This project got started in the way many children’s book ideas have got started. To keep my 2.5 year old daughter entertained one day, I started doodling a cute little character and began to make up a story about him.
In this case the character was a bad tempered teddy bear called Eddie and his character just seemed to spring into life as I drew him. Here are some of those original doodles. (Colouring added by my daughter Josie.)
Half an hour later we were both laughing at Eddie and the story I’d just made up about his poor anger management skills. I now had a simple character design and a basic story outline. I thought, to myself, why not make a children’s book out of this? At the very least it would make a nice present to my daughter. It shouldn’t even take me long if I keep it simple, I reasoned.
I started roughing things out in Sketchbook Pro. SP when used in conjunction with a Wacom Cintiq gives a very natural pencil line quality, I really enjoy using it.
I thought maybe I could do the whole thing in Sketchbook Pro, just using simple pencil strokes and subtle “watercolourey” type colouring, but somehow I just never managed to find a happy balance between my loose and lively roughs and my clean but stiff looking finished drawings. The magic elusive quality that animators call “Appeal” just seemed to drain away every time.
So I went back to my tool of choice Adobe Illustrator. This was a bit disappointing to me because part of the aim of a personal project I feel should be to experiment with new styles and to do something different. So for now I’ve settled on a compromise which I feel is still somewhat experimental for me but gives a natural look that I’m pretty happy with.
I’ve taken my original vector artwork as a base and added paint and chalk brush elements on layers with Corel Painter.
The main time-consuming factor has been this whole issue of working out the style. My usual trad animation influenced style is one I’m pretty comfortable with and this differs in that there is minimal linework and flat colours with very simple iconic character designs. This should in theory have made things easier but Ironically, it was this simplification of style that threw up new issues and caused problems. The main one being that when there is no linework, only colour, body parts start to become a confusion of lost edges and the character’s pose starts to become very hard to read. This meant that I needed to go back and make changes to the original character design but I didn’t want to overcomplicate the design and lose the simple cuteness of the character..
The first thing which goes a long way to address this problem is to always make sure that the pose is readable in silhouette. However, I found that to really solve these reoccurring problems I also had to go back and add some additional elements. I made some variations in the character’s tonal values to break up the big mass of tone. So you can see I’ve put a lighter coloured patch of fur on his stomach, I’ve differentiated the tones between his paws and the rest of his arm. Adding little paw pads makes it clear which way up the paw is actually facing. I added a crease line above his legs so now you can tell where his legs end and his belly starts. I also needed to strategically place a couple of shadows here and there to really make him legible. In the image above I’m still losing the shoulder as it blends into the head but I think I’ve done just enough to make him legible.
There are several advantages to working in Adobe illustrator. There’s the issue of resolution independence and also the ability to build up a “library” of reuseable and movable elements. For instance. If I create a library with a small number of trees. By flipping and resizing them, I can quickly make a forest scene . I always create illustrations now with this library approach in mind so for instance it may not be necessary to create a whole tree or other element of an illustration but I do anyway as I may be able to reuse it in a different context.
I’m about three quarters of the way to finishing the book now and I’m not sure what I’ll do with it once it’s done. I may use an on demand printing service to get a copy for my daughter and I’m also looking into the whole digital publishing thing right now, so we’ll see.