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”!
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.
I started having a go at some sequential narrative inspired by how Briggs tells his stories.
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!)
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!
(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!)
“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!
(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
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,
© 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.