The NZCYA book awards are coming up soon and apart from deciding what frock to wear, I’ve been thinking about the illustration journey I had with Torty and the Soldier, so beautifully written by the very expert author, Jennifer Beck.
When Lynette Evans at Scholastic asked me if I’d like to read the manuscript with a view to illustrating another ANZAC book, she also mentioned the magic word ‘tortoise’. She’s a clever woman… I have a very soft spot for these hard-shelled creatures.
My oldest sister and I had a one each as small children in Britain. Mine was called Sooty after the Sooty and Sweep Show (which left me with a lifetime love of puppets) and my sisters was Big Ears which was irony I missed at the time, given the lack of them on her shelly companion.
Tortoises have a tendency to roam far and wide in search of lettuce leaves which usually are in the garden proud neighbours place 4 doors down. They are the Peter Rabbits of the reptilian world. They also hibernate and I remember them in shoe boxes in the bottom of the wardrobe, wintering over. Sometime during this period of pet ownership, our family moved to Ghana in West Africa, and my parents line to this day around the tortoise disappearance whilst packing was ‘they wandered off.’ No amount of plying with wine will make my mother change that 50 year old story.
The book’s heroine, Torty (her real name) wandered off, all over the Greece and into the sight of Stewart Little (not the mouse), in 1917 where the story begins. I was entranced by her adventures bought to life by Jennifer’s writing and said yes to taking on the job of illustrating the book.
Normally, for a book based on realistic style illustrations, I would find models and photograph them to work from. So I paid Torty a visit when she was out of hibernation and residing with family in Havelock North. She has an enclosure that boasts a nesting box and plenty of access to grassy lawn and shady bushes, all with a tortoise proof fence, 25 cm high! She’s a feisty old lady of 200 years and I made my husband hold her whilst I photographed her from every angle. She gave him a good kicking in the process. I also visited the Weta Workshop- made replica of her in the Gallipoli exhibition at Te Papa. She's in a wooden crate and a very good likeness indeed!
As for Stewart and his brother, I had no real idea what they looked like apart from Stewart’s military records. Brown hair, hazel eyes. I was also running out of time to find models, so I tried a different method for the first time. I used a 3D programme called DAZ where I could create people and move them around from all angles. I am no expert with it, but managed to get what I needed by a fair amount of trial and error. The rest was interpretation with watercolours on paper and some digital textures layered on after the scans were done.
The story moves backwards and forwards through time so we needed to make a distinction between the illustration. I used monochromatic sepia watercolours for the backstory and invited colour into the ‘present’ storyline. Our designer Leon Mackie did a terrific job in a subtle way of dividing those storylines too. And every time I see our cover I sigh with gratitude that Scholastic use great book designers!
A book takes time, and by the time everyone in the team has finished their part of the creation, a year has gone by and you are well into other projects. So it is a delight and an honour that when I’ve almost forgotten the months of work we put into it, it is shortlisted as a finalist for the awards. The ultimate acknowledgement. Many thanks to the judges, and I’ll look forward to a night of celebration with some of New Zealand’s best writers and illustrators of children and young adults books.
|Some of the illustration process|