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Monday, 2 June 2014

In the Author's words

Aesop's The Fox and the Grapes, retold by Pauline Mackay.

Several years ago I was looking for fruit related ideas to build up activities to complement my book ‘Fruit Lane’. One of the characters in that book is called ‘Mr Grape’ and as I was following a fruit trail on the internet, I stumbled across Aesop’s fable ‘The Fox and the Grapes’. I’d already been writing little poems and songs to accompany my different characters, so it’s perhaps no surprise that a ‘Fox and Grapes’ poem started formulating in my head. I rewrote it a few times, but the opportunity to actually use it with reference to my book never arose. Years later, just before Christmas, I was due to run a fruit-related storytelling session with a group of multicultural children.  I remembered my poem but felt it might be a little too advanced for non-native English speakers. So I rewrote it as a short, simple story with plenty of repetition, which mirrors the repetitive jumping of the Fox as he tries to get the grapes.  As it turned out, I didn’t read my retelling of ‘The Fox and the Grapes’, but a different story I’d written about a snowman with a fruity twist! 

Now, finally, it has been produced as a book in many language editions and this fits perfectly with why the story came to exist in its present form. The repetition of language is a crucial element, aiming  to encourage confident reading in native speakers and build familiarity of language in children learning a second language. 

In the original Aesop’s Fable, the Fox is hungry, but mine is thirsty, which gives scope to make the sun almost akin to a character. This is particularly helpful when you only have one character to begin with! This aspect is exploited to maximum effect in Dylan’s illustrations as his fabulous sun gets bigger and more dominant as the story evolves. By the time the Fox is lying on the ground with his tongue hanging out -one of my favorite pictures- the sun is at its most impressive. 
Almost, but not quite!
In rewriting the fable, one of the important aspects for me was to expand on the Fox’s attempts to reach the grapes. I imagined the Fox giving himself little pep talks and trying to work out why he wasn’t succeeding. This led to his coming at the grapes from different angles, which was very challenging to depict successfully in the illustrations in a way that could hold the readers’ attention and not be repetitive pictorially although repetitive textually. The many expressions and close-ups of the Fox as he moves around the grapes capture his frustration perfectly. The moment when he just manages to touch them with the tip of his tongue has always been my favorite in the story, so the corresponding illustration never fails to make me smile.  The additional humor of convincing himself the ground is a little higher from one approach to the grapes can be fully appreciated because in the previous picture where ‘the sun is a fire’, Dylan has shown the ground is totally and utterly flat. 

The Sun on fire.
As with many of Aesop’s fables, there isn’t a happy ending. The Fox doesn’t get the grapes. This amazing little tale has reverberated down through the centuries and is still as valid today as it was long ago. Human nature, which Aesop’s animal characters reflect, has not changed! We still have a tendency to turn up our nose at something if we can’t have it and say it wasn’t worth having anyway. Only this time, in ‘The Fox and the Grapes’, the final impression is not necessarily the Fox’s handling of his disappointment, but perhaps the redeeming qualities of that wonderful little hedgehog running after him with a grape!
On sale now from Ablekids Press Available in English and bilingual English with French, Gaelic, German, Italian, Malayalam, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish and Turkish versions.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The Fox and the Grapes

All jobs present their own challenges and this little picture book was no exception. A simple story based on Aesop’s fables for The Fox and the Grapes retold by Ablekids Press.

 I hadn’t heard the story in a long time.  It’s one of those tales that you half remember from primary school.  My vague recollection is from one of those many times when the teacher got you sit down crossed legged with your fellow class mates in a little circle to tell you a story. 
Reading through the manuscript in preparation to sketch out the story I realized my memory of the story was off a bit so I’d be approaching the story fresh.  It’s a little daunting starting a new book with so many ideas swirling around in my head yet to be translated to paper but also very exciting with all those possibilities.

Double page opening artwork, setting the scene
The story is set around a vine with grapes dangling down just out of reach and poor old thirsty Fox’s efforts to get a juicy mouthful.   He tries over and over again and just can’t reach them and eventually gives up a little more tired and thirsty than when he started. The moral to the story is that “Any fool can despise what he cannot get” Sour grapes!

I thankfully got the chance to establish the wider setting where the story takes place in a wonderful double page opening artwork, which would be book ended with a similar scene.  The inclusion of this establishing shot really helps draw the reader in and gave me the chance to add plenty of surrounding details, a little road, a town on a hill and plenty of other characters. It gives the story a wider environment and sense of geography allowing the reader to explore the little nooks and crannies of the area allowing for their imagination to fill in other little potential narratives going on elsewhere.  

A world full of characters
These little details really came to enrich the visual palette of the story the farmyard characters became the in story audience that followed the Fox’s efforts in trying to get the grapes.  I really liked the little hedgehog father and son characters that I’d designed and I felt it was very natural in the story that they would jump down from their fence post and dander over to see what the Fox was doing.  So as the Fox plans his next move and jumps at the grapes over the pages the two little hedgehogs wander over to watch. I could imagine them having a little conversation the father telling his son some words of wisdom relating to the Fox’s efforts. 
Near the end of the story the son is moved at the Fox’s plight in not being able to get his quarry and on the last double page we see that the little hedgehog has picked up a fallen grape and is running after the Fox. 
The most important thing is to illustrate what is told in the story so it works as a narrative with both words and pictures complimenting each other. I love the possibilities in what is not written down and the ability to add something to the story to create something new that fits the tone and is in keeping with the spirit of the tale.  The whole process in doing the illustrations in this book was greatly enriched by the great collaborative work relationship with the publisher Ablekids and our willingness to push the possibilities of this simple little fable to create a great modern retelling of this tale.  

Of course it didn’t all go smoothly some problems came up and several revisions of certain pages needed to be made.  I felt like the Fox jumping for the grapes at one point! The confines of the setting could be challenging and the geography of the scene needed to be just right as a change to one page, the movement of the vine or wall impacted on how the other pages worked.  

The almost defeated Fox.
The Fox didn’t succeed his goal it was always just out of reach. Thankfully this is where we differed from the narrative the finished book was wonderful project to illustrate and I’m very proud of what we accomplished, reworking an old tale and adding to it our own unique personal perspective to create a new little  chapter to the history of Aesop’s fables.

On sale now from Ablekids Press Available in English and bilingual English with French, Gaelic, German, Italian, Malayalam, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish and Turkish versions.

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Monday, 15 July 2013

Geological Time

Educational and fun? Hopefully both with my new artwork illustrating Geological Time.  My image was created to help visualize how far time goes back in Earth's history from modern day to its earliest period.  It was nice to stick buildings and a petrol station at the top to help identify today and use perspective in the drawing to indicate how far things go down into deep time.

Geological Time 2013 (on Blue)

In geology, layers of rock are identified and dated by whats in them (finds of fossils or minerals) These layers of time are given names e.g. Jurassic, Devonian etc and they span from today all the way back billions of years.  

Triassic,Permian,Carboniferous,Devonian,Silurian,Ordovician and Cambrian 
(before that is called the Pre-Cambrian and divided into the Proterozoic and Archean)

Their is a a way to remember all those names and it might be something you recall from school. Here it goes: Camels Often Sit Down Carefully Perhaps Their Joints Creak (Perhaps Effective Oiling Might Prolong Perfect Health) 

Geological Time (On White)

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Monday, 3 June 2013

Child's Play

A brilliant little local job came my way recently for a client only a ten minute walking distance away in town.  The closeness of this project allowed me to dust of my folder and bring my I pad and sketch book to the meeting for a face to face meeting to discuss the job.

Most of my work is done via the phone and email, I listen or read the brief make comments, send concepts, respond to feedback and draw finished illustrations a process I’m very good at.  My objective when working remotely is to give the impression to the client that I’m just another part of their workspace, easy to contact and talk too with ideas and artwork ready when needed.  That they can in a sense look over my shoulder and see what I’m doing by giving them updates and sketches to progress the project.  Working remotely can be for the client as involved with what I’m doing as they want to be or if they prefer I can create something with greater latitude then that’s good too.

Lots of commissions can involve me to project manage a lot of what the final art will be and its context.  As some people can be new to asking a freelance illustrator to work with them, with only a bare outline of what they need provided.  Its great and I get a buzz out of guiding this kind of project.  Developing the rapport and work to give them something they wanted but maybe couldn’t articulate preferring me to get there on my own as part of the commission as much as the finished illustration.  

Some of my clients will express a feeling about the kind of image they want and if I can capture that impression the result is very satisfying.  The specifics and detail are left to me and these elements if correctly interpreted in the artwork can capture those feelings and give them the emotional connection to the work that they desired.  

My recent local project to draw the shop front for the children’s shop Puddles and Sun was one such project with latitude to create something the client felt they wanted for their store.  As it was for a local independent retailer I wanted to capture that uniqueness and feel of a special one off experience you get when entering that outlet.  I rendered the illustration in a children’s book style to deliver that sense of magic complete with toys that come alive, children playing, a dragon and of course given our location in Perthshire a Highland cow.  It’s not a typical shop illustration but it suits the shop’s identity and the clients feeling that the artwork needed to have a sense of wonder and creativity.   

Puddles and Sun 2013

Puddles and Sun 2013, illustration created in pen and ink with art pen and pencil for some textures with colour added later on the computer.  The artwork was fully layered so that characters could be taken away with new details added.  The flexibility was created to allow a change in format for Facebook and Twitter banner use and for seasonal variations for postcards for you never know when Santa might show up.

Puddles and Sun Facebook and Twitter Banner

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Monday, 27 May 2013

Calling The Doctor

Some new artworks developed from some doodles I did a few weeks back showing different stylistic takes on the same character.  My illustrations here show the present version of the Time Lord in a caricature style with three variations and in a more dramatic comic book take.  It was a challenge to take such a recognized icon and try quite different looks.  

As often through my career as an illustrator working on different commissions I try to offer up different ideas and solutions to a project to create an image that works within the context of its use.  These creative challenges can push you out of your comfort zone and if successful can develop and further you skills in what you can offer a client.  Personally they can liven up your day to day experience and freshen you outlook and style of work so that your skills don't become slave to a certain kind or type of work.

Left: Madman with a box and Right: Mr Clever

Something Stolen
The above variations of Doctor Who in caricature style were inspired by aspects of his character and reference to his history and recent episodes.  Its was also a challenge to draw the prior incarnations of the Time Lord on the wanted posters of the titled Something Stolen variation. 

The Doctor Comic Style
Lastly my Comic style above complete with Sonic screwdriver and twirly whirly timey vortex. 

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Singing In The Shower

Its good to have fun at work a distraction is a great way to help clear that mental block when an idea is not popping into you head for a particular job.  Maybe that's why doodling is a good thing for me as an illustrator, during my school and collage days my lined note book were full of sketches in the margin and while a lot were scribbled down due to boredom.  I recall an Art College lecture on toilet and bathroom furniture in the 17th century that I really went to town with my pen.  I use them now as a way of having fun while dealing with a mental block.

Today I develop these little doodles and ideas into finished images if I like them or if the concept has legs I'll spend a bit of time and develop them.  There are so many people who sketch down these little imaginings on paper to decorated their pages discarding them later with little or no thought of what they are.  Some of these little drawings are little doorways into how a person thinking and processing things and if a little more focused can be shorthand that can convey a response or solution to a particular problem.  

A stick figure can give me enough information to indicated that a client wants a person drawn from a particular standpoint or even a composition a client has in mind.  They are always apologetic for their confessed lack of artistic skill when handing me a stick figure scene or doodle but it has been enough to convey what is on their mind.  In that regard it is a successful means of communication and that is what art is all about.

Its a valuable tool to be able to sketch a quick idea down as sometimes words cannot convey the imagery in a persons head. I myself find it easier to draw an idea down and often keep these little sketches to come back to later.  My scribble is an intuitive reaction to an idea in my head and my natural reaction is to visualize it on paper. I do get surprised and thrilled when people are taken aback by my workings on paper during a meeting pleased to see that I'm processing what the say in drawings like a type of court reporter.   Based on a conversation a brief or some doodles I can storyboard a scenario for an advert or book with a few lines on my pen and that can be enough to get a project rolling.

As visual creatures we gather a lot of information through sight and all this imagery from the mundane to the beautiful, bizarre or scary gets processed in our heads.  It must be frustrating not to be able to pass on your interpretation of the world in a visual way due to self imposed restrictions or if we are told we're not good at it.  Its shouldn't be as black or white as that and you don't need to be great at something to do it.  

For all of us out there and I count myself in that line up being told I couldn't sing never stopped me from singing in the shower or belting out a number at karaoke night the fun is giving it a go.

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Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Advice for freelance illustrators, common questions I'm asked.

I thought I'd post some answers to common questions I'm asked by budding illustrators starting out in the industry.  My answers are a more personal response to the queries asked by students, I hope reading them with be helpful.  I'll post more information and advice next month.

Are there any technical skills that are required to work in the industry?
Being confident in your skills and developing your craft to keep your work fresh and interesting.  Knowing how to use creative software and save to print formats are the most helpful.

What are you views on qualifications? Are they necessary or are portfolios / abilities more important?
Maybe a qualification is not necessary; I’ve yet to be asked! A good portfolio and having completed work for a few clients is more important.  The most important thing is a client needs to be able to trust you to carry out the project and get it in on time.  I’ve been at it for a while now and have always turned in great work on time, never let your client down or you will never regain that trust.

How important is it to make contacts / network?
Very important, having a repeat customer is a good way of generating more work by word of mouth and exposure.  Getting a good reputation is very helpful I often get clients who have had a bad experience with an illustrator.

What are the pros and cons of having an agent? (If applicable)
Pros can get you work and throw their resources behind you to get exposure, help guide your career and negotiate with clients.
Cons, Can take quite a percentage.  Or retain license over your work in some bad cases.  Agents might also ask you not to do personal promotions so you have to rely solely on them to get you work.

Were there any difficulties when starting out in the industry?
Start up funds for equipment, advertising and software all are very expensive.  It can take a few years to fully establish yourself in the field and your style may vary and develop more differently than imagined in order to interest people and get work.

When adding an image to you site or sending via email. Always title your image, and add you your name so if its archived and picked up at a latter date the client knows who its from. e.g. Urban Racers Dylan Gibson Illustration
What levels of commitment are involved while working as a practitioner? What are the hours involved? How do you maintain a good work/life balance?
I work a full normal week about 35-40 hrs sometimes I'll need to work more and the odd weekend working can sometimes be necessary.  Your income might be low to start off with and even with this remember you still have to keep money over for your end of year tax return.  It’s a good idea to estimate what that might be and save it away. 
If you work from home have a dedicated space, a spare room to act as a studio, treat it as any work place when you’re done switch off the computer close the door and leave.
Working from home made easy.

Have you noticed any changes to the industry while working as a professional?
The biggest is how styles go in and out of fashion very quickly, this is most obvious in advertising and you might get a lot of commissions in that field one year and none the next.  The other big thing is the license of your artwork where and how your work is used, clients are pushing for more ownership with China and India becoming more important markets to the UK.

Are there any traits (such as enthusiasm, determination) that you think are necessary / useful while working in the creative industry?
Enthusiasm will carry you through even the more laborious projects.  It takes a lot of effort and hard work to get going but in can be done and you can make a living from it.  If you can say you enjoy your job you are very lucky and as long as you recognize that you can work through anything in order to keep that going.

I will continue to post more common questions and advice soon, please check back.
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Dylan Gibson