Tag Archives: children’s books

Eire, Seaspray and Seal Girls – A Silent Book Project Update!

Hello again! Here’s hoping your February has been a lovely one!

Following on from my excitable first post of the year (all about meeting and drawing a vole!) there’s a lot I want to share with you!

Firstly, a proper recap on the final months of last year:

-Back in September I joined my Portishead Arts buddies for another exhibition- definitely the best yet! The highlight had to be the sale of one of my absolute favourite artworks to date- “Hook”!

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“Hook”, Gouache and coloured pencil. (I had such fun experimenting with movement and colour on this one!) © 2017/18 Carina Roberts Illustration

The lovely customers in question bought “Hook” for their new child-to-be, to hang in the nursery.  It’s an indescribable feeling to see something you created make someone so happy!

-I participated in my first outdoor event in October, Made in North Somerset – aside from torrential downpours throughout half of the day it was really pretty lovely- with a surprisingly determined turnout of visitors!

-The highlight of the last months of 2018, though, has to be a round trip to Dublin and Anglesey that my partner and I took. We crossed from Dublin Port to Holyhead on the penultimate morning of our adventure – my first time on a ferry since I was around 5 years old! The journey started very early in the morning, and we watched dawn break over the skyline of Dublin out in a bracing wind. It was lovely and warm inside the ferry but I was having a whale of a time out on the deck, being buffeted about and staving off my impending queasiness!

 

 

Sadly I didn’t get round to that much drawing while we were away (as per usual, we were marching about all over the place too much!) but I took a lot of reference photos!

The whole time we were away, I was thinking about “Cara” – my silent book project about the seal girl.  During the past year it’s been one of those projects I’ve constantly had on my mind, but haven’t really gotten round to writing a proper update on. Well, this is that update! Since I wrote about “Capturing animal behaviours in human form”, I’ve been working on fleshing out the world of the story, as well as breathing more life into the characters themselves. Let me fill you in!

 

Building a world, exploring the land

 

 

Howth, Anglesey and Dublin- ink studies of coastal views!

Selkie legends are told in the Orkney Islands (north of Scotland) and in communities all the way down the UK’s rugged coastline to Ireland. That is to say, although each society  would claim the idea of a seal who can shed its skin and walk on land as a human as its own, it’s really more of a widespread folk tale along our shores. I wasn’t, therefore, looking to recreate one particular area in which to set the story – the West Coast of Ireland, for example- but I was building a world based on all the settlements whose cultures have been shaped by their connection to the sea. To speak through the environment of this story, I have to make it recognisable, even nostalgic for those who have grown up among these surroundings, and capture part of the culture to explain them to those who haven’t.

A bit of a meaty aim, really.

In terms of research, though, this couldn’t have been more fun! I’ve carried my camera and my sketchbook around the UK and beyond wherever I go, and take as many notes and drawings as possible! (This ties in neatly with one of my main drawing goals from the past couple of years- GET BETTER AT DRAWING BUILDINGS!)

Those who are avid readers of this blog might remember my “Kernow” project– drawings of Cornwall from a surprise trip we took for my Mum’s birthday- completed for this purpose exactly!

 

 

In the same way that drawing from my experiences of Marazion, Penzance and St. Ives helped me to remember all the little nooks we’d discovered along the way, I realised that it was going to take lots and LOTS of drawings to build up a gradual picture of a coastal location, to create a convincing setting for the story.

Also around this time was when I rediscovered the work of one of my absolute favourite illustrators, Raymond Briggs, and began to take notes about his storytelling. (Incidentally, I watched an amazing documentary called “Raymond Briggs: Snowmen, Bogeymen and Milkmen” – if you have even the slightest interest in Mr. Briggs or his work, I urge you to take a look!) A couple of his books feature very few, if any words – the narrative is unfurled through animation-like sequences of smaller images.

The Snowman - Raymond Briggs

I started having a go at some sequential narrative inspired by how Briggs tells his stories.

Jowder's Hallway (Final) © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration
“The Hallway” – a short sequential narrative exploring a character’s movement through their home. (Reference- cottage in Marazion, Cornwall) © 2017/18 Carina Roberts Illustration

With his processes in mind, and in order to make use of all those reference photos I’d taken in Dublin, Anglesey and elsewhere too, I challenged myself during Inktober this year to draw a short journey that could somehow inspire, or fit into, the story of Cara.

 

“The Bike Ride” – Quink ink, white pencil, calligraphy ink.

The resulting month’s drawings (above) introduced a typical weatherbeaten, salt-sprayed village recovering from a coastal storm. Only one figure really features throughout the whole sequence- unintentional when I begun the drawings, but useful to realise partway through the challenge, as I started to think of the project as a 31 “frame” glimpse through the eyes of someone who travels through it every day. This sequence became a way to introduce both of my main characters- like in a photo album, each image represents some memory to the little lad Ronan of the day he found an injured seal. As I worked on his physical appearance in tandem with this sequence, I thought about how I could symbolise elements of his personality in these little thumbnails.

For example, the sea is pivotal to setting the scene of the story, but having it feature in so many of the images could suggest that this little boy thinks about it a lot – does water calm him when he’s had a bad day? Or could he even see the sea as a threat, something he’s afraid of perhaps? And the aforementioned lack of other characters featuring throughout the panels- does he prefer to be alone, or does he simply live in quite an isolated community? Could he even be lonely?

This explosion of questions revealed a whole new side to the characters I was designing- particularly this little chap. Understanding more about his personality meant that I could now go all-out to design a character to match!

 

Traits embodied- character design progression over the last year

Over the course of the previous few months, Ronan has been emerging slowly, shyly- a thoughtful young fellow, quite the opposite to the exuberant seal-girl he befriends.

(Below- some of my first sketches deciding on Ronan’s appearance!)

Ronan sketch 72DPI © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration
“Ronan” – An early sketch and reference point. Woolly hair, salt-stiffened but carefully kept. © 2017/18 Carina Roberts Illustration
Ronan sketch - Coat 72DPI © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration
“Ronan’s Coat” – Experimenting with a big layer of clothing a shy child can hide behind and inside… © 2017/18 Carina Roberts Illustration
Ronan's Home Final (Low Res) © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration
“A quick rest” © 2017/18 Carina Roberts Illustration
Ronan and Cara 72DPI © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration
“Meeting the locals” – Ronan’s method of rescuing an injured seal. (Also, a quick impression of how a native might react to a seal in the middle of town!) © 2017/18 Carina Roberts Illustration

Something I’ve really enjoyed planning is how I can portray characters without any of the clues that might come from dialogue- this is a wordless picture book, after all! When developing both Ronan and Cara, this has forced me to concentrate my efforts on their expressions and body language almost exclusively to show their complimentary personalities.

I rediscovered the classic series “Camberwick Green” and its sibling programme “Trumpton” back in October 2018 when I wasn’t feeling well. Interestingly, I observed that throughout both programmes, mouths are really only visible on characters that are speaking loudly or shouting- a lot of the story is told through their gestures and expressions instead!

Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 10.55.04
Captain Snort of Pippin Fort- his mouth is often visible as he shouts at his troops!
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Concentration… Mickey Murphy the baker’s mouth is rarely seen, he’s too busy to be talking!

 

(Left- “Ronan’s jumper” – experimenting with textures and patterns inspired by the Aran wool shops in Dublin. Right- building on sequences of movement, and subtle expression which can still say a lot!)

Ronan expression sheet FV (LR) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
“Early expression sheet” – Planning subtle emotional responses of Ronan. Some expressions are missing- for the boy who feels deeply, but doesn’t always show it…     © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

“Camberwick Green” became an important influence in character development- and not just for Ronan! The energetic, animated gesticulations of some of the busier characters gave me a great deal of inspiration in how to portray Cara’s personality through her movements. As a reminder from my previous post, this was how she began:

“… a human character with all of the heart, soul and playfulness of a seal. Clumsy, comical on land, unbelievably graceful in water. Cheeky, intelligent, sometimes greedy; inquisitive, sometimes shy and others very aggressive!”

To begin with, I had worked on aligning Cara’s seal and human counterparts- for example carrying through her colouring as a young seal, replacing her whiskers and mottled fur with hairy eyebrows and freckles. Very quickly though, I realised that something was missing- in a lot of traditional depictions of the selkie which I’d looked at in my early research, the human aspect ended up being willowy, slim; with none of the substance and weight of a seal.

So I’ve been studying heavier, rounder and stronger body shapes, to unite Cara in both of her skins!

Cara simplified sketch (LR) © 2018:19 Carina Roberts Illustration
“Seated” – An early digital sketch to work out simple shapes to include in Cara’s form. © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration
Cara character sketches (levels, neatened - FV LR) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
Experimenting with rounder shapes- how might borrowed, loose clothing fall around Cara’s seal-like form?  (Beginning to explore textures) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration
Cara lineup (LR) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration
How can Cara’s gestures occupy space, in order to demonstrate her exuberant personality? (Continuing exploration of borrowed clothing.) “Cara studies” – 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

 

(Above- (Left) Inquistive exploration of a new environment- how would a seal react to household objects? (Right) “Patchwork Bundle” – Exploring textures, form and bright colours. © 2018/19 Carina Roberts Illustration

What Does A Seal Dream? LR © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration
“What Does a Seal Dream?” © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration       Bright colours reveal Cara’s sunny personality with no explanation needed!

 

My mind has been bursting waiting to share this work with you! I’m so, so happy with how this concept is developing- another update will be along later in the year! In the mean-time, please never forget the importance of your more personal projects- when your heart and soul goes into something, it really shows!

Next time, I’ll be discussing the design process for some new dog-themed Mother’s Day greetings cards I’ve produced this year!

Until then, all the very best of wishes,

The AutumnHobbit

© Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Cara”- Capturing animal behaviours in human form

Cara sleeping © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration

Hello my lovelies!

It’s been a while again, hasn’t it? This particular post has been a long time coming, but as it concerns a very special project I couldn’t rush it!

As I mentioned back in August, this time I’ll be discussing the development of a human character with all the grace of a seal, in a story I’m devloping which draws upon one of my favourite Irish legends. This project will eventually be put forward as an entry for a competition, so I’m not going to share much of the finished work until it’s all submitted. I can, however, share with you my process thus far of how this character has developed!

A little to begin with for those who haven’t yet understood the Irish legend I’m referring to.

The Selkie was a mythical creature who lived as a seal in the water, who by shedding its blubbery skin on land, would become human. Most of the stories I had read about Selkies had been sad, mostly where female Selkies had come ashore to have their skins hidden by possessive men who wanted to marry them for their beauty. If the skins were not found, the Selkie would remain trapped on land and could never return to the ocean.

Poor seals!

One thing I always found a little strange about the classic depiction of all the lady Selkies was their grace and poise on land. Of course, they may have been journeying out of the water every week to practice walking on land for all I know, but it got me thinking; how might a Selkie be who had never been out of the water before? Would they know how to walk down a flight of stairs, or sleep in a bed?

I wanted to create a human character with all of the heart, soul and playfulness of a seal. Clumsy, comical on land, unbelievably graceful in water. Cheeky, intelligent, sometimes greedy; inquisitive, sometimes shy and others very aggressive!

To begin this journey, I had to plunge headfirst into the realm of the seal.

The Seal Study

Seal behaviour sketches (Low Res) signed © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration .jpg
Seals drawn from BBC’s “Wild Ireland”.

Despite being one of my most favourite animals, I had never seen a seal in real life before setting out on this project. I’d seen sea lions at the zoo when I was younger, but they just weren’t the same (and also not native to UK or Irish waters.) In this case, the study of a seal’s behaviour was my first step in creating this very special character.

I did some research, discovering that one of the best times to see seals on land was during their breeding season, beginning round about September. One of the best places in the UK to track them down was apparently in West Pembrokeshire, on and around Skomer island. So, my partner and I made the trek across, to discover that the boat (due to bad weather) was not running that day. The crossing for Skomer is very near a National Trust walk around the Marloes Peninsula which we decided to do instead, to see if we could spot any of the elusive grey seals we were after from the cliff edges.

We were not disappointed.

Marloes Seals 2 (Detail 2) (72DPI) © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration
Mother seal, making her way into the cold Pembrokeshire ocean. © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration
Marloes Seals (Detail) (72DPI) © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration
Waiting for the wave to pass… © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration

Marloes Seals 1 (72DPI) © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration

Seal sketches- Pembrokeshire (Low Res) © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration
Young seal pup still sporting its “lanugo”, (fluffy white baby coat) dragging itself across the sand to visit an older relative.

After this experience, I was looking everywhere for more seal inspiration to draw from. The first sketchbook I started for this project is absolutely bursting with hundreds of seals- from life, books, television, anywhere they could be found.

Seals eating plan
Did you know, a seal commonly has 3-6 pairs of eyebrows? © Artwork 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration

I began to look for detail in each seal that I could use to start drafting a closely linked human character. The huge, liquid eyes, dark facial markings, and fluffed out, podgy, strong bodies of the animals I was studying were all things that seemed important to help draw the comparison between the two.

Cara seal expression sheet final (Low Res) © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
“Cara” – Exploring her human form. © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration
Cara detail portrait (Low Res) © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
“Cara Portrait” – Dark whiskers on the seal pup’s face become a maze of freckles and thick eyebrows.  © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration

After plenty of initial scribbling to begin to understand how Cara, as I named her, would translate into her more human guise, my next step was to explore how her movement might register as comically un-human. The natural starting point was to teach her how to walk.

Cara learns to walk (Low Res) signed © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
“Cara learns to walk” – Sketch page. Trying to keep the low gravity and toddling, unsteady gait of a much younger child was my aim in “teaching” Cara to walk as a person. © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration

Every action Cara undertakes as a person initially has to look deliberate, determined and a little clumsy, to match the seal inside. Despite being a book concept, I have begun to plan certain spreads in my first dummy version of this story as you might a hand-drawn animation- exploring movement by movement how best to present a particular scene and different ways she might tackle them. As a method of working this hadn’t been planned from the start- but for a character with such unusual movements it’s far becoming my favourite!

Cara meal sketch detail (Low Res) © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
“The Meal” – detail from a sketchbook page. “Her freckled face peering inquisitvely over the bowl’s rim.” © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration

One sequence I’m planning at the moment involves Cara’s first meal as a human. This would be the first instance where she would encounter crockery, cutlery, sitting down to eat (as well as table manners!) I’ve heard it said by many veteran illustrators that the best images depict the split second before something happens. Drawing close to frame by frame has helped me to determine the moment between intrigue and face-first feasting within this scene!

This is going to be a long journey, but one I feel really excited about. I’m still planning the first dummy draft of the full book, but each page of this is surrounded with notes- notes of research and reference material that will help make this world more real, as well as different, possibly more effective alternative spreads that I can trial alongside the one in this first draft. Like a comedy routine, it takes a lot of work and rehearsal to find the perfect joke- and to find the most effective ways to present the lovable, clumsy, and kind-hearted soul that is Cara.

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Next time I’ll be sharing a visual diary from a recent trip to Cornwall- a mini-project I undertook to tackle some of my illustrative worries head on!

Thanks for reading!

The AutumnHobbit

© Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Adventures in painted forests

Hello again!

I’m afraid this month’s post is going to have to be a short-ish one, as I’m a busy little bee! I’ve started a couple of new projects in the last few weeks, including entering images for a couple of exhibitions in Bristol, (click on ‘Shows and Exhibitions’ for pictures!) working with a couple of lovely writer friends on a dinosaur-based children’s story and volunteering at a festival celebrating sustainable ideas for a weekend (which was a blast- if any of you readers are in the Bristol area next September, please try and go along to the “Small is…” festival, there’s workshops, music, food and really really lovely people, it’s definitely worth a ticket!) Despite trying to adapt into freelance life, I’m also still hunting for part-time work in every spare moment I get.

But the main thing I want to share with you this month is a little something I want to keep rolling as much as possible over the coming year, and I feel that by writing about it I won’t fall behind or forget about it!

I still have a huge dream to illustrate for some of the big children’s publishing houses one day, and from the advice I’ve been given, it’s a long and arduous slog to get there. But I’m looking to, in around a year’s time, attend a couple of children’s book fairs having got in contact with some of the organisations who’ll also be attending, to talk to them about my work and possible pitches for children’s stories. Avid readers of this blog will remember Erik the Viking, and he is the first one of these. But as I’ve also been working hard at trying to work out exactly what I can offer as a consistent style to these houses in a pitch, it’s got me thinking about how to offer different stories which still exist under some kind of uniting umbrella….

And I think I’m a step closer to figuring that out. Something that ties all my artistic thoughts together is nature, and its relationship with ancient society. This clicked when I stumbled across a breed of cat that the Vikings used to keep as pets on account of their excellent mousing capabilites, huge, fluffy creatures which feature in a lot of Norse mythology (they were meant to have pulled the Norse goddess of love, Freyja, along in her cart.) The Norwegian word for this breed of cat, now commonly domesticated, “Skogkatt”, or Forest Cat, sparked off a huge revelation in my head- and I’ve started plans on a whole new story, set in ancient Scandinavia. This is the story that will become the focus of the blog’s update each month, this is the other concept I will try and pitch in around a year’s time.

By sharing it with you lovely readers, I feel like there will always be a deadline, and it will encourage me to keep the story evolving!

Here are some of my initial sketches, bits and bobs which I’ve been working on for this.

Skogkatt for blog watermarked
After studying the movement of the Norwegian Forest cat, an experiment with natural dyes (blackberries.)

The main focus of the story is the Skogkatt itself, and its shroud of mystery and magic- something I’m trying to achieve in the style itself- simplistic, ancient, but still incredibly compelling.

Inky skies for blog

Blending inks of different densities with natural dyes made from berries and grass has been my initial experiment- with a view to making something which draws on the magic of storytelling, how ancient myths were woven in darkened huts and breathed in firesmoke, to deliver to modern children. After all, these times were so long ago they’ve entered the realm of fantasy, which is where most young people live out their childhood.

More updates will come next month- where I’m hoping to include some finalised designs for, let’s call him Skog, and the child he interacts with; as well as a little excerpt of my first draft of the story.

Thankyou for your continued support, watch this space!

-The AutumnHobbit.

© Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.