Sunday, July 20, 2014

By The Campfire

It dawned on me the other night that I had something established illustrators (the state that I desire) may not have and that I currently have - the freedom to illustrate whatever I want. If I was a commercial illustrator now or if I was making a living doing illustration work, my illustrations would be dictated by what my customers need, which may not be totally aligned with what I would want to illustrate (e.g., I may want to draw dragons and the customer wants an illustration of a bowl of soup). This thought made me quite thankful and I therefore proceeded to bask in my recently realized freedom (which I had all along).

I asked myself, "So, what scenes or images do you really want to illustrate?" This is an important exercise, the figuring out of one's self and one's inclinations because illustration is not just about technique or about process or about how well one executes his/her idea, first and foremost, I believe the important thing is the creation of the idea or concept itself and then only after that, all other things follow. This then led to my second realization - being an illustrator is not just about skill, it also has a lot to do with what goes on within, our mindset, our thoughts, our emotions, our passion, our beliefs and so much more. It is almost like a journey, as one moves from one illustration into another, one discovers more about herself that she hadn't realized before. The resulting image shows how the illustrator sees the world...that comes with the premise that she sees the world first.

As I posed the question of what I wanted to illustrate this week, I found myself going back to the sketch I did a few months ago of forest animals huddled over a campfire. I'm realizing now that I am drawn to images of people/or animals huddled around a fire or the fireplace, the warm light coming out of a window on a cold winter's night, or the yellowish glow of the street lights in a dark foreboding street, or paintings like edward hoppers's lighted coffee shop late in the evening. These images evoke an emotional response from me, a tugging, a yearning for that sense of comfort, security, warmth, peace and contentment that comes when I'm huddled near a fire or when I'm looking into a lighted window, in contrast with the darkness around or the coldness outside.This feeling is probably universal that's why they put the video of a fireplace crackling on TV during Christmas time or why every Merlin TV episode I've ever watched ends with the young Merlin and his old master having a quiet talk in his master's firelit workroom.

I then remembered that there was this image from a favorite book that I had which I've dissected and imagined over and over for countless of times when I was a child. We didn't have bookstores then and I had like 15 books max during my entire childhood, most of which were the small ladybird fairytale books, whose images were also burnt deep into my subconscious by now. Among these though, there was one big book that was my favorite and I have spent countless of hours staring at the illustrations. It's the King Goblin and his Forest Friends by Geraldine Grimm. It is no longer published today but luckily I still have that book with me, carried across continents when I moved around. At the back of the book is the illustration below and I remember as a child, staring at this illustration gave me great comfort. It took my imagination places! Here we are huddled together, having our warm dinner that's cooking in the blazing fire pit out here in the cold forest, under a big shadowy tree with our delicate tea set and fireflies aglow, celebrating all the hardships and excitement we had in the day's journey, victorious. What an ending!
I am quite convinced that this image had influenced my definition of a happy ending, both in fiction and in real life.

Back cover of "King Goblin and his Forest Friends" book. Illustration by Horst Schonwalter.

I didn't remember this image when I made my sketch of forest animals around a campfire below. But now looking at it, the two are similar in some ways. My sketch was done with my daughter's crayola pens.

Illustrating night scenes is challenging for me because with minimum light, the object's colors wouldn't be looking like their actual colors. They would be muted and as the night grows darker, the colors would tend to turn into bluish black. So if I wanted a not so dark night, there would have to be a mix of the actual colors muted with some blues or black, which is challenging. However, what I like about doing night scenes is putting in the highlights. There's no better time in the day to put in the glow of the light than at night (or dusk).
That's why I love night scenes.

I have redrawn the image using pencil on watercolor paper for my full illustration below. I've put in different varieties of plants as foreground and had nearly similar trees as background. It probably has a lot going on right now with all the details but with the addition of color later, the eye would be focused towards the glow of the fire while all other details would be muted. That's the plan, anyway. I hope I'd be able to execute it nicely. I'll be coloring this in photoshop and probably in watercolor or gouache too. We'll see.


Lea Goward said...

I love your commentary, Emilie--very insightful. Your black and white drawing is a delight. I am looking forward to seeing it in colour, too. You are a true children's illustrator, Emilie, and a big inspiration to me. Keep up the great work!

emilie said...

Thank you Lea for your kind words. You are an inspiration to me too.