I remember in art class at university, a professor was giving a critique of a freshman’s drawing and the student responded, “…but that’s not my style.” We all gave a silent gasp as the professor calmly but firmly replied, “You don’t have a style.” “That’s not my style” is sometimes used as an excuse by an artist to avoid stretching and learning outside of their comfort zone. Our unique style isn’t necessarily something we go looking for. It tends to naturally find us over time. I’ve noticed that my style of illustration has slowly evolved over the past 30 yrs in CEF, being primarily shaped and influenced by the projects I’m given.
Time constraints can have a big influence on style choices. I need to work quickly with limited time to refine illustrations as much as I’d like. If there are 35+ illustrations to complete, I need to adapt my technique, tools and methods. This involves some compromises. For example, in the pre-digital years I loved working with oils on canvas but gouache was more practically suited to my work. This switch greatly influenced my style.
A good illustrator is not simply someone who draws well – it’s someone who can draw well and do it quickly!
The purpose of the illustration will also influence our style choices and how to approach a project. The majority of my projects are large flashcard books that will be shown by a teacher to groups of children and viewed from a distance. Each picture will be shown for 1-3 minutes so the children need to process the visual information quickly. The target audience is usually 6-12 yr olds coming from a wide range of cultures around the world. CEF believes it’s important that the illustration style conveys to the children that these Bible characters were real people who lived in real time and place. The pictures should help hold the child’s attention and bring the story to life.
With this 32-page early reader book, I’m faced with some new challenges. I need to adapt the illustrations for a younger audience. The pictures will be viewed at arms length (or closer) at his own pace, exploring the image, and hopefully want to read/view again and again. There needs to be enough detail to hold the child’s attention.
The basic story line is about two children who visit a farm with animals when it begins to rain and they go inside for a snack. The farmer opens his Bible and shares the story of Noah, weaving in a clear presentation of the Gospel.
There will be large illustrations on each page along with small pictures/symbols corresponding with words throughout the simple, large print text. For the large illustrations, I hope to create more stylized characters with simplified shapes while still conveying a realness to the scene. “Simplified” may sound easier but it can actually be more difficult to execute … successfully. This will be one of my most challenging and daunting projects in years as I’ll be working in a different style than I’m used to.
The booklet has a farm character that appears in the side margin separate from the story, to share helpful ideas for parents on how to reinforce the teaching with their child. I’ve never animated a talking tractor before so this is definitely adapting to a style outside my comfort zone!