Sunday, 25 August 2013
Characterisation - Turning Real Animals into Picture Book Characters
There are 10 different animals featured in The Jungle Grumble. I collected lots of photo reference via Google Images (how did we survive before?) to help me sketch the animals into my 'thumbnail' roughs. Of course they were only titchy, as each thumbnail spread, like the one below, is only about 2 inches high.
I was drawing much larger versions of each animal when I was designing the crazy combos, but at that stage I wasn't fretting too much about characterisation, just visualising how the 'bits' might fit together:
All this has proved a great way to loosen up. Usually, I start work on a new book with the characterisation, which is by no means the easiest part. This means that I generally have a day or two of agony and extreme grumpiness, before I warm up (John gives me a very wide berth!)
This time, having planned all my spreads in miniature, I then went back to sort out the characterisation. Because the swapping will make the illustrations quite complex and tricky to 'read', I don't want to dress the animals (usually a good way to help establish character), or even to accessorise them, as I did in An Itch to Scratch where the animals were unclothed.
Which means that it all has to be done through face and body language. You can see from the sketches here, that I draw the face of the creature again and again, trying different things out:
The idea is to use the photo reference to get basic shapes and key features that make an animal look, well... like itself. Then I play around with nose shapes, eye height etc, creating variations on the theme. Each time you alter a feature, you get a different, unique individual, which suggests a different personality. Some look more male, some female. Some are more successful, others not. Generally speaking, they get stronger with each drawing.
This is a very important part of the illustration process: the reader has to believe in each animal, not just as any old giraffe, but as a specific giraffe. I get the personality started in my sketch then, if it is 'alive', the reader will enlarge on this in their imagination.