What kind of illustration does the story want?
That's usually the first question that comes to mind when I read a new manuscript. I have a couple of go-to styles that I generally rely on: the soft charcoal lines of Ella The Elegant Elephant and the detailed inks of A Lucky Author Has A Dog - but I imagined something different for All Kinds Of Kisses. I wanted bold, simple, brightly colored art that would take up an entire spreads for each verse of Heather Swain's charming story. I wanted a look that would have appeal for pre-schoolers and would work well if scaled down for a possible board book companion. But taking on a new style always means extra development time.
I chose a verse about anteaters to begin the style exploration for this book. During my animal research I found a photo of a baby anteater riding its mother's back, which seemed like a good place to start.
The first study was done quickly in Painter, without a sketch.
This helped me start to get a feel for the anteater shapes and possible character treatments. But the profile view seemed a little static, so I tried sketching a few different poses. Keeping the scale and proportions of the final spread in mind and leaving room for text, I decided on a foreshortened view of the creatures approaching the reader.
Although I abandoned the original profile view, notice that I preserved an aspect of that pose by turning the mother's head to the side, which allows the reader to see the full length of her snout and tongue - a key, recognizable feature that I wanted to preserve.
I'd run across an old Richard Scarry illustration of a bear in my research and thought that might be a nice jumping-off point for a different kind of rendering with no outlines. I wanted to see what this sort of furry texture would look with my new sketch. So, looking at this...
...I came up with this.
Not perfect, but I the fur texture was interesting and the relationship between the mother and baby was sweet. More than anything, though, I was intrigued by the challenge of defining the characters with light and value rather than line. But something wasn't quite clicking. I gave it another shot, this time dropping in some scenery.
The old brown tones of the previous study got a little lost in the warm desert background, so I re-worked the characters with complementary cool tones to help them really stand out. When I finished, I thought I'd landed on a nice style to apply to the rest of the book - at first. When I looked at it again the next morning, however, it still wasn't quite right. I felt I was getting closer to my destination, but the flat background art began to suggest a new possibility.
What if I simplified and flattened the animals as well?
Flattening the characters was a fairly radical change that took a few attempts to get right. It meant that I couldn't rely on light and shadow to define volume and space, and since I wasn't using line work to define shapes I had to rely on value and (to a lesser extent) hue.
In the final version the character heads were re-defined by a color break rather than a structural bulge, and rounded contours were replaced with more angular shapes. The previous fur and hair textures were also flattened into smoother surfaces with just a bit of subtle lighting. Moving the mouth closer to the eyes made the facial features more anthropomorphic and relatable as well.
I'll be honest, I did mutter under my breath and pull my hair more than once on this project - but the perseverance seems to have paid off. By taking the time to develop a style outside of my comfort zone I was able to bring All Kinds Of Kisses closer to the potential I'd imagined the first time I read the story.