The creation of Building Site zoo, part two: the illustrations

In Part Two, here’s Laura Wood’s great post about how she went about creating the visual world of Building Site Zoo. And  it includes samples of her roughs, storyboard, and work as it developed–thanks so much for sharing them with us, Laura!

Creating the illustrations for Building Site Zoo, by Laura Wood

The first time I read Sophie’s manuscript, I thought it was one of the most original picture books I was ever asked to illustrate.

I knew it would have been a fun text to bring to life but also quite challenging… which is always a good thing! I knew it would be hard for me to draw all those buildings and machines, since it’s not something I’m very used to!

Anyway, it didn’t take me long to decide to accept the challenge.

The first things publishers want to see are always the main characters of the story, so I started from there. The story doesn’t say explicitly who the characters are, which I personally love, since it gives me a lot of freedom to play around. I decided to go for brother, sister and grandpa.

After that, I started doing lot of research about cityscapes, buildings and machines before sketching ideas for the storyboard. I knew I needed to becoming familiar with the shapes of the machinery before getting the ideas out.

The idea I finally came out with was to approach the whole book, as a dual reality kind of thing: basically having two very similar spreads, the first one with the animal – the world made up by the kids – and the second one with the corresponding machine – the real world. This way, I thought the reader could make a connection easily between the text, the animals and the machinery in action. Mmm… I think written down sounds more complicated than it is, anyway here are some early storyboard sketches.

 

 

Some more storyboard sketches. As you can see, spreads developed and changed.

 

 

Once all the spreads have been approved by the publisher, I work on the final lines. For this book in particular, since there were a lot of overlapping elements on each spread, I preferred to draw some of the elements separately (background, animals, machines, characters, etc…) and put everything together in the computer.

I then proceed to colour everything. Once the internal spreads are coloured, the cover is always the last thing that gets done.

There were lots of different elements I wanted to fit in this particular cover, so I tried a few ideas but it took me quite a while to get the composition working…

 

 

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Another lovely review for Two Rainbows

I was delighted to read another lovely and perceptive review of Two Rainbows this morning. It’s on The Bottom Shelf blog.

Here’s an extract:

This story is a marriage of text and illustration, each interdependent as they should be in quality picture books.  At first the little girl sees only the rainbow, even though there are other spots of colour around her, as she thinks nostalgically of the colours of the country but as she starts to see more of her environment, so too the colours in the pictures increase although the city remains grey and the country bathed in light. And as her thoughts slowly attune to the city environment she begins to see more objects, different from the farm but perhaps with something to offer as she peers over the blue fence and sees a treehouse with a rope ladder and maybe a friend.

You can read the whole review here. 

Babushka and the Star–a story for Christmas

babushka-largeA story for Christmas–based on a beautiful Russian folktale which I retold and which was first published in  Once Upon A Christmas. The gorgeous illustration is by David Allan. Enjoy–and merry Christmas to everyone!

Babushka and the Star

a traditional Russian Christmas legend, retold by Sophie Masson

A long, long time ago, there lived an old woman whom everyone called Babushka, which means ‘Grandmother’ in Russian. Now Babushka was a widow who lived alone, and she was so house-proud that she spent nearly her whole time cleaning and sweeping, dusting and polishing, scrubbing and washing. Day and night, it was all the same to her, and she was so busy that she hardly had time to say good morning to her neighbours in the village, or to watch the sunset, or to hear the song of birds, or to delight in the play of children, or to smell the first roses of summer or the first fall of snow in winter. Her house was the cleanest and freshest and cosiest in all of the village, but though Babushka was kind and hospitable, and sometimes invited people in for a glass of tea, they would soon feel uncomfortable, for she would fuss with dishcloth and broom the moment they sat down.

One bright winter’s morning, Babushka was scrubbing her doorstep when out came the next door neighbour from her house. ‘Wasn’t it a beautiful star last night?’ she said.

‘What star?’ said Babushka. ‘I saw no star.’

The neighbour stared at her and said, ‘Oh! You must have seen it! It was so beautiful your heart might break just looking at it.’

Babushka shook her head. ‘I saw no star,’ she said, and having finished her doorstep, she started to dust her shutters. Soon, who should come by but the baker’s boy with his cart. Handing a loaf of bread to Babushka, he said, ‘What did you think of the star, Babushka?’

Again, Babushka said, ‘What star? I saw no star.’

The baker’s boy stared at her and said, ‘But it was big as this!’ and he spread his arms wide to show how much. ‘Big as the village! Big as the world!’

‘I saw no star,’ said Babushka, stubbornly. ‘And if you don’t mind, I’m busy.’

So off went the baker’s boy, shaking his head. Now Babushka finished dusting her shutters, and started work on polishing the brass door-knob. Soon, along came a little girl bouncing a ball.  ‘That knob is almost as bright as the star last night!’she said.

Once more, Babushka said,  ‘What star? I saw no star.’

‘Oh, but you must have done!’ said the little girl, staring. ‘It sparkled like the shiniest diamond in the world! What do you think it means?’

‘Nothing,’ said Babushka, crossly, ‘only that too many people don’t have enough to do with their time if they must stare at stars which you can see in the sky any night of the year!’

‘Oh but no!’ cried the little girl. ‘This star was not like the others! Nobody has ever seen it before, and..’

But she was talking to thin air, for Babushka had gone into her house and slammed the door.

How silly people are! Babushka thought to herself as she went about her cleaning and polishing indoors. So much work to be done, and they waste time staring at the night sky as though they’d never seen it before! Of course she could hardly remember the last time she’d looked at the night sky. But she was too busy for that.

Night had almost fallen by the time Babushka decided it was time to start cooking her dinner. She had just made a pot of mushroom soup when there came a knock on the door. She went to open it and stared in amazement for there on her well-scrubbed doorstep stood a tall black man dressed in fine golden robes, with a golden turban on his head. Behind him stood two other men, one round and blond with a bushy beard, fur-lined robes and a gold-trimmed fur hat, the other small and dark-haired and almond-eyed, with dark blue silk robes and a hat of the same colour with golden silk tassels hanging down. And behind them were three odd creatures Babushka had never set eyes on  before, tall and yellow-brown, with haughty faces and humps on their backs. Each of the beasts was richly saddled and bridled, and each of the men carried a small chest, inlaid with ivory and gold. Babushka had never seen such a sight. Why, they looked like three kings, she thought. And here they were on her very own doorstep!

‘Good evening,’ said the tall black man, very politely. ‘Is this the house of the lady Babushka?’

‘Why—why, yes,’ said Babushka. ‘And what may I do for you fine gentlemen?’

‘We are following the star,’ said the round blond man. Babushka sighed. Not the star again! She was about to say she knew nothing about it, when the dark-haired man chimed in, saying, ‘But we need a meal, and a rest, just for a few hours, just till the star comes out again.’

‘And your house is the best in the village, lady Babushka,’ said the tall black man, very politely indeed. ‘So we thought that maybe..’

Babushka beamed. She really was a kind and hospitable soul. ‘Of course! Of course!’ she said. ‘Welcome to my humble house, Your Majesties, and please make yourselves at home!’ She eyed the creatures outside. ‘And as to your—er—your animals, they can go in the cow-shed. It is warm there, and there is hay, if they do not mind sharing with the cow and the calf.’

The tall black man smiled. ‘I am sure the camels will not mind at all,’ he said.

No sooner said than done, and soon the three kings were settled in Babushka’s little kitchen, eating mushroom soup and good fresh bread and honey cakes to follow, with as much tea as they wanted. As they ate and drank, they talked, and Babushka listened in wonder. They had come from so far away, and travelled for such a long time, and all to follow that star! ‘But why?’ she asked. ‘Why did you do that?’

‘Because it heralds the birth of a great king,’ said the tall black man.

‘And we want to give the royal baby gifts,’ said the round blond man.

‘Gold and frankincense and myrrh,’ said the small dark-haired man.

‘Those are beautiful perfumes,’ said the tall black man, seeing she looked puzzled.

‘Gifts fit for a king,’ said the round blond man.

‘But aren’t you kings yourselves?’ asked Babushka, curiously.

‘Beside this child Jesus, ‘ said the dark-haired man, ‘we are just servants.’

‘Then he must be a mighty king indeed,’ said Babushka. ‘Yet he is only a baby.’

‘Yes,’ said the tall black man. ‘It is a mystery.’ He looked at Babushka and said, ‘Like the star.’

‘Oh, the star!’ said Babushka, shrugging.

‘Look,’ said the round blond man, pointing at the window. And now Babushka could see it, a star brighter than bright, shining in like the shiniest diamond, so beautiful your heart might break, seeming to get bigger even as she looked at it.  And she wondered how on earth she’d missed it before.

Now the tall black man rose to his feet and said, ‘We must leave now, lady Babushka, and follow the star, but we would like to ask you to come with us.’

Babushka looked at him and shook her head and said, ‘It is very kind of you, sire, but I really have too much work to go anywhere so soon. Maybe after tomorrow.’

‘We must go now,’ said the round blond man, ‘or else we will be too late.’

‘Oh no surely it will wait another day,’ said Babushka, ‘or maybe two, because if I am to go on a long journey, I must clean the house from top to bottom.’

‘We cannot wait two days or even one,’ said the dark-haired man. ‘We must go this very hour.’

‘Then I will follow later,’ said Babushka. ‘I will follow, with gifts of my own.’

‘Very well, as you wish,’ said the tall black man, rather sadly. ‘Make sure then to follow the star.’ And now the three kings thanked her, very politely, and left, riding on their camels just as though they were horses. How strange the world is, thought Babushka as she waved goodbye. And then she went back inside and shut her door.

But she could not sleep. So she scrubbed and cleaned. But her mind kept slipping from her work. Once, a long time ago, she’d had a baby of her own. But the child had become sick and died in his third winter. Babushka had not thought of the child in years and years. Now she could not stop. ‘I had some little toys for him,’ she thought. ‘A top, a ball, a drum, a little wooden soldier. Maybe I can bring those for the royal baby when I go to visit him. ‘ She went to the chest where they were kept. Oh! They were dusty and a little stained. They wouldn’t do. Not at all. Not in this state.

For hours, she worked on those toys. But she was so tired she fell asleep. When she awoke, it was early morning, and the star had gone. A strange feeling seized her. She could not wait. Not any longer. She had to follow those kings. She had to catch them up! So quickly she pulled on her warmest coat and hat and gloves, put all the money she had in her purse, packed all the toys in a basket and set off along the road the kings had taken.

She walked and walked and walked, for hours and hours and hours. She stopped in villages and towns to ask if they had seen the kings, and every time, people said, ‘Oh yes, they’ve only just passed, they’ve taken this road,’ and so, stopping only to buy a little food, and another toy to put in her basket, she would take the road they said, and hurry, hurry, trying to catch the three kings up. But always, they seemed to have just passed by, and she could not catch sight of them at all. When night fell, she waited for the star to come out, and sure enough it did. But it seemed fainter now, further away. Still Babushka kept walking.

Eventually she got to a place called Bethlehem. And there a man told her that only a few nights ago, the three kings had been there. They had come to give gifts to a baby, he said. Ah yes, nodded Babushka. ‘Where is the palace? I have gifts for the royal child.’

‘A palace? Oh no, this baby was born in a stable,’ said the man.

Babushka remembered what the tall black man had said, about it being a mystery. ‘Did the star shine above the stable?’ she asked.

‘Oh yes,’ said the man. ‘And there were angels. And shepherds too,’ he added.

‘And the three kings,’ said Babushka.

‘Them too,’ said the man. He looked at her. ‘And who are you?’

‘Babushka,’ she said, ‘I am just Babushka. I have come a long way to bring gifts for the child. Can you tell me where he is?’

‘He is gone,’ said the man. ‘With his parents, Mary and Joseph. They had to flee to Egypt. Because of King Herod. The three kings were to show them the way.’

‘Egypt,’ said Babushka, not listening to the rest. ‘Then Egypt is where I’ll go. Can you point out the road to me?’ And she set off again, walking, walking, walking.

She is still going, with her basket of toys on her arm. One day, maybe you might see her, trudging along the road, following a star that only she can see. She might stop in your town, and ask everyone if they have seen the three kings. And then, quietly, she will leave toys behind for all the children, to lighten her basket for the long road ahead. She will never give up. For she will never stop looking for the little child born under the miraculous star.

Visual writing or the joys of calligraphy, by Peter Taylor

Today I’m featuring an absolutely fabulous guest post by writer Peter Taylor, who’s also well-known as a calligrapher and artist-book constructor on how we can encourage children to create multi-faceted and unusual word magic. Enjoy!

Visual writing or the joys of calligraphy

Picture books are written to provide young children with a roller-coaster ride of emotions. Similarly, we plot a journey for the older reader, leaving spaces in the text so that they can use their imagination to see themselves beside the characters, but it’s by the way we tell the stories that we cause each reader to feel the characters’ pain, doubts and passion. In music, a simple change in key, harmony, melody or rhythm can shift a listener’s joy to deep despair (or the reverse) in a second, but it’s not so easy for a writer.  Perhaps it really is true that writers, who agonise over choosing perfect words, all wish they were musicians able to express themselves directly through their playing.

Calligrapher Ann Hechle has described how verbal orchestration in poetry also manipulates the depth of our feeling so that our mind, imagination and almost every part of us is engaged. The flow of Latinate words like ‘consider’ and ‘recognise’ contrasting with the thump in the guts Anglo-Saxon ‘gripe’, ‘groan’ and ‘grunt’; long and short vowels; tempo and stress; volume and density; onomatopoeia where sound shades into meaning–these are felt as physical sensations, stirring our brain’s deeper interpretation.

In such a world of feeling, it’s therefore surprising to me that children of all ages are not encouraged more often to interpret words visually, un-restrained by a standard size of letters and a requirement of regimented rows of words. Isn’t it natural to want to write about crashing waves by using letters and words that heave and tumble on …well …wave shaped lines, and in appropriate colours? And why not sometimes use larger and bolder letters for those words emphasised most in speech, as pioneered by Hechle in the 1960s? Such freedom may foster creative writing by children and adults alike, or engender an artistic response to any favourite text.

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Text from Relearning the Alphabet by Denise Levertov

In the beginning was delight. A depth

stirred as one stirs fire unthinking.

Dark  dark  dark. And the blaze illumines dream.

Vision sets out

journeying somewhere,

walking the dreamwaters.

Designing the layout for words as an outward spiral may be appropriate for stories that unwind, such as: ‘Will you walk a little faster,’ said the whiting to a snail, ‘there’s a porpoise just behind us and he’s treading on my tail.’ Conversely, some stories wind up and can be written as an inward spiral, for example: ‘This is the cow with the crumpled horn that tossed the dog that worried the cat that killed the rat that lay in the house that Jack built.’ And as you will see, I have used this spiral technique and others in my combination of biblical passages.

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Not all children get hooked on reading and writing by initially listening to or reading stories. Some may arrive at the endpoint by predominantly first developing a love of words and of books as objects. When I stage a ‘Hands-on History of Books and Writing over 4000 Years’ experience in schools, even reluctant readers seem to enjoy handling a 2000 BC cuneiform clay sales docket, holding a hand-written vellum page from a 13th century medieval book without using white gloves, a page from one of the world’s first dictionaries printed in the 1480s, peeping inside Victorian picture books and deciphering a description of New York published in the 1679 that says that it has ‘…above 500 well-built houses’ amongst other treasures (and most then want to read more about early New York).

 

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Some children may come to enjoy words and reading after calligraphic exploration. From playing with the word ‘rain’…taylor-4

…research could next find a poem that is fitting for similar presentation, with reading undertaken in the process enjoyed more than expected:

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Poem: This Land by Ian Mudie

Designing calligraphic letter shapes can influence and add joy to creative writing, too. Letters with triangular serifs like webbed feet, for example, can give impetus to write about frogs, ducks or sea-gulls.

Verse by Peter Taylor, illustration by Anil Tortop

Verse by Peter Taylor, illustration by Anil Tortop

Sea fever, by John Masefield

Sea fever, by John Masefield

We can arouse young children’s interest in books with colour and quirkiness. But what sort of books are teens excited by? What kinds of bindings and book structures do they explore? I taught ‘Book Cover Design’ workshops to children aged 7 to 17 at the Queensland State Library. Participants used pens, scissors, paste and coloured and decorative papers to produce dust-jackets for Reference books of their choice (that were later re-shelved in their new covers). The children created the most eye-catching bold designs, but I wonder what they would have produced if they had been offered a wider range of materials and allowed more time, especially to read the books thoroughly. Would they have created a quilt cover for a book of poems titled On Going to Bed or placed hamburger recipes in a container shaped and covered to resemble a Big Mac?

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Would they have modelled or sculpted mountain ranges to sit on top of the pages of Lord of the Rings, as famed designer-bookbinder Philip Smith has done?

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Or designed a ‘Book Stack’, as Mike Stilkey does?

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Maybe the children would have produced something even more original.

How many books do teens smell? Are they encouraged to write, design and bind their own books?

Is it possible that first creating a book with a special structure can provide the stimulus for writing a story to fit inside it? Or will a story provide ideas for a unique and satisfying way to display the text?

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I hope children of all ages (and adults) are encouraged to explore the totality of the world of words, of language, writing, calligraphy, exciting layout designs and books of every form and structure until these become a rich, integral and important part of their lives. Sustenance for their creativity and creative thought. Let us give them experiences to savour and help them to respond with joy in their own way …to the extent that they want to bungee-jump into, read and devour our offerings of all genres with relish.

Peter Taylor’s first book was published in 1987 and he writes wacky verses, fiction and non-fiction for all ages. His picture book, ‘Once a Creepy Crocodile’ illustrated by Nina Rycroft and pub. The Five Mile Press was shortlisted for the 2015 Book of the Year award by Speech Pathology Australia. Peter is also an internationally respected calligrapher and artist’s book constructor, has been the Queensland Newsletter Editor for the Children’s Book Council of Australia, Co-ordinator of SCBWI Queensland and judge of the Dorothy Shaw Writing Competition for the deaf. He delights in sharing his extensive historical book and document collection and encouraging children and adults to love books, read, write and be creative. Peter offers workshops, talks and performances to libraries, schools and festivals. 

 

www.writing-for-children.com

http://brisbaneillustrators.com/peter-taylor.html

www.ptcalligraphy.com

 

2BR02B: the journey of a dystopian film–an interview with Leon Coward

australian-artist-and-composer-leon-cowardI’ve known the extraordinarily talented young creator Leon Coward since he was a pre-teen reader/reviewer flatteringly enthusiastic about my books. Today, Leon’s love of creating art has  led him to work in many different fields–not only literature, but music, visual arts, and now film-making. Involved first as a concept artist for the short film 2BR02B–To Be or Naught to Be, a dystopian work based on one of Kurt Vonnegut’s short stories, Leon went on to take a much greater part in the creation of the film.

The Canadian production, which has already been selected for no less than 15 prestigious short film festivals, has its Australian premiere today, in Sydney. To mark this exciting occasion, I talked with Leon about the creative journey behind the film.

Leon, how did you become involved in the creation of  2BR02B: To be or Naught to Be? 

My background is in graphic design and traditional illustration. The producer Artin John is a childhood friend, and he began co-producing the film and asked for me to create a poster… then concept art… then the mural and other artwork. I had no idea how involved I would later become.

The film is based on a Kurt Vonnegut short story which imagines a dystopian world in which babies are only allowed to be born if another life is terminated. What were the particular challenges involved in adapting the story for film?

The tone was a challenge. It’s easy to show too little or be too graphic, be too nonchalant or be too sombre. You can try to be as true to Vonnegut’s material as possible, but at the end of the day also you’re working with the material that you as a team have generated, not just Vonnegut’s, and that’s what you’ve got to make work. There were a few things from the original story that confused our test audiences – in one instance it was putting jazz at the end of the film, and Vonnegut gets away with it because as a reader you don’t hear it, but we realised it just sounded like cinema lounge music and it spoiled the audience’s mulling over of events.

2br02b_federal-bureau-of-termination-poster2BR02B has an ensemble cast, so an editing challenge was working out the balance between them. We’d all thought the film would centre on Wehling and his internal conflict, because his dilemma motivates his actions which affect the other characters – the problem was that while we knew what he was thinking and what he’s gearing himself up to do, the audience didn’t. The first edit was melodramatic simply because the audience was asked to feel for a character they didn’t know. So I shook things up and this was hard because I took an edit to the team and, although the story itself hadn’t changed, what was emphasized had changed. For a long time we were also going for an emotional ending, but after test screenings it was clear the audience were frustrated. My grandmother suggested a twist, and I incorporated it and showed the team without warning them – that way they got to experience it as the audience would.

My own big challenges were creating the fictitious ‘Federal Bureau of Termination’ set in Chicago and the Painter’s 16-ft mural. The FBT is represented by Leora, a gas chamber hostess – but other than her and a brief shot of a gas chamber, the FBT doesn’t appear. So to convey the fact that this organization dominated the society, we gave them a brand identity that pervaded everything – corporate signage, posters, banners, badges, tags, earpieces and costume motifs. Vonnegut described a symbolic design for their logo (an ‘eagle perched on a turnstile’), but I approached it as a new branding commission and researched federal seals and local symbols for Chicago. There are a lot of references – the stars and stripes on the US and Chicago flags, the Chicago municipal device (which is a Y for their shaped river), even the wings of their state insect the Monarch butterfly. But there are also a lot of differences to real seals which make it very impersonal, very geometric, skeletal & circuit-like, and no natural symbols.

The mural took 6 months to design and finish. It was digitally painted in Sydney, then printed in Canada. All the characters discuss its symbolism and pose for it – if the mural didn’t come across as a genuine work of art, it’d devalue the acting. Its design was driven by story needs and Vonnegut’s prose. It shows a false utopian garden where nurses and FBT staff, dressed in white and purple, symbolically turn soil, plant seeds, and control life and death. Purple is traditional for sacrificial robes, and Dr. Hitz, who is the architect of population control, is painted as a ‘Zeus-like’ figure. The mural had to be recognizably propaganda and contemporary, so our director Marco instructed me to look at Russian war posters, Art Deco and Cubism. At the same time, I knew the mural had to have religious overtones. I’d experimented with a mix of Expressionism and William Blake-esque styles – trying to avoid the ‘communist cornfield worker’ interpretations I’ve seen in student versions of the film, or any specific garden-type, but I was going too far in that direction. My new layout was Art Deco-inspired, using diagonals and circles – essentially it’s an ‘X’ drawing your eyes to Hitz, and the FBT logo acts like a sun, framing Hitz’s head like a halo. I blended Cubism, Futurism and Brutalism with religious styles. The concrete flats, which also mimic the FBT logo, overpower the barest of gardens and help narrow the viewer’s focus, and the floating flower made it futuristic. The style of plants and their millefleur treatment came from The Lady and the Unicorn tapestry and the religiously-themed The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestry. Sir Edward Burne-Jones’ pilgrimage paintings, and especially his Wedding of Psyche, provided the inspiration for the figures, their poses, compositional distribution and costumes (I also referenced medical scrubs). Hitz needed a recognizable inference of himself as a messiah – so Byzantine iconography provided the inspiration for his hands (which are Christ’s) and the haloed foetus, as well as the mural’s forced perspective. For Hitz’s costume there was also a bit of SS uniform and Nehru jacket, dentist and Jedi, and a more contemporary influence from Gehn in Cyan’s Riven, a character who also sees himself as a god. Everywhere you look the message is there, and it was hard to make the mural function as a finished work of art yet still be visibly ‘in-progress’. The aim was to show a society where there is no respect for religious heritage – God is dead, and the FBT is filling the vacancy – and the mural needed to be created that way. It took months of digitally painting and scanning paint textures and brushstrokes, since the mural had to withstand close-ups. Halfway through, Paul Giamatti had scheduling conflicts, and I had to repaint the face for our Hitz replacement, Mackenzie Gray. The mural was printed in strips of paper which overlapped; clear hard-drying gel was applied to give it a texture, and Ferrero-Rocher wrappers (which have a great canvas texture) were used for the gold highlights.2br02b_mural-by-leon-coward-1

The project was an international collaboration over 3 years between crew in Australia, Canada, UK, Mexico and the Netherlands. What were the challenges and advantages involved in such a big undertaking over such distances and different time zones? What did you learn from the experience?

We had cast and crew in Vancouver, myself and other crew in Sydney, an artist in the Netherlands, and a VFX school in Mexico which did effects as part of their professional training. Footage was flown to me in Sydney and I began re-editing with James Tarbotton. Then Martin Cantwell, our brilliant sound designer in London, came onboard. The time differences were okay as calls were early morning or late night, so we’d avoid each others’ work hours – which was important since the film was not a paying project. The separation was a technical disadvantage, since exporting and transferring files adds a lot of time. It’s also important to be able to see, at least once, the person you’re communicating with, in person or Skype, because it makes email writing a lot easier. While there were disadvantages, I think the distance for me and my collaborators in Sydney allowed us to approach the project in a way we mightn’t have otherwise – especially in the editing, where we could respond as a fresh audience without preconceptions, or even knowing what the actors were like out of character.

You worked on many different aspects of the film, as art director, composer, film editor and associate producer. How did you navigate all these different roles? Was there one aspect you preferred above all?

2br02b_left-to-right_jason-diablo-and-australian-artin-johnIn a sense it hasn’t been hard to navigate between the roles because they were prepared for – I had this idea that the Painter would have a gramophone, and that he was listening to Schubert’s “Ave Maria”. When gun-shooting later ensues, the song could provide a macabre serenade. I stuck the gramophone in my concept art, and waited for the idea to take hold – it was influencing the film’s music to some extent without having to be the composer, but ironically I eventually found myself in the role and this wasn’t intentional! There is a some incidental music, but I pushed to have it that the only music was the ‘live’ gramophone so that the music was simply part of the world, and not an ‘invisible’ emotional narrator as film scores often are. The film and the Ave Maria recording were designed and edited around each other: while films are often edited to an existing temp track of unrelated music, this film was edited to a pre-existing recording of Ave Maria, which was later replaced with a tailor-made recording, post editing and sound design. It enabled us to go for a different interpretation too, which would greater contrast the action. We were fortunate to have my sister Imogen Coward, who is both a skilled soprano and conductor, record the version for us that appears in the finished film. We wanted to avoid any artificial stretching or splicing, so we had the unusual challenge of recording in one take, matching the timing of the temp version. We had 2 frames wriggle room, and the edit didn’t have any room to be changed for different timing. It was tiring, but it was worth it because it has a quality that is lost when music, especially singing, is heavily edited.

The film has so far received 5 nominations and 14 international festival selections, including for its Australian premiere at the Sydney Indie Film Festival on October 19. That’s quite an achievement! What do you think are the special qualities of the film which have made it attractive to festival selectors?

While Vonnegut created the story, it’s also the way the cast and crew have interpreted, realized and communicated the story. Derek Ryan, our screenwriter and co-producer, did a good job of cutting away story material that couldn’t be cinematic – so from the start we were all working with a document that concentrated our focus. 2BR02B really takes a cross-section of behaviours in a society where life and death are pushed to absurdities, but there’s no obvious political or moral position in its telling – just the drama of human action, and I think it allows the viewer in on their own terms. I think one of the things that’s helped is how the film feels when you watch it vs what is leaves you thinking about – cinematically it is very static up to a point, and then there’s this burst of drama and the music making it madness, and then just desolation, and that hits the audience. Vonnegut’s narrative was influenced by his experiences as a P.O.W. in Dresden, and even though his story is fiction, the themes are relevant and resonate because the wars have cast such a long shadow. It’s subtle in our film, but the hospital cross is actually a swastika, and the banners flanking the mural are inspired by Nazi banners –  Wehling’s cry “It’s only death” was used on our banners, so instead of his line being spontaneous, it becomes him quoting propaganda which the audience saw earlier.

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What’s next for you, in terms of films, after this one?

I’m independently developing my own film project – an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s “The Happy Prince”, and am shifting between generating its music and visual material.

You are also engaged in doing a PhD on aspects of film design. Can you tell us a bit about that?

It essentially provides an analytical process which teases apart a film’s design (if it has one) – whether the story, visuals, acting, music, sound or all their combination. The method is quite straightforward, but its theoretical justification and demonstration is very demanding. The method has had encouraging support from many industry practitioners.

As a multi-talented creator and performer, you are also involved in music, visual arts and literature. Tell us about some of your projects in those fields.

My sister Imogen is director of the chamber orchestra Camerata Academica of the Antipodes, which was founded by my siblings and a group of our young musician friends who we’ve played music together with since childhood. Our concert profits go towards helping support the Don Spencer’s Australian Children’s Music Foundation. Our orchestra has just celebrated its second anniversary and second regional tour in Australia. It’s been a very exciting time for the group. We love playing Baroque music – Vivaldi, Handel and Corelli – but our concerts also include music from a wide range of eras and styles, from the 1500s to today, and the orchestra has premiered some of my music that was written specially for the members. A lot of my own solo projects are on hold until after the PhD, including fine art prints and two picture books, written and illustrated by me, one which has been endorsed by Quentin Blake (Roald Dahl’s illustrator).

I know that you come from a family where the arts are highly valued, and your siblings are both also working in the arts. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up, and what effect you feel it had on your adult career?

We’ve each ended up musicians – my sister  violin, viola, cello and voice, and she has her PhD in music. My brother has focused on violin, voice and guitar, and he’s also doing his PhD on music and magic performance (he’s been performing illusions for 10 years now). Our parents homeschooled us to university level, and were very keyed in to expanding our interests, skills and activities, but they didn’t try to turn us out as one thing or another and weren’t discouraging. My grandmother recently found some drawings from when I was 5, and I couldn’t draw for nuts. But I meet a lot of parents and kids who restrict activities because there’s no immediate interest or sign of potential. I think the effect it has had for my siblings and me is that we’re not afraid to venture beyond our immediate interests and skills, and that’s allowed us to develop the set of skills we have.

Leon Coward is a published artist and writer, and performed composer and choreographer. He performs on violin, viola, piano and voice with the chamber orchestra Camerata Academica of the Antipodes, and was recently art director, composer, editor and associate producer for the 2016 film adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s “2BR02B: To Be or Naught to Be”. He is undertaking a PhD at the University of New England, Australia, and has presented his creative work and research throughout Australasia and internationally, including for the TATE Liverpool UK. Since 2007 Leon has edited and designed the e-zine “The Online Book Group”. In 2009 Leon illustrated “Vietnam Reflections”, by award-winning author Libby Hathorn. In 2011 he was awarded a mentorship by the Australian Society of Authors.

 

Across the Tasman 6: Sarah Davis

unnamedToday in my New Zealand series, I’m delighted to be publishing an interview with the wonderful illustrator Sarah Davis. Sarah began illustrating picture books in 2008, and is now, as she puts it,  ‘ruined for any other career.’ She has an honours degree in literature, and her love of language and narrative underpins her illustration work – as a self-taught artist, she is constantly experimenting with new ways to tell stories visually. She has illustrated more than 37 books with major publishers and been shortlisted for about the same number of awards in Australia and New Zealand. Sarah is an ambassador for Room to Read, and the Illustrator Coordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (Australia East/NZ) Sarah is represented by the Gallt Zacker Agency in the USA and Frances Plumpton Literary Agency in New Zealand.

Sarah, you’ve said you are now spoiled for any other career other than illustration! Can you tell us about how that career started? What first drew you to illustration? And who were your main artistic influences?fearlesscover-copy

I think I’ve always been heading towards illustration, actually, but I got temporarily derailed by Life. I actually majored in English literature and creative writing at uni, and haven’t had much art training, and had my son when I was only 20, so went into teaching English at secondary school because it was something i felt passionate about and the hours were also good to fit around being a sole parent. I’d always drawn for fun and wanted to do more with it, but couldn’t really find the time.  I started dabbling in art a bit more seriously when I was about 26, but had our two lovely daughters in 2001 and 2003, and was still working part time, so it was hard to fit it in! When we moved to Sydney in 2004, I took time off work and that’s when illustration started to take off for me. I decided I’d go with the “fake it till you make it!’ philosophy, and set up a profile on some online freelancing sites, and got a bunch of jobs that way which taught me how it all worked and helped me start to build a portfolio. Then I decided to have a go at picture book illustration. I applied to the Stylefile with some truly horrible art samples, and they very sensibly and very kindly rejected me. Their rejection was accompanied by an A4 page of incredibly constructive criticism, and I took all their advice on board and built a much better portfolio, which i took to a critique at a SCBWI conference, and it all took off from there, thanks in a large part to my fairy godmother Susanne Gervay, who was incredibly kind and supportive and enthusiastically made connections and opportunities appear for me.soundsspooky_cover_hbk

What draws me to illustration is the opportunity it provides for narrative – I’m a sucker for story. My artistic influences are pretty varied, I think – I spend a lot of time online gazing at the awe-inspiring work of superior beings. I don’t think I really have a style, and seem to shift my approach based on the demands of the text, which I suppose is why the people whose work I admire also cover a broad spectrum of styles and periods.

You’ve become one of NZ’s busiest illustrators, with many books published, and lots more on the go. How do you manage your time with all the different projects?

Very badly! I call my system “surfing the tidal wave” – that feeling where you’re performing a very tricky balancing act, only just staying afloat, and there’s a weight of thundering chaos surging at your heels waiting to crash down on you. So far I haven’t totally wiped out and I’m still juuuust ahead of the wave. I’ve illustrated 37 trade picture and chapter books since 2008, as well as taking on commercial projects, books for educational publishers such as Cengage, and speaking at between 20-40 schools a year. Balancing that and family time has been very hectic – we’ve got three kids and 6 months ago we acquired a lovely extra teenager. There were quite a few occasions over the last few years when I had a deadline looming and I didn’t sleep at all for days in a row. I wouldn’t recommend it! I’m much better at achieving work/life balance now. I’m being very selective about what I take on, and trying to be much more disciplined with planning ahead. My son actually introduced me to bullet journalling this year, which is actually a wonderful way to be mindful and deliberate about how you spend your days. (http://bulletjournal.com/)

hippoWhat ‘sells’ you into agreeing to illustrating a text? What sorts of things do you look for? And do you have contact with authors at any stage during the process of creating the illustrations?

The text has to come to life in my head and make me feel something – it has to make me laugh or cry. I like texts that feel unusual and a little unhinged, or that feel as though they haven’t been done before. Vivid, evocative language and appealing characters. To be honest, a lot of the books I’ve done have been sequels – so I’ve initially signed on for one book, and then ended up locked in to doing 3 or 4, which is a brilliant problem to have, but also a little frustrating. I feel like it’s forced me to mark time a bit and cover old ground, when I really want to be moving on and trying something new. But I think I’m just coming to the end of that now!

I usually don’t have a lot of contact with the authors through the process – the publisher usually liases with them, shows them the roughs, processes any feedback for me. It’s a bit odd, because that’s how it works even with authors I know quite well! Me and Juliette MacIver are a bit naughty though and we often have quite long consultations in which the publishers aren’t included, usually involving bottles of wine and ukeleles. (actually, we should include the publishers – they’re all great people and  good fun and can probably also drink wine and play the ukelele.)toucan-can-f-cvr-300dpi

You’ve illustrated both picture books and chapter books. What do you prefer doing? And how does the process differ between the two styles of books?

I much prefer picture books – there’s a lot more leeway for the illustrator to tell a story. Illustrating for chapter books is quite prescribed and proscribed – you basically get told what to draw and given a space in which to draw it on each page. It feels a lot more like  you’re just decorating the text. When you’re illustrating a picture book text you really have a huge interpretive role, and you have to bring the characters to life, draw out and enhance the themes of the text, work out how the action of the plot will play out visually. It’s much more challenging and fun. You can also subvert the text, add unexpected twists and turns and layers – then it becomes a wonderful sort of alchemy where the contributions of two creators meet and mix and create a new level of meaning.mdcc_hbk

You are published both in New Zealand and Australia, and your books have won awards in both countries. Do you see any differences between the two countries in terms of reception of books, and reader responses?

I’m not sure, really!  To be honest, I try not to think too much about how my books are being received, because it scares me! Best to keep my head down and just get on with it. Obviously, awards are always lovely – my favourite kind of award to get are the Children’s Choice awards. Kids are very wise and also really tough judges. As far as differences between the 2 countries go… um…. The Marmaduke Duck series became a really big hit in New Zealand and is a bit of a household name over there, but never really took off here. The quirky kiwi sense of humour might have something to do with that. I mean, it’s an entire 4 book series about a duck who makes jam! Doesn’t get much weirder than that…

mmd_wide-blue-seasDoes being a New Zealander impact on or influence your work? If so, in what way?

Well, I think it must, in the way that everyone’s childhood influences their work! I moved from England to Aotearoa when I was 6, and grew up mainly in Christchurch. The land had a huge effect on me. The mountains and bush and sea of Aotearoa have an really powerful presence – this brooding sense that the land is living, and aware of you.

I think for a little country it really punches above its weight creatively, and as a kid I remember there being a lot of emphasis in school on art and creative writing. I read voraciously, and a lot of my favourite authors were NZ writers. Gavin Bishop actually came to visit my school when I was about 9 or 10, and I remember he was working on Mrs McGinty’s Bizarre Plant, and showed us all his rough sketches – I was transfixed! (I actually wrote a blog post about it: http://sarah-davis.org/blog/2015/7/20/l0ef49s6lr8u1vcxogmnuqer1ommrd)

I should also mention my fabulous NZ publishers: Gecko Press and Scholastic NZ. Both extraordinary powerhouses of creativity and absolutely delightful to work with, and tireless in promoting their books and trying to get them out into the wider world, which is a necessity for NZ publishers since the local market is so small. An extra shout out must go to Julia Marshall at Gecko, who has built the company from the ground up and really does produce the most extraordinarily beautiful books.

What are you working on now?hoth

I’m working on a sequel to Be Brave Pink Piglet, published by Hachette, and a super-secret (and exciting!) project for Penguin, which is due in January. I also have a couple of educational titles on the go so that I can pay the bills. I’m working on a couple of series of paintings, too, and hoping to have an exhibition next year. But what I’m most excited about is that I’ve finally finished writing a picture book of my own, and am also going to be illustrating another that my son wrote. They’re both with a publisher now, going to acquisitions soon I hope!

Cover reveal for Two Rainbows!

Drum-roll: very happy to be able to reveal the gorgeous cover of Two Rainbows, the second of my two picture books to appear next year with Little Hare. With strikingly atmospheric pictures by fantastic new illustrator Michael McMahon, it’s an exploration of colour and the very different ways it’s found in city and country life, seen through the eyes of a little girl.The book comes out in July 2017.

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