There is more to a book than its characters.
Books are worlds onto themselves – they have laws, geography, cityscapes, weather, personality. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books read differently from the Middle Earth of Tolkien. And so does “Howl’s Moving Castle”, despite the fact that they all belong to the fantasy genre.
I’ve realised, doing this project, just how much of a perfectionist I am. Usually, when I read, there’s this vague image forming in the back of my head, representing the words on the page. If I want to, or if the book is really good, I can focus on the image until I am actually in that world. But that always feels like a dream and the details are hard to hold on to.
Illustrating a book has proven to be quite a different experience to reading one. Because you can’t just let the images unfocused, floating at the back of your mind or even pulling you in and absorbing you into the action. I had to read the book multiple times, with a pencil in my hand, picking out facts and details while ignoring the flashing images triggered by the words. Once that was done, the scenes most relevant to what the book represents were selected, to be later translated from words to images. But before I could draw the scenes, I had an issue – what does this world look like? Where is the land of Ingary? How do these houses look like? Through which lands does the castle travel?
As a solution, I decided to draw some of the most important places featured in the book. I drew Market Chipping using reference pictures found on the internet because that is where the main character is from. I also wanted to see on the paper how the Hatter’s shop would look like, both from the outside and the inside, despite the fact that the scenes I had selected would probably not show the shop to that extent. It helped, however, to know where things were and how they looked. And because I am a perfectionist, the idea of those details being on paper relieved me of the stress of remembering where everything was meant to go.
In retrospective, I think I was a bit too focused on the behind-the-scenes working of the world of “Howl’s Moving Castle”, that I lost track of what was really important – the personality. For example, I sketched Howl’s castle from various vantage points, following as much as I could the “instructions” of the book, but I forgot to give it the menacing, foreboding air the enchanted castle is said to have had. This was an impossible structure which terrified the villagers in Market Chipping as it glided across the hills and moors. And I was most worried with it making sense…
Nevertheless, as I compare the research sketches to the few final illustrations I now have, I can say that my initial obsession with the logistics of the world has in a way allowed me to be more free with my final drawings. Because I constructed the background in my head, I managed to focus more on the scene itself (at least to a certain degree). I will probably follow the same steps in future projects, with the amendment that I will be less precious with the sketches by keeping them quick and rough.