Ya-Ling talks to us about illustrating Maps: From Anna to Zane by Vivian French, published with Walker Books.
Could you talk a bit about how you create your artwork? What kind of materials do you use? What is your process?
Most of the time I like to use watercolours, but I enjoy experimenting with materials such as crayons, collage, pastels and marker pens etc. It motivates me and keeps the process of illustrating fresh and fun. In this book there are lots of different maps drawn by different characters, so it was the perfect opportunity to challenge myself and play around with new media.
For this book I didn’t do colour roughs but instead went straight into the final artworks. I ended up redrawing a lot of pages to get the colour right and because I was experimenting so much with materials to find a look I was happy with. I determined early on not to be afraid of making mistakes and use as many papers as I needed to.
For the characters I started with a lot of sketches, trying out different personalities in mind. This was actually a fairly easy process. I knew for instance that I wanted to make the Dad look gentle and warm. It didn't take me long to shape their look and personalities, but the styles of the maps was far more challenging...
How did you create all the different maps?
I collected images of all kinds of old maps from library books and from the internet. My mum’s drawings were also a great inspiration for me. She never trained to be an artist but her work is quite playful and surreal. I also found Richard Scarry's wonderful "What do people do all day?" a really useful reference. It pushed me to experiment with different perspectives and consider what kind of elements I could include in my maps.
Figuring out the individual map styles was the hardest part. Some of the maps in the story I had to re-draw several times to get it right because it had to look like a child's drawing but still maintain the right colour balance so as not to overpower the characters. Hopefully I struck the right balance!
Can you talk us through designing a spread?
The invitation Zane draws for Anna is an important one because it's the first map that is introduced in the book. Before I started working on this page, I had to imagine how and where Zane drew this map, what materials and colours would he like to use? I thought about how he had to fold the paper map to fit into an envelope and perhaps it got a little smudged and crumpled while working it.
Once these questions had been answered, I went straight into final art. To create a feeling of a child's hand-drawn work, I experimented with drawing with my left hand, held a pen differently and even drew with my eyes closed!
Cover is an important one, it has to be eye-catching, leave space for the title and depict the story content. For me, a good composition will go a long way. I usually sketch as many designs as pops into my head, regardless of whether it is good or bad. It gives me space to explore all possibilities while searching for that perfect cover design.
I wanted a cover that was fun and welcoming. The essential elements for me were Anna, Zane, Whiskers and of course incorporating the theme of maps. Once the final design was chosen, I drew the three characters by hand before scanning them and finishing the map digitally.