Blog 2017-04-09T07:15:17+00:00

Meet the Artist... Leila Honari

For my latest picture book The Stolen Button, I worked with illustrator Leila Honari. For today’s guest post, I asked her to discuss aspects of her creative works. - RockOnKitty

Thanks for having me on the blog! I thought I’d go through the process I used when I created Mei Ling, the main character for The Stolen Button. As a character and environment design lecturer for animation and games students, there is no set formula to designing a character for a story. It depends on the artist’s approach and the nature of the story. Also, I should say, artists have different methods in creating characters for an animated project compared to a story book. Some begin the design process by sketching to find the initial designs. Others create some concept art to find the storybeats, then they go through designing/illustrating the characters.

I divide the character design process into three main stages:

Stage 1: Research, observation, references, gathering visual data

Stage 2: Concept, character concepts, design development, style

Stage 3: Final design, clean-up

The first step of the research stage is to read the story carefully. I take notes of the story beats that need to be illustrated, and identify the main action poses and expressions of the main character. Getting to know the character that is going to be designed before putting the pencil to paper is essential. You can see how I broke down The Stolen Button when I first saw the text. I translated it to Persian as it’s easier for me to visualise this way but this step is optional!

(On a side note, I love that the two major elements of this story are Bazaar and Caravan. These words are derived from the Persian language and were introduced to Latin/ English around the time of the Silk Road. When I translated the story to Persian, it was so much more personal reading my Mother language.)

I ask the writer plenty of questions: What is the character’s age? Gender? Nationality? Culture? Physical traits? What clothes/ costumes/ props will they wear to reflect their personality, status, the time and place they live in? Sketching some ideas based on this information can help to prepare material to get to the concept stage. Below, are my first attempts at Mei Ling. The first image is more of a gestural, cartoon-y style whereas the second image is a more realistic rendering.

Every character in a story has a journey and shows a transformation which we call ‘character arc’.  Met Ling’s character arc changes from rich to poor and powerful to powerless. I had to identify the emotional arc and express these dramatic changes in the illustration. Below is my first concept art trying to capture the essence of the story. Mei Ling transforms from wealth, safe inside of the circle with the cord to weak and powerless on the floor.

After identifying the character, it’s time to pick the sketches you want to develop conceptually. I draw the character from different angles and in key poses based on the story line. Actually drawing children is really difficult to catch their body language, proportions and facial expressions. If you are working as an illustrator, you need to practice drawing kids.

When I am happy with the character design, I create a colour palate. Studying the colour relationship between the character to his/her environment is important to create a unified image for each page as well as the whole book. In this case I used my skill in Persian painting, which is similar to Chinese painting. I found this technique close to the spirit of this story. At first I wanted to paint all the pages using black Chinese ink, then I realised that I like to show Mei Ling in a golden cheung-sum against a colourful background, so I used watercolour as the main medium.

Finally, I scanned the images, and made corrections and effects in Photoshop. Working in Photoshop allowed me to separate the elements of the page onto different layers. I can tweak the final design to create the best composition.  This final stage is all about the clean-up. It is about fixing the final colour version and reviewing the quality of lines, and if appropriate add lights and  shadows, textures and effects. For example, I created the visual effects of the belly button’s energy sucked out by Fang Fei, by using smoke effects in Photoshop. I also added the background texture that I created using ink on paper, and plays with the opacity and gradient to achieve the final look.

I hope this description show you more about what happens behind the scene of illustrating a picture book 🙂 Feel free to ask questions in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer.

Thanks for dropping by! Leila is currently teaching at Griffith University where she is also finishing her PhD exploring Persian narratives in animation. You can find out more about Leila's work here

The Mummy-Artist (Or the Unmummy Blog part 2)

'Haven't you heard of a wonderful thing called boarding school?'

Baroness Schraeder (the most misunderstood mother of all)

I recently came across a blog called The Mothership Project.

It was run by a group of Irish artists who came together to share their experiences of being a mothers and artists. A couple of year ago, this sort of blog would have me snorting derisively. Everyone makes sacrifices, deal with it. You can be a great artist or a great mother. Only the extremely fortunate get to be both.

Of course now that I’m a mum, I see things differently; I look for loopholes so that I can have it all. Time is the overarching issue that all mummy-artists bemoan. Not having enough of it, especially when there are multiple children or very young babies involved. I was lucky. From the beginning, my mum-in-law watched my crotch goblin two days a week so I had time to be creative. Not that it helped. Post pregnancy hormonal fluctuations, sleepless nights and stress from not knowing what the hell I was doing took its toll. Every day I woke up thinking ‘Why-is-there-a-crying-baby-in-the-house-I-hope-someone-picks-it-up-soon-oh-dear-god-its-my-baby.’ For six months, I couldn’t write, paint, sculpt or do anything creative. For instance, look at what I made in my post-pregnancy fug. Yes, they are creepy trees and I used Chinese dried white fungus for the foliage because what's wrong with that? To date, I still haven’t finished it although I have just ordered some Cabochon clear glass buttons to make creepy eyes.

This story has a happy ending. Once the sleeps ironed out and I started going back to the gym, some semblance of creative order came back. I now have a routine where I work in my home studio two days a week while my generous mum-in-law does babysitting duties. My crotch goblin crashes most nights around 7pm so I also get a couple of hours each evening at my desk. In the past few months, I’ve managed to get a short story picked up by a publisher and finished up a picture book that I’ve been working on for the longest time (this one here ). On reflection, here are some of the behaviours I adopted that worked for me as a mummy-artist.

  1. Don’t read mummy blogs.
  2. Time box. I give myself a set amount of time for any given activity and I stick with it. This is particularly useful as I’m the sort of person who likes to figure things out on my own. The other day I was cursing Thor because I couldn’t change my profile picture on my Youtube channel. The old me could have spent hours trying to work it out. The new me just put the task away and then calmly asked my husband to fix it after work that night. (which he did in two seconds. It was cached – duh.)
  3. I work on my creative work like someone is really going to die if I don’t get it done. This helps grow a ‘just get on with it’ attitude.
  4. Strip away all the ancillary stuff – extra-curricular cleaning (I still shower, that’s not what I mean by extra-curricular), facebooking, don’t finish books that are bad just because I’ve already started reading it, don’t take on projects that I’m half-hearted about.

After reading the Mothership Project, I also found this interesting article in the Guardian by writer Zadie Smith.

She debunks the attitude held by author Lauren Sandler that great artists should have no children or (as a concession) only one child. Smith has two children and sarcastically notes, that with the exception of the legend Susan Sontag, ‘how do the rest of us mortals negotiate the balance between selfhood and motherhood?’ Smith argues that it is not one child or ten children that stifle a woman’s creativity; it is the structures society has put in place that curtails her freedom. This can be fixed with decent public day care services, partners and family who do their share and a supportive community of friends and family.

I can’t help but think that at the end of the day, it comes back to the same point. Financial insecurity will force most mummy-artists back into the workforce – probably into a job unrelated to their arts practice leaving them little time to improve their artistic skills. This is why a lot of my artist friends put off the big decision, hoping to set up financially, so that they have time to nurture two very different babies.

I don’t know how to end this blog post so I’m giving a shout out to all the great mums I know who are also great artists. This gig is much harder than I thought.

Andi Spark

Leila Honari

Debbie Terranova

Briony Wainman – no website but a fantastic mum and artist.

Feel free to tag mums who are great artists to this post.

The Backpack (short film)

Once upon a time (about five years ago!), I wrote a script that got picked up by QPIX who funded its production. It did the festival circuit and I put it away in the bottom drawer and promptly forgot about it...until this week when I started cleaning out my computer.

So here it is, in all it’s 2012 glory. Directed and animated by the talented Liam Hill. Concept art by Dave Collinson and Kyle Woodley. Also on animation -the super John Grist, Francis Stanton, Sen Wong, Ainsley Herd (and there’s also a couple of shots done by me that you’ll miss if you blink).

The Unmummy Blog

They told me I wouldn’t be able to pick up a book for at least two years. Forget about writing.  Any creative drive that hadn’t been sucked out of me would suddenly be diverted into making a mummy blog or scrapbooking. And we wonder why more people are choosing not to procreate!

Thankfully all these predictions turned out to be mostly untrue.For the first month after the Crotch Goblin was born, I was too exhausted to do much except watch the entire seven seasons of Gilmore Girls on Netflix. But after I emerged at the end of the tunnel (starry eyed with ambitious plans to be Lorelai to Crotch Goblin’s Rory - never mind that Crotch Goblin is a boy), I tentatively tried to pick up a book.

Alas, the three-hourly feedings had changed my reading habits. I’d always been a physical book type of girl but I needed to be mostly hands-free to nurse for hours on end. I got use to reading on my kindle and downloaded the Aldiko reading app on my phone. Then I rediscovered my love of short stories. These bite-sized snacks were manageable in my sleep-deprived state. I made frequent visits to sites that had populated my Feedly thread for years. Lightspeed magazine. Tor publishing. Aurealis magazine.

My latest find is a gorgeous fairytale anthology Tales from the Tower edited by Isobelle Carmody and Nan McNab. There are two parts: The Wilful Eye (Part One) and The Wicked Wood (Part Two).

Do judge a book by its cover. Do! Do! Tales from the Tower is gorgeous.  Twelve authors take traditional fairy tales and re-imagine them - wicked stepsisters are given voices, a snow queen is an ice peddling drug lord transplanted to the grungy underbelly of Sydney. Catherine Bateson’s Learning to Tango is the best retelling of The Little Mermaid - from the point of view of the Sea Witch. Here’s a teaser from her website:

I felt a little bereft after putting the book down - enough to consider making a photobook of Crotch Goblin. Then again, Goodreads came up with a whole list of short story anthologies I need to start on.

What have you been reading this week?

(Feature image by Illusive Photography,  CC Attribution 2.0 license )

Interview with Illustrator Cody McGrath

This week was the release of our first picture book Donald Doing's House of Verbs. Here's an interview with one of the illustrators on the project Cody McGrath.

ME: How did you get into illustrating for children?

CODY: Well, all of my life I have grown up constantly watching cartoons and playing videogames so naturally I have always been inspired to work in the animation or games industry.
My style always has always been an exaggerated, colourful cartoony style so after posting some of my illustrations on Facebook, my cousin in Canada referred me to her friend who was looking for someone to illustrate a children’s book called ‘Pepper’.  So I sent some sample drawings of the main character to them and the author really loved what I did. So from then, I went on to illustrate the children’s book Pepper by Danielle Findlay and Dear Bully of Mine by Vicki Frasier. Now I have also done Donald Doing’s House of Verbs as well, and hopefully more to come!

ME: What were some of the challenges working on Donald Doing?

CODY: Myself hahaha. But seriously I really loved how unique and quirky the story was and I was super excited to work on it. I guess the challenges for me was just becoming comfortable with constantly learning new things and also learning to push my style further in order to match the wacky nature of the story and characters. But after finishing the book I feel like I’ve learned a lot about my capabilities.

ME: How did you come up with the visual style for Donald Doing?

CODY: For Donald Doing’s House of Verbs, I really wanted to do an original style that would not just be like most other kids books. I made sure that each character was very unique from one another so they were easily recognisable. For example I made both the male characters opposite in appearance from one another. Donald, being very tall and lanky, while Mr Neverthere is very round and stubby. Also similarly with the female characters, Delly Dranger is very tall and her silhouette is quite triangular and sharp. And Nora Noisler has a large round head to emphasise her LOUD nature. SO I made sure that the shapes and colours in the book emitted the emotion associated with the character or background.  I also draw a lot of my style from memories, so each character is loosely based on a real life person, I believe this adds to the believability of the characters.

ME: Who (or what)  inspires you?

CODY: What inspires me the most is real life. Just walking around and seeing people and nature is where I get most of my creative energy from. I haven’t drawn someone else’s drawing in years because I personally believe that drawing and interpreting from real life or photos allows for much more originality. Although undoubtedly I am also very influenced by both western cartoons, comics and Japanese anime and manga as I grew up obsessed with them, and I still am!

ME: Have you got any golden rules for illustrators?

CODY: My golden rule is to throw all the rules OUT THE WINDOW!!! I just feel like there’s so many new ways art has yet to be explored. Although if I had to give one tip of advice, I’d recommend illustrators draw and visualise their emotions into their artworks, but you don't even have to do that, just do what YOU believe in and what YOU WANT!  It’s your life, who cares what society or others think.

ME: Have you got any upcoming projects that you’re excited about? (any sneak previews)

CODY: I have a lot of projects I plan on working on. At the moment I am working on a short animated film called ‘Follow’ which is based on my life story. I am also currently working on a promotional illustration for The State Library of Queensland. Here are some backgrounds and screenshots of my animated film Follow.

You can find more about Cody at:
and as if that's not enough, he also makes music!