When I took a short course on picture book illustration, the tutor told us that we should include some black and white illustrations because there always is high demand for chapter book illustrators. I thought that’s great advice. I love illustrating someone’s stories as much as my own, and I like anything simple and black.
So I gave myself a project to make some black and white illustrations for my portfolio. I decided to illustrate some popular Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales. I like them not because of the fairies and happily-ever-afters, but because the darkness lurking underneath them. Unsurprisingly, I’m not the only artist who are attracted to the Grimm’s darkness. Look at the Shaun Tan’s new book Singing Bones (which is on my wish list). He created a series of sculptures inspired by Grimm’s tales. You see the darkness of the tales beautifully marries with Tan’s unique and wickedly grotesque style.
Also, I picked Brothers Grimm’s tales because everyone knows them and I don’t have to read the stories to do this project 🙂
For visual aesthetics, I’m always attracted to the simplicity of Japanese aesthetic wabi-sabi and the dynamics of Japanese wood print, ukiyo-e. So, for this project, I wanted to draw something seemingly simple yet something interesting/whimsical to draw people in. The biggest inspiration was Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by David Hockney. His skilfully etched illustrations were exactly what I was aiming for – simple yet intricate, creepy/dark yet whimsical.
The next consideration was ‘how’. When I think of chapter book illustrations, those ink illustrations with high contrasts come to my mind. The medium is popular for the genre for reasons. Problem was I’m suck at ink. I really do. For ink drawing, you need some confidence and decisiveness, which I lack. So I found a happy medium in a form of pencils. Not just because of the practicality and forgiving nature of pencils, I actually like the softness and fragility of them.
So I chose my weapon and subject – Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, The Frog Prince, Rapunzel and Snow White. Then, I asked myself ‘How can I draw these stories as simple as possible?’ I found an answer by condensing them into a few iconic items. And here are the result. Technically these are no where near Hockney’s, but I think I’ve achieved, or at least come closed to, what I set out to.