My books have been described as “deceptively simple”, a description that I have never been fully comfortable with. Perhaps this comment is a reference to the spare text or the limited colour palette I usually work with but because both the text and image are fairly minimal I have never been quite sure where the deception lies. My hope, and certainly my intention by working in a very spare way, is that I am able to tell a story that leaves enough to the imagination of the reader (or young listener) that there is space to fill in the blanks with their own invented images and worlds.
Having said that, in my most recent book, Socks for Mr Wolf, I have tried something new. While the text has remained spare, I have experimented with the addition of more detail and more colour in the illustrations.
Ever since I discovered printmaking in art college, I have loved playing with the colours and textures that monoprinting, in particular, makes possible. While I have used these to a limited degree in my previous books, in my new book I wanted to create the world of Mr Wolf using more colour and texture. Although it was also still important to stay within my work ethos, which is to use limited shapes and simple forms. The idea of how I think a picture book should look may stem, in part, from my own childhood memories, which are shaped by books I grew up with; Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni, Anansi the Spider by Gerald McDermott, Drummer Hoff by Barbara and Ed Emberley, to name a few.
An artistic dilemma I have faced in the past is that the paper I use for creating monoprint textures does not really lend itself to holding a drawn line and so I have had to put the drawing and the colour together in Photoshop, something that I haven’t always felt very comfortable with. This, along with creating slightly more complex and more colourful images, were my challenges in creating the pictures for Mr. Wolf.
In my first drawings Mr Wolf was grey; created with a monoprinted outline and watercolour. But I was never really satisfied with the way he looked. I think I was just experimenting one day with some drawing paper my kids had when I realised that this paper would work to draw on with a monoprinted line and also give Mr Wolf his nice textured appearance. It was an “aha!” moment for me. I was able to make all of the character in one piece, rather than try to put him together on the computer.
Once that had fallen into place, I started looking at colours. I decided that the greyish black colour I had been using was too cold and maybe would make Mr Wolf feel a bit too scary. I tried a slightly warmer dark brown and really felt that colour suited Mr Wolf, as he is such a warm, charming character!
Then I had to think about which other colours I would use in the book. Mr Wolf’s socks, which feature prominently in the story, were the next most important visual element and he went through quite a few different coloured socks before I decided that his bright red ones suited him best. After that it was just a case of trying to figure out how to create the necessary narrative elements in a way that was fun, unique, minimal, and within a range of colours that worked in the overall scheme.
One of my favourite pages in the book is the page in the library. The bookshelves behind Mr Wolf were made using a printed pattern and I think this worked well to create the idea of stacks of books without ever having done more than printing a pattern of thin rectangles.
A really fun, but perhaps challenging, page was the one that comes next in the book, where Mr. Wolf leaves the library and we see lots of balls of wool floating in the air above his head. I really loved the colours and textures of the wool, but always feel I have to make sure that they aren’t mistaken for clouds, that it is understood that Mr Wolf is thinking about wool and his thoughts are there for us to see too.
I think the hardest parts for me in creating the book, once I had the basic ideas in place, was just the very odd time when I was encouraged to add more colour to a particular page. I sometimes find this difficult, because I have been so used to working with illustrations that have a lot of white space. Looking at the illustrations now, I can’t imagine them without the added colour and I think that taking the plunge into more colour and texture has been really successful.
Although in future illustrations it is my intention to continue to evolve the use of colour and texture, I will always want to maintain the simplicity of my images. I hope that in my books the only deception is the complexity involved in creating the simplicity.
(c) Tatyana Feeney
About Socks for Mr Wolf:
Mr Wolf loves looking good. Mr Wolf loves to dance.
But more than anything in the world Mr Wolf loves his beautiful socks.
Until one day, a hole appears in one … WHAT can he do?
Follow the rather dapper Mr Wolf on a woolly adventure around Ireland as he tries to save his socks!
‘The minimalist illustrations and the delightful little creatures who are observers greatly add up to the fun.’ (Irish Examiner)
‘Conjuring a colourful, cosy, sock-wearing wolf, whose unravelling footwear bring him on an adventure around Ireland … Feeney’s blend of block printing and line drawing creates a lovely layered texture to the illustrations, while the simple journey-structure also offers an environmental tale of origins.’ (Irish Times)
Socks for Mr Wolf is available now from all good bookshops and obrien.ie
Order your copy online here.