve their conflict.
Kohlberg: were are in the 1st stage level 2 where Max and Misty can reflect on their actions and say sorry to one another.
Picture books’ resolutions ALWASY empowers the protagonist (in my case the two protagonists) which in turn empowers the child himself. I have only scratched the surface of child development and will read more about the implications in children literature in the future. I would also need to analyse how more recent theories take into account the fact that children are bombarded with visual imagery from a younger age and how their development is affected. It must be. In my experience, I find children seem more advanced than ever before. They have the vocabulary and the visual knowledge. But what do they really understand and how do they process the plethora of information. Do we allow children to remain children for as long as we should?
I stopped looking at books a little while ago in order not to be influenced by other artists’ styles. Also I had failed to find picture books that told the same story from two points of view…this was until a few friends mentioned some books they had come across. So against my better judgement I decided to have a look. Everything has been done before but it always comes down to how.
The first book tells two different stories during the day and at night. Toddlers are the target audience. The colours are vivid, the illustrations appealing to a young child who will have great fun at discovering the world around him.
The resolutions, is, however, somewhat disappointing. There was no effort to make it easily readable from both sides: You have to flip the book over to read the text.
The second book is Tunnel and Le Tunnel by Brian Wildsmith.
The tunnel tells the story from Marcus’ point of view and Le Tunnel from Pierre’s in french bien sur! Both moles want to meet up and dig a tunnel under the channel. The book is innovative and packed with paper engineering. The hole gets bigger as they dig. There are wheels you can turn to see what the moles can see until Pierre sees Marcus and vice versa.
Original but the artwork looks busy and cluttered and the layout remains the same throughout . The image at the top with the chunky text sitting below
Wildsmith is a talented artist but this is not my favourite book. I love the concept though.
The last book I came across is probably the most different one. It reads from both sides and also converges in the middle However the english side reads from left to right and the japanese one from right to left. I knew Eric Carle and admire his colourful tissue paper collage and this book does not disappoint.I particularly enjoyed the resolution with the paper unfolding in the middle spread. I initially thought of doing this for Max and Misty but I had the problem that the text would have been upside down and I really didn’t want the hassle of having to twist the book around to read the ending. Here, in where are you going, because english and japanese read differently on the page, the problem is solved. I loved this book.
Three books with the same concept. Three different resolutions. Mine is also different. I introduced paper engineering in the form of a pop up. It hasn’t been plain sailing and at times, I wished I hadn’t thought of that. My pop up is far from perfect but it works. I am proud to have achieved this without prior knowledge. The workshop I attended earlier with Andy Singleton and Richard Sweeney gave me the confidence to attempt something new. I am glad I did. I also made the decision to have swirly text to emulate dynamism and happiness. One has still have to twist the book round but it is fun. (I hope!)
I stumbled upon Paula Rego’s work as I conducted more research in narrative art. I found her work of particular interest because of the way she appropriates the narratives she read in books without being dictated by them. She uses them as a starting point I suppose. She visually rewrites the narratives and turns them into a series of paintings. Looking at her work is similar to reading in between the lines. What is more important is what has been left out rather than told. She accentuates some details and leaves others out. She has no interest in conventional ideas of beauty, or in conventional ideas of art. Art, she says, is ‘disgusting and to be avoided’, by which she probably means do not play it safe and sterile. What interests her is ‘the beautiful grotesque’.
I am particularly interested in the body of works that reference fairy tales. She doesn’t shy away from showing the dark aspects of these tales. For instance, in Little Red Riding Hood, the themes of ambiguity and violence are present just as they are in the tale itself.
At the end of the tale, Little Red Riding Hood’s innocence dies with her as she is eaten by the wolf. Some theoreticians such as Zack Zipes, an expert on Brothers Grimm, argued that the ending was a sexual act symbolising the chaos of nature. The Brother Grimm tales are still very relevant since we are still attracted to them today. They deal with essential human struggles which are universal and sadly all too common. Most fairy tales are dark because they deal with traumatic incidents that have happened in real life. They can be whimsical despite the dark overtone but they are satisfying because they give the readers a catharsis that helps him overcome whatever it is he s dealing with. I am of course looking at this from an adult’s point of view. A child may not be aware of the undertone especially since there has been many different versions of fairy tales. Some have been turned as a cautionary story warning children to behave and listen to their parents. So in the case of LIttle Red Riding Hood, if she had listened and never left the path, nothing bad would have happened to her.
Contemporary filmmakers and writers, however, reinvent earliest versions of the tale by indulging in the very dark symbolism and the theme of sexual awakening. I am thinking of “Red Riding Hood” written by David Johnson which Catherine Hardwicke directed. Here a werewolf is introduced in medieval times.
Rego’swork illustrates fully the Portuguese proverb :”Whoever tells a story adds a facet.” As a painter, printmaker and collage artist, her style moved away from loose lines to stronger ones. Rego was influenced by surrealism and in particular by the work of Joan Miro. She is in the tradition of automatic drawings whereby the artist disengages the conscious mind from the process of making, allowing the unconscious to direct the image making. But no matter what, her work has always a strong narrative element in place.
My thinking process
Her approach is appealing as I have never adopted this process before. I am more of a planner. I suppose I take a lot of time planning in my head and jolting things down before actually grabbing a paintbrush. I wouldn’t have the confidence of tackling a blank canvas (and I like to paint big) without the initial thought process. I then have the feeling I anticipated as many problems of composition, theme …as possible before new ones arise as I go along. It leaves free to then grow the work organically directly on the canvas.
I think best when I take my dog for a walk. This is when my problem solving happens. Rain or shine, I brave the element because it is the only way I can declutter the mess in my brain. And also it is really healthy so I kill two birds with one stone.
For my characters, I take a very similar approach. I become an actor. I act the scene. I take the pose. For Max and Misty, being animals, it could have been a bit more tricky but it wasn’t since I turned their personalities into tantrum toddlers. I had to worry about accurate anatomy and realistic situations. I couldn’t have had Max in a tree but Misty could. Sometimes, it is like working backwards. Where do I need to get to and how can I get there?
For my paintings, I adopt the same approach. I will think about what I want to say and how I want people to perceive it. Whether they will or not is actually neither here nor there. I sketch my characters directly on the canvas. I refine them in my sketchbook where, like a magpie I gathered all my references. Very often, the composition has been changed over and over so maybe I should adapt a different approach.
Like Rego, I am fascinated by stories and fairy tales. My favourite book of all times is ‘Alice in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll.For the painting below, I wanted to have a medley of characters and different scenes from the book and one monochromatic painting. As I went along, I had to leave a lot of characters out and decided to add a splash of red. This led me to think of a series of paintings in different colours and the symbol of each colour…Another project in progress.
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!
So far, I have looked at Maurice Sendak and Oliver Jeffers and definitely got a sense there is more to picture books than meet the eye.
I am also very fortunate as I had the chance to meet some artists at conferences and seminars. Last year I attended a workshop with the very successful and talented author/illustrator Catherine Rayner at the SCBWI conference. (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).
The workshop was fun and extremely productive. We worked as a team and in a day had to come up with plot and characters on a given theme. We also had to imagine the wordless story that Catherine had illustrated and constructed as a dummy book. For both assignments, we all came up with different stories and different angles. For me, this epitomizes the versatility of the picture book genre even though more often than not it follows a set of rules as to the number of pages, the layout and the word count. I will come back to this later as I do not intent to follow any rules – the cornerstone of my final project.
Meeting a professional and spending the day with them is worth months of art school in my eyes. When they are as generous and bubbly as Catharine, they share a lot of their experience and tips. It also must be incredibly lovely to step out of the studio and meet like minded people, who share your passion for books!
Catherine described a daily routine as being different every day depending on the project she works on. Similarly, each and every one of her books started in a slightly different way. But it is soon obvious that the artist always starts with the main character for whom she devises a narrative. She would start drawing him/her ( they are all animals) in an obsessive way. For her first book, she was still a student and loved drawing tigers. She went to the zoo (many many times) to draw them from life. She also names them. In this case, Augustus was not smiling (it is hard to draw a smiling tiger) so he had to find his smile. It is as if the character she creates whispers the story in her ear.
Sylvia was lonely and wanted a friend.
Iris and Isaac fell out …
And Abigail…well you will have to find out for yourself!
Rayner loves working with scale and cropping details off the page – playing with angles and viewpoints. The visual effect is heightened and seems to have happened by magic. It is at this point that storyboarding comes handy to check what works and what doesn’t at a glance. I would sum up storyboarding as mapping the whole story.
Rayner’s colour palette is subtle. I was convinced she used watercolour but in fact she uses acrylic inks, which make the artwork really vivid. I will definitely experiment with this medium.
Another one to experiment with Dr Ph Martin watercolour ink which is used by the renowned illustrator Emma Chichester Clark, who studied at RCA with Quinten Blake and Michael Foreman. She writes her books, illustrates for authors such as Michael Morpurgo, Martin Waddell, and also illustrated for magazines…
During the conference last November, I also met Alexis Deacon, one the ten best illustrators selected by Booktrust. Beegu is a story about being different and not belonging so Deacon played on the contrast of colours: a yellow alien on a grey background (representing the unwelcoming world Beegu finds himself in.) Scale is also extremely important and everything is looked at through a child’s point of view. The sequencing below shows how effective Deacon conveys Beegu’s loneliness with almost no word!
Last year I also attended a picture book retreat run by Bridget Streven Marzo and Anne Marie Perks. Again I met extremely talented writers and artists. Helen Stephens was one of them. She wrote and illustrated How to hide a lion, and shared with us the process of creating Fleabag. Her stories are also character driven. I will write about character development in another post.
Looking through all these talented artists’ wonderful sketchbooks highlighted how much planning and work happened behind the scene for just one book even though the stories appeared to flow simply and be totally accessible for a child to enter a world other than his own. To be a successful experience, the world has to become accessible and believable from the first page.
What makes a picture book different from any other narrative art is the word ‘book’ itself. When a book is put down on a shelf, its world is closed off. But when you open it, the magic starts again and each page turn offers a different space or time. It can even happen in strips like in comic books or in vignettes. As the child reads on, the whole story builds up to a satisfying resolution. Well this is the plan as ideas are still brewing as we speak.
The few examples I have looked here at here such as the scale, the colour palette, the sequencing are things I intend to draw inspiration from for my own story.