Upon reflection, my recent journey of research and enquiry has been both rewarding and surprising. I knew I wanted to explore “Canadian identity through illustrated children’s books” as a theme, but selecting a keyword proved challenging. I eventually selected the keyword “Story” with the intention of examining uniquely Canadian myths and legends that could be applied to illustrated children’s books. This would also allow me to explore the idea of trying to pack as much “story” as possible into a single image. As a busy father of a three-year-old, I am aware that page-count, and keeping the story pure and simple, are key aspects in producing children’s books.
Keeping things simple is something I have always struggled with. Having settled on my theme and keyword I was horrified by how broad both appeared, but was excited by the possibilities they possessed. In an attempt to streamline my research I sought to break my process into three distinct avenues: technique, methodology and subject matter. My hope was that by isolating aspects of my process it would help narrow my focus.
A prevailing thought I had as I began this enquiry was that methodology was dangerous and that structure could stagnate creativity. As my research progressed, I felt this became my area of most profound growth, as I came to believe that a well-defined methodology could possibly be a key to differentiating myself as an artist.
With regard to methodology, I discovered the work of psychiatrist Carl Jung on archetypes and personalities to be very applicable in defining one’s individual process and methodology.
“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are”
This is a sentiment that resonates with me as an artist. It also reflects my belief in technique as I subscribe to the theory that the key to evolving one’s own style is practice. I believe that by putting in the hours, an artist will gravitate towards the techniques and elements that come most naturally. For me detail, lighting and line of action as it relates to characters have been prevailing themes.
My initial concern that researching my theme would be very labour intensive turned out to be well-founded. My research opened the door to many ethical questions regarding bias in children’s books which I had not previously considered. I quickly became aware that these ethical considerations were not something I could ignore.
I had some set ideas on where I wanted to go with this topic but had underestimated the psychology involved in targeting children of different ages. This has led me to identify the subjects of child audiences and related semiotics as areas that require further research.
Overall I feel that my research and the related blog have introduced me to influential artists and opened up my eyes to some pertinent nuances regarding methodology and techniques. In addition I feel that the blog has served as a useful tool in bridging the gap between research and practice.
Tiago Hoisel is a Brazilian Illustrator and 3D artist who I’ve admired for some time. He recently posted these videos which demonstrate his creative process. I’m not sure how they were recorded in respect to the timeline, but regardless the techniques he uses are very interesting, in particular the one where he begins with a shaded sphere. I also stumbled upon some interesting funding options that allow Canadian and Brazilian artists to work together. I have included the link and some details below.
A simple video showing a bit of one of my creative processes.
It’s experimental, a kind of a brainstorm trying some different designs, so some of them may work, some not.
I recently read an article by Joyce Bainbridge and Brenda Wolodko titled Canadian Picture Books, Shaping and Reflecting National Identity. This article immediately resonated with me in a number of different ways, first in its summary of the Canadian picture book industry and secondly, on a personal level what it means to be Canadian from an immigrant’s standpoint.
My family and I moved to Newfoundland an eastern island province of Canada when I was a child, in 1981. I don’t believe it was the initial intention of my parents to make the move permanent for us, but I know that they liked Canada immediately. While leaving Ireland for North America was a journey that had been made by many countrymen in the prior 2 centuries, my family’s journey was perhaps different in the fact it was unclear if we would return, and in the early 80’s plane travel had become accessible, and for a number of years we returned every summer, and phone communication (although nothing like it is now) had become a relatively affordable option.
This is a picture of me as a child in Newfoudland playing with icebergs, good times!
For those reason we stayed very close toour large family back in Ireland, and I’m sti (more…)
While researching art methodology I came across this great 10 minute video where Quentin Blake walks us through his typical workflow and introduces us to his work space. Blake is best known for illustrating books written by Roald Dahl.
I have never given work space a lot of thought, but I certainly recognize its importance in regards to process. When trying to nail down what makes a work space good, I’ve often felt that there are many intrinsic elements that are tough to put into words. However there are also a number of elements I have identified myself, some of which seem to be quite important.
First and foremost, the environment needs to stimulate creative expression. To a certain extent personal preference is likely a factor here, and I would say there are also a number of elements involved that fall into the category of un-quantifiable. I’ve worked in a number of studios throughout my career and have tried in other spaces to emulate some of the work spaces that seemed to work best for me, but to no avail. It’s tough sometimes to recognize what makes a work space good, but generally pretty easy to recognize what makes a work space bad.
There are a lot of little details involved in setting up a good work space, and that translates over to your digital work space too. For example, being left handed, there are many little things I would change from a work space setup by some one who is right handed. I’ve found that these little preferences may seem like small things but over time when you are using certain techniques repetitively they make you more efficient.
For me though, I think the two most important elements of a great work space are good lighting (and ideally the ability to adjust it) and just having enough space to be properly organized. If you don’t have the luxury of a large space, working in an organized environment often involves a fair bit of ingenuity and work.
I found some of the elements Quentin demonstrates in regards to keeping his work space organized inspiring, as organization is something that is easy to battle with as an artist. Its interesting to see some of the nuances he has setup in his work space and filing system.
Quentin and I share an affinity for the light box, so I found it noteworthy in an effort to define my process, that I too like to use paper where you can’t quite see the back image well enough to trace, but having drawn it previously can see it well enough to have the mind and hand replicate it loosely and freely.
Quentin’s demonstration includes a very clear example of how he uses pen and watercolor to create his illustrations. Coming from an animation background I’ve been partial to using the blue col-erase pencil for quite some time now. But watching Quentin work here makes me want to experiment with what I believe is a calligraphy pen, and watercolor paints, two mediums I have very little experience using.
He ends with a demonstration of the magic pencil, a medium I have experimented with a fair bit and have always found interesting, but have not used for some time. The magic pencil as Quentin points out is not in fact magical, but draws with random colors as the pencil is warn down. I’ve found that this effect and its busyness force you to simplify your line and subject matter which in some cases can be quite interesting.
Well it finally happened, we got our first real snow fall of the year in Niagara last night. This quickly changed into a freezing rain/ice storm. My 3 year old son and I have been reading a lot of Christmas books together recently, most of which involve snow, and he is very eager to get outside and build a snowman. He is however a bit concerned that when the snow storm rolled in it may have brought a snow monster with it, as I had let him stay up one night to watch the old Rankin/Bass Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer TV special. Upon watching the clip below I realize that may have been a mistake.
I posted some details below of an Illustration I did for the practice component of the masters program. The intention of the work was to explore the myth of the Ogopogo lake monster reportedly found in western Canada.
As mentioned in my previous post The Group of Seven – Canada’s most notable art movement? the Group of Seven hold a special place in Canada’s art heritage, and their simplified depictions of Canadian landscapes are undoubtedly some of the most recognized paintings within Canada’s borders.
While the Group of Seven largely painted in eastern Canada I chose to explore the simplified juxtaposition of shapes, many of the Group of Seven artists used in their landscape depictions. My intention was to examine digital techniques that could be used for capturing a related visual style.
While my style is usually pretty heavy on detail,I felt the process of simplifying the shapes down that were involved in the landscape elements ,was successful and one which could possibly be explored further in regards to children’s books intended for audiences under the age of four.
Throughout my research I have been battling with thoughts surrounding methodology. Is it wise for an artist to live within the wall of structure, or dangerous? In the early phases of my research I would have argued dangerous, in the fact that I felt it could act as a barrier to creativity. But now I’m not so sure, and recently have begun thinking that perhaps truly understanding the details of ones method and its relationship with the contemporary art scene may in fact be a key to differentiating ones work.
While writing my post on Jon Klassen; the children’s book author, illustrator, and animator, I was fascinated to discover an interview where he credited animated sources as the primary inspiration for his books. I then began to wonder if I myself was more influenced by illustrations and still images or animation and multimedia? I also began to speculate if it made a difference, and I think it does. In animation you are forced to think of composition in a restricted manner, and line of action and poses must be considered from a different perspective.
This got me thinking of the Canadian National film board (NFB), an institution respected around the world for moving the mediums of animation and film forward for many years.
Here are a couple that have stood out to me over the years many with a bit of Canadian flare.
Log Driver’s Waltz – Directed by John Weldon – 1979
Wild Life – Directed by Amanda Forbis & Wendy Tilby – 2011
Nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Short at the 2012 Academy Awards
Walking – Directed by Ryan Larkin – 1968
Nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Short at the 1970 Academy Awards
In this demonstration the Deisign group offer us a great look into their process and workflow for creating digital paintings. It is an absolutely essential watch for anyone interested in understanding the contemporary process of digital painting in Photoshop. The Deisign group create character and creature designs for the entertainment industry.
I stumbled upon this video researching examples of some techniques I wanted to cover in a character design class that I teach, and it sparked a thought on a rather large part of my overall process I had been overlooking in regards to my research.
When I first started working in the animation industry over ten years ago now, I spent a tremendous amount of my free time documenting ideas for animated shorts that I wanted to create, and dreaming of having the time to produce them.
As time rolled on, and crunch time on one project ran into crunch time on another, my idea list grew and grew without any of them being realized. I have generally been alright with this as the work I’ve been doing in the industry has been exciting and really allowed me to focus on technique. I’ve always found my work to be fulfilling as long as I’m learning and growing, and feel lucky to have been in that state for the last 10 years.
In many ways I hope my time working on this masters will serve as a transitional phase between working on the ideas of others and those of my own.
One of the reasons I decided to persue my masters in Illustration, and selected the theme of children’s books is that the vast majority of my ideas were geared towards children, and over time I realized producing them as children’s books was a much more realistic goal than producing them initially as animated shorts or video games which in many cases would entail a tremendous amount of time and resources.
So I feel it’s worth noting that part of my reasoning for developing children’s books, is to examine the integrity of the idea as something that may be worthwhile pursuing as an animation or game.
Something about looking at the great character concepts Deisign have produced on this site made me consider that producing children’s books with the intention of producing animation or games from them, might perhaps be a unique part of process, or at least not the norm.
While examining the process and methodology of other artists, I thought it important explore the intricacies of routine. That’s when I stumbled upon this great Facebook post by Bobby Chiu that I thought was worth sharing.
Bobby Chiu is an exceptionally talented and inspirational illustrator and concept artist based out of Toronto, and one of the founding members of Imaginism Studios. You can check out samples of his work here.
article link [accessed 22-12-15]
Many Canadian men who’ve played ice hockey will tell you there’s just something about skating down the wing with a cold breeze off the ice in your long flowing hair, and a slight tickle in your man whiskers, which has made professional ice hockey players from the 1970s somewhat of a golden era of Canadiana. The game of ice hockey, and the fashion of longer, bigger hair, and facial hair in the 1970s, were a perfect marriage. I delved into some old hockey cards I had collected in an attempt to identify some visual qualities that could be tied in with hockey from that era, here are some of my findings. I was also excited to find that researching the aesthetics of vintage hockey cards on the internet provided little to no results.
Some funky designs I scanned from the 60’s and 70’s:
Upon re-reading The Hockey Sweater written by Roch Carrier and illustrated by Sheldon Cohen, I was immediately reminded of why this children’s book is considered one of the greatest example of Canadian children’s literature to date. On a personal level, it genuinely provided me an intense feeling of nostalgia, as I vividly remember the first time I heard it read by our elementary school librarian at story time. It was originally published in french in 1979 under the title “Une abominable feuille d’érable sur la glace” and then re-released in english, as “The Hockey Sweater”in 1984.
Even with the story based in rural Quebec in 1946, a very unique location with respect to Canadian culture, this is a timeless, unifying tale, rare in Canadian literature, as every child and adult who grew up in this country, regardless of the province they lived in or their first language, can relate to it on multiple levels. More importantly, this remains as true today in 2015 as it did back in 1979 when it was first published. Within a country as large and diverse as Canada, promoting and maintaining a strong national identity can be very challenging so stories like this, which bring us together, deserve to be cherished.
Perhaps its greatest achievement is how the story subtly identifies important aspects of Canadian culture; the prominence of ice hockey as our national game, the large role of religion in society, growing up through hard winters, and most notably, the relationship between English-speaking Canada and French-speaking Canada. According to Carrier, he created this story as part of his reaction to Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, and the growing Quebecois movement for the province to separate from Canada in the 1970s.
Legend has it that the story book was also in part born to an Interview Carrier had agreed to do for the CBC. Carrier who had achieved success recently with both French and English Canadians, was asked to try and explain to the English speaking population of Canada what the Quebecois’s reason was for wanting to separate. He had reportedly worked on what to say for weeks but was not happy with anything he had written, so in an attempt to dodge the topic to a certain extent and fill the time slot of the interview he told stories of his childhood in Saint-Justine, Quebec, and the obsession he and his friends had with the Montreal Canadiens and their star player, Maurice ‘The Rocket’ Richard, this was what eventually turned into The Hockey Sweater story.
Definitely ironic how such a classic of Canadian literature, perhaps best known children’s book across the country for promoting a national identity, was born out of the author’s reluctance to address the most polarizing topic in Canadian culture; the relationship between English-speaking Canada and French-speaking Canada. However, as great authors of fiction often do, Carrier expressed his position in a subtle yet effective way through this celebrated children’s story, with Canadian culture being the beneficiary.
A year after publication the NFB brought it to life in an animated short called “The Sweater” it was named the Best Animated Film at the 1981 British Academy Film Awards.
To relate to its place in Canadian culture The Hockey Sweater was also interpreted by the Toronto Symphonic Orchestra (TSO) in 2012
Carrier, R. & Cohen, S. (1984). The hockey sweater. Montreal, Quebec, Tundra Books.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hockey_Sweater [accessed 13-12-15]
I came across this flyer the other day at my kitchen table, I believe it fell out of a newspaper. I was unfamiliar with the product, although I had ordered a custom Christmas sweater online earlier in the month so the existence of custom storybooks did not strike me as odd. As I drank my coffee I pondered some of the interesting questions this product raises regarding identity in the storybooks. The books appear to drop the child’s name and picture throughout the story, as though the child was always meant to be there, which would seem to raise some serious questions regarding bias.
As discussed in my earlier blog entitled Early observations on identity, ethics, and Zambia children like to be able to identify with the characters in books they are reading. This raises an interesting question of what happens to the psyche of a child when the find themselves arbitrarily dropped into a book and story-line that is at odds with their culture? Does it bring about feelings of inclusion or heighten feelings of non-inclusion?
Perhaps the stories are carefully selected to minimize factors regarding culture, but seeing Barbie on the flyer cover leads me to think that is possibly not the case. So I’m left me wondering how these “insert name here” books deal with this issue. Presumably they get requests from children from all walks of life. Do the pictures and topics in these books reflect the full range of this variation?
image was delivered to residence [end of Nov, 2015]
Niagara region, Ontario, CANADA
Jon Klassen is a children’s book author/illustrator and animator renowned around the world for having woven the clever tales of “I Want my Hat Back” (2011) and “This is Not My Hat”(2012) which follows the same narrative as the 2011 work and was the recipient of both the American Caldecott Medal and the British Kate Greenaway Medal for children’s book illustration. Klassen has illustrated and written a number of other award winning children’s books, and also worked as a concept artist on animated feature films such as Kung Fu Panda and Coraline.
Around my house though Klassen is primarily known by my son and I for the first two books mentioned above; affectionately known as the teddy and fishy books, which feature both a bear and fish as lead characters. These books have entertained my son since we first read them around his first birthday, and still captivate him today, weeks before his third birthday. They are undoubtedly two of his favorites, and if I had to speculate on why that is I would suggest it’s both the simplicity and beauty of the art style, in conjunction with the simplicity and beauty of the storyline which uses repetition to introduce the reader to a number of different animals and fish respectively.
The story in both books revolves around the concept of stealing a hat, which I’ve observed my son relate to from the age of one when we first read “I want my hat back” (2011) . My son seemed to acknowledge that the hat had been taken by a character who did not own it, which seemed to fill him with empathy for the owner , and disdain for the taker. This book seemed to play to his early grappling with the concept of possession. It was a cold winter at the time we read it, and my son was very aware he had his own hat, that was put on regularly for keeping him warm when we went outside. I suppose in warmer climates children might draw similar parallels for hats that protect them from the sun.
Although I wasn’t aware of it when we read the books initially, I later came to know Klassen for a number of other reasons. I was surprised to find out I had traveled down many similar life paths to Klassen. He had grown up primarily in the Niagara region as I had, he had studied animation and graduated from Sheridan College in 2005 as I had (Klassen from the classical program, and myself from the 3D program) and we had both spent the majority of our professional careers working in the animation industry in the United States.
Klassen’s and Daniel Rodriguez’s student film from Sheridan College
Inspired to find out the illustrator and writer of the books my son and I had enjoyed had a local twist, I read up on Klassen’s career and came across this quote of his from Illustration Mundo (2008)
As an animator I was familiar with this sentiment, in the fact that working on larger projects can often take a long time to produce. In my experience, I would add that these bigger projects often involve large numbers of artists working together sometimes doing very specific tasks (ie. just facial animation).
While this process lends itself very nicely to the efficiency of production, it can also have the bi-product of making the artist feel to a certain extent like a cog in the machine. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but one of the aspects that drew me to animation was its ability to serve as an avenue for creativity and personal expression, which was an aspect I often felt disconnected from on larger projects.
Jon’s comments in the quote above along with a 2014 interview he did for the Globe and Mail would seem to express his fondness for the freedom that comes from working as a children’s book illustrator in contrast to the rules that are often tied to the workflow in the animation industry.
In part, similar sentiment has lead me to pursue this masters in illustration.
In the interview below Jon talks in detail about his experience writing, illustrating and publishing his books.
I thought he made two very insightful points, in regards to writing the books.
First was that although he is a more experienced illustrator and relies heavily on the illustrations to help carry the story. Initially he finds he has to be able to read it through without pictures and enjoy the story by itself.
Secondly he seems to indicate that unless an idea for a story comes almost as quickly as you would read it, it’s not a tight idea. He talks about how the entire story can be changed in five minutes and that this is both a plus and a negative for the writer. Reading into this I feel what he might be trying to say is that when writing a story for children’s picture books, if you have to think too hard about telling the story, the truth and simplicity of the message may be lost on them. I find this to be a particularly revealing piece of advice.
Below Klassen demonstrates a sample of his process and technique while working in Photoshop. He builds many of his elements using traditional mediums and scans them to be assembled digitally. It’s interesting to note the way in which he seems to draw directly with selections as opposed to painting masks.
Below is a link to a blog covering a great interview with Jon on general life and his work process.
Klassen, Jon (2011) I want my Hat Back. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press
Klassen, Jon (2012) This is not my Hat. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press
http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=2189 [accessed 9-12-15]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon_Klassen [accessed 9-12-15]
My mother and I, outside Lusaka, Zambia
It may seem odd to be beginning a blog post exploring Canadian identity through illustrated children’s books with a photo of my mother and I taking the family car for a drive in the countryside outside Lusaka, Zambia, the warm African country where I lived as a child. Zambia is not far off the equator, and most likely very far off what one might consider while contemplating the Canadian environment and culture. I begin this post in Zambia as one of the first thoughts I had regarding my research, was that in order to define what might make a children’s book distinctly Canadian, there would be merit in exploring imagery and culture that (more…)
I wanted to test out how adding images worked in word press, and thought this might be a fitting image to use… Its an illustration I came across recently done by Jessica Borutski a fabulous Canadian animator, living and working in the United States, an experience which could be a blog post here all on its own! so maybe I’ll come back to that later… Anyways up and running!
I’ve recently begun a masters in Illustration at the University of Hertfordshire which I’m very excited about, and also a little terrified by as I work full-time and have a 2 year old son who means the world to me, and with whom I try to spend every possible second with. The masters is an endeavor I’ve wanted to take on for some time now, and although the circumstances dictate that I have to do a lot of the work alone and in the wee hours of the morning, its a journey I’m very glad to have begun.
As I begin writing this post I think of a television commercial I watched recently for The Hudson Bay Company (a Canadian Department store) which featured one of the company’s most famous sons; David Thompson, climbing the Rocky mountains, and looking rugged. Mr Thompson was many things to many people, most notably: map maker, surveyor, fur trader, astronomer, revolutionary, explorer and epic adventurer! He is most renowned for having mapped more of North America than anyone else, which he accomplished by horseback, canoe, dog sled and on foot. He traveled some 90,000 kilometres, (is this how I should spell it in Canada?) equivalent to circling the globe twice, and mapped some 3.9 million square kilometres of wilderness, quite the undertaking! He is also well respected for having contributed to Canada’s development as an independent nation. As I write this post I wonder how he felt as he started his journey, and walked his first kilometre, was he as excited as I am right now? and how did he feel when he walked his 90,000 kilometre? was he overcome with emotion and joy at what he had accomplished? or just plain tired… He accomplished things most of us could never dream of, but yet it started with one step, so I’m left wondering how far this journey will take me?
I come to writing this first blog post, with that thought, and having spent the last 4 weeks consumed by selecting a topic (and subsequent keyword) that I’d feel comfortable dedicating the next 2 years of my life to… a chilling thought! I’ve spent most of the last 15 years working as an animator, so its been a while since I’ve done much writing or research, but I had hoped that I would have a “eureka moment” which would make picking the topic easy. Alas I did not. I guess I shouldn’t be to surprised when one of the main reasons I signed up for this masters, was the hope that I would discover direction for my own work as an artist. Well there have been numerous nights recently where I’ve begun developing ideas for my topic around 9 in the evening after a long days work, and worked till 3 in the morning thinking I was finally getting somewhere, only to throw the idea in the garbage (Canadian word?) go to bed setting my alarm for 6, defeated, and getting ready to do it all over again the next day. With that thought in mind, going back to David Thompson for a second, I wonder how he felt around his 900th kilometre? did he ever spend hours or days portaging through mosquito ridden swamps and forests, or paddling into headwinds across lakes only to realize he had left his compass back on the other side? (I’m guessing that was fairly important to him!) Maybe some of you reading this now have shared similar experiences researching your topic, spending way more time trying to decide where you should focus your energy than you thought you should, but hoping to get the result right in the end. In my experience putting the time into the idea up front has usually been worthwhile and pays off in the long run, will it here? I don’t know, only time will tell I guess… But I do know that when I see other topic’s and themes that fellow students and illustrators have dedicated their time and in some cases lives to, I think Wow! what an amazing subject! maybe I could do that! there is just so much excitement going on in the field of illustration and applied arts in general right now! its just such an incredible time to be creative and alive!
Maybe you’re reading this post many days from now, and find yourself in the same boat (or canoe!) striving to choose a good topic, if that’s the case good luck to you. I hope that this blog will survive well into the future. I’ve begun blogs in the past only to watch them fall by the wayside and loose direction, but feel I may have found a subject with meaning here that I could continue on with for many years . (pause for a bedtime story)
The topic I’ve chosen to focus on for our first 2 modules “Is Canadian Identity through illustrated children’s books”. In our practice 1 module (illustration course) I have selected the keyword of “story” with the intention of exploring uniquely Canadian myths and legends that could be applied to illustrated children’s books. To back this up conceptually I have begun researching the topic of “Canadian Identity through illustrated children’s books” to gain an understanding of where this topic lies currently, and begin to piece together where it has come from historically, politically and ethically, from both an internal and external perspective.
I had originally intended to cover this topic primarily from an internal perspective, but realized that it would be beneficial to first gain an understanding of the facets that are involved in establishing cultural identity as a whole. So for that reason I have refined my research topic to the broader area of “Establishing cultural identity through illustrated children’s books” with the intention of focusing on how it relates primarily to Canadian culture.
Well its currently 10 in the evening (EST) here at my home in Canada, so goodnight, I’m off to research books!