the Magic of Discworld Hardbacks

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I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but if I had the chance to meet one person in the entire world -dead or undead- I would definitely choose to meet Terry Pratchett. His books are the stuff of magic, without actually containing an ounce of esoteric-ness. As many, much more articulate people, have expressed before- Terry Pratchett’s books are not just fantasy books. Far from it. They are a humorous, touching descriptions of the human condition. It makes fun of being human, yes, but it also shows our resilience and peculiarity as a species- the sort of things that make us who we are. It’s satirical and it’s thoughtful and even when it becomes deep, it does so in a natural, unobtrusive way that, much like the music played on the harp by the protagonist of Soul Music, resonates with something already in us.

That being said, his books are being reprinted in a hardcover edition that just makes me leap with joy and cry at the same time because they are unbelievably beautiful. I mean just look at them!! They are playful, colourful, soulful, and exciting.

They’re a few quid over the normal paperback copies, but they are much more durable and, in my humble opinion, a collecting opportunity. It also makes me wish there were some fully illustrated editions out there, either by Paul Kidby (who does the equally fun and visually entertaining paperbacks) or by someone new. I just want the Jim Kay treatment that Harry Potter received for the Discworld collection. Is that too much to ask for?

Also… if anyone out there knows of any illustrated editions out there, please let me know.

Also no.2: here is a link containing an interview with Joe McLaren, the brilliant illustrator behind the hardback covers.

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On pretty books… and great marketing (?)

I went into a Waterstones the other day to buy the sequel to a book I am currently reading (sort of post-dissertation therapy), and had a look around at what is out there at the moment, and noticed something which kind of annoyed me. Silly books have beautifully printed editions, while the ones that make your soul throb with delight and thought are left with cheap paperbacks.

Why?

Probably because of a very clever marketing team, who realized that, just like a live person, if they are not intelligent or special, they should at least be pretty to look at. And so it happens that we pick up books because they have brilliant blue edged pages, patterned covers that make you want to stare at them until the bookshop closes, or you end up buying them. And it annoys me beyond belief.

Because it tricks you. And yes, if you are the sort of person who judges a book by its cover, then you are the sort who will either not mind the poor plot or writing technique, or someone who, at least deserves to be fooled. But I am a visual person. I love books and I want to illustrate them, and I think that by illustrating a book you compliment it, you give it a spark that it deserves to have. You are telling the book how much you appreciate its words. Terrible books look pretty only so that they would be bought by the gullible. They don’t deserve that blue-edged page. They don’t deserve the vibrant colours that sign to you across the bookshop.

Alas… this is all a pointless rant because, to be honest, we live in the sort of world where value is judged by the buck. This world doesn’t care about content, it cares about the figures and the sales. And that is a bit sad.

MIVC600.1 (for my tutors)

To my tutors,

I do realise that this is somewhat unconventional, however, after submitting my final PDF, I felt the need to explain an error with two of my final spreads.

For some unknown reason, when I exported the Indesign file into a PDF, two of the illustrations which had a text wrap application on them changed into…well, illustrations without the text wrap. I know for a fact that it was a weird technological freak failure, as after I noticed the error on the submission page, I went back to the original Indesign file, and the anomaly was not present. So something has happened while exporting it.

In case it hasn’t yet been noticed, I am referring to the illustration on page 13, and on page 20. I have attached to this post a link for the 2 pages as they appear in the original file.

I am so sorry for the inconvenience of this post, but I would hate to appear as stupid as to have the illustrations on those pages as they appear in the final PDF.

 

fixed-spreads

Book Worlds 101

 

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.

 

the problem with the characters

 

Since the end of September, I’ve been focused on re-imagining (because it feels more like that than just illustrating) “Howl’s Moving Castle”, a book written by the late, but brilliant, Diana Wynne Jones. Most people have not read the book, but they know about the Studio Gibli animated version. It’s supposed to be my personal challenge, as much as a university project. And boy, is it challenging…

One of my biggest issues (apart from the ever present, ever crippling self doubt) was the style of the illustrations, especially when it comes to the design of the characters. Initially, my mind was filled with the images of Jim Kay version of “Howl’s Moving Castle”. What I really wished for, was that the world would contain an edition of “Howl…” treated in the same manner that Jim Kay’s “Harry Potter” is. I was pretty obsessed with that.

As a result, I thought that a semi-realistic approach was the first step to obtaining that result. The problem? I am nowhere near a Jim Kay level. My characters were stiff and did not seem to belong to the world imagined by D.W. Jones. So I panicked. I tried to avoid the characters as much as possible. The semi-realistic portraits, based on people I had met at work, lacked the technique and depth I was looking for. Calcifer’s description was so detailed, it was only one way I could picture him, and even that did not seem to go with the self-imposed style that kept failing me.

In the end, I had a moment of luck. I was watching a really captivating film called “Arrival”, when I had an Eureka! sort of moment. In the film, there was a scene where the characters were set against a background of light, making the human body seem elongated and thin – in a way it seemed quite magical. It also reminded me of my usual, go-to style, which in no way can be called semi-realistic.

So I did a few character sketches, trying to get the shapes right, all the while inching back towards my normal style. And it felt easier. More importantly, it had the right personality and it looked as though those characters could belong in a universe of magic.

A very long post later…

This is what I learned: beware of the inspiration you find in other artists. Admiring is alright, as long as it doesn’t change your goal into an imitation game.

  • the images above are taken from my sketchbook and are fairly different from the final images which can be found on my Instagram

Riddell Who?

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In my mind, that was a funny title. Sort of like a failed pun.

Obviously, everyone interested in illustration knows who Chris Riddell is. But for those of you out there less interested in the scribbles which are not words, found in books sometimes (aka illustrations), he is the current Children’s Laureate, as well as a brilliant artist, writer of children’s books, and political cartoonist.

I’ve been meaning to excitedly write about his illustrations for a while now. Because I’ve always thought that illustrations and final art, in general, is meant to have colour, or lots of cool shading that makes an art student gasp and drool (obviously, whilst rolling in envy and crippling self doubt).

However, his illustrations are not made of palettes of colour and envy-inducing shading.

No.

His illustrations are made of strong, self-assured, awe-inspiring lines. His is a world of lines that swish and roll, rising into new skies and carving new worlds from the white of paper. It seems simple. After all, it’s just lines. But the patterns are not simple. The characters are not simple. The worlds are not simple.It is a simple way which nonetheless enchants the eye and mind, giving you something so much more intricate than a collection of lines.

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And what I love the most, is his frequent partnership with Neil Gaiman. I cannot think of the Graveyard Book, without visualising Riddell’s fascinating illustrations.

As long as there are books written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Chris Riddell, I feel the world will be ok. It’s my safety blanket.

Chris Riddell’s facebook