Taro, the Fisherman – illustrating for the education market.

This post is a short one about a short, small project that gave me a lot of pleasure to do. What was surprising was that it was a book for the education market, ie: part of a graded reading scheme, working for which I often find fairly challenging.

I was approached by Scholastic at the beginning of August to see if I was free to create artwork for a reading book called ‘The Tale of the Fisherman’.  It’s a well known traditional Japanese folk tale about a fisherman called Taro Urashima who saves a sea turtle.

taro and turtle

The turtle transforms into the Princess of the Sea …

taro and princess

… and takes Taro to her sea palace under the waters in a giant bubble.

taro in the bubble

Taro is given many wishes; he wishes for gold of course but eventually chooses his home and family over an ocean of riches.

It’s a beautiful story and for the most part, I was given free rein over the illustrations. The main instruction was to ‘make them look Japanese’… I found this approach very refreshing as it allowed me to work in a more personal and natural way – using composition, character and technique as I would usually. Very often for educational projects, I am given a super strict brief detailed down to what should be where in each picture. This is understandable as the main role of the illustration is to help children read and understand the words on the page. Creating drama, beauty or narrative pace isn’t a priority.

Sometimes the layout has already been drawn out for me page by page by the designer and effectively, I am just being asked to replicate these drawings. It’s a challenge in such cases to find a way to work in my own style, where composition and look are very personal. What excites me in illustration, is the play between flat and decorative areas, stylised pages and interesting viewpoints – not creating a conventional photographic scene. When sketches have been provided at the start of a project,  I have to somehow adapt to another person’s visual imagination, even if I know the outcome will look nothing like my usual work. And in this situation, it’s good to understand that the publisher sees the pictures as servants to the words with the ultimate outcome of teaching a child to read.

‘The Tale of the Fisherman’ proved to be very different with text and pictures given equal weight. Perhaps the suggested hint of a ‘Japanese style’ was educational in itself. After quite a few happy weeks swimming in the warm seas of Japanese woodcut inspiration, I hope I created a book that not only teaches using both word and image but is beautiful too.

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A book in progress and my first Gif…

pond-gif

An illustrator’s work is never done when it comes to marketing herself. And even if you would rather be outside in places that are more green and simple than urban, technology still helps get that work done…

I’m in the middle of illustrating a new book about things that live in gardens; moles, foxes, squirrels, bats and bees.  And frogs of course! I grew up with a mother passionate about nature and wildlife – tadpoles were always found each spring, nettles were collected each summer morning as food for the peacock butterfly caterpillars and stick insects were forever escaping around the house till my dad complained and banned them for good…  I remember as a child standing on the porch in the early morning sunshine with a collection of butterflies sitting on my upstretched palms, shivering their still damp wings, fresh from leaving each chrysalis.  Once dry, they would fly off into the brightness. My mum has passed her love on to me and illustrating stories about animals and plants is always something I enjoy.

Helen Cann

In a world where technology – seen as the direct antithesis to nature – is necessary for marketing any small business, I created my first Gif this morning!  A tiny thing (which perhaps took more time than necessary for the final result) but useful to post on social media and advertise my illustrations.  It’s still a bit glitchy and posting in some places makes it look grainy but seems to work fine on my blog.

At some point, I’ll spend time on something more extravagant, but in the meantime, my little frog with his cheeky wink will have to do…  Sometimes its the small, subtle things that are the most perfect.