For those of you who don’t know, I illustrated a book recently. The book in question is called The Cats of the River Darro. It’s by a gentleman named Derek Dohren, I’d love to tell you more but unfortunately now isn’t the time so you’re just going to have to do some independent research. My aim is to take you behind the scenes of the illustrations, to give you an idea of the processes and the inspirations behind them. So, with your permission, let’s go.
In keeping with the tone of the book, I’ve decided to start with the last chapter -chapter 8. It may seem a bit of a funny way to work, and I suppose it is really, but read on and things will soon become clear.
This project was very special in the sense that Derek, also an artist, didn’t have any pre-conceived ideas of how he wanted the illustrations to be. He wanted a picture at the beginning of each chapter, but that was about as far as it got. Of course I showed him the pictures as they developed and he shared his opinions, but he always maintained that I was the illustrator and the final decision was down to me.
At first, this freedom was pretty daunting. Where do you start? I tried a few things: pen, pencil, felt tip, graphite, portrait, landscape, cross-hatching, blended tones… But nothing made me think “Yes!”. Over the course of time, it was decided that for printing purposes the chapter illustrations would have to be portrait and in pen. So far, so good, apart from the fact that the style continued to elude me. Then, one very special day, I sat down and started to draw.
I had a cup of tea and kept going.
Now I had been cooped up in my studio/office for the best part of two days and it was starting to get to the point where I had to go out and see real people before I lost it. I desperately wanted to keep going and see what would come of this creation. Where do I go at times like these? I’m surprised you even have to ask. Totes y Amigos, of course! I gathered my pens and my pad and made my way into town for some red wine and much-needed inspiration. As tends to happen at special places like Totes’, I found what I needed and, revived, I busied on. In the next couple of days it was finished and The Cats of the River Darro’s style was born.
At school I had a lovely teacher named Josefina. I quite clearly remember her telling my Spanish conversation partner, Soph, and I that at times, when revising or preparing a presentation for example, it is sometimes best to begin at the end. People always think the beginning is the best place to start, which of course it sometimes is, but by the time you get to the end you’re not really paying attention anymore. Well apparently it can also work when illustrating books.
Next time you just can’t seem to get going with something, try it. Start at the end. Work backwards.