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Baby's Firsts - Inspirations

Updated: Apr 26, 2023

My recent book, Baby's Firsts, is I think, my fifth book on babies or toddlers. Each one has certainly influenced the next. But it was a very different kind of book that was a surprising influence in illustrating this one

I've always been interested in movement and performance in illustration. And though that might sound odd in a medium that has images printed in a book rather than film or theatre, performance is very much a part of illustration. I made it the central part of a book I wrote and illustrated years ago called, The Present.

The entire book is filled with "animation" sequences. More or less what you might see in an animated film storyboard. I was very interested in animation back then, and have been a life long cyclist, so it made sense to combine them and illustrate what few others would be so naturally inclined to do. But whether you are using lots of images, or only one, the same principal applies.

The Present is the second book I wrote and published (right after Ruby). The main idea was mistaken intentions and animated sequences.

The story revolves around a simple, Danish handyman who must bring a birthday present to his nephew. At the local market he finds the “perfect present”: a rusty pocket knife, which he fixes up, only to become a little too attached to it when it’s working again. He wonders now if this wouldn’t be the best present for his nephew after all, and at the last minute, fixes up an old bike for his nephew instead. But then… he has to get it there…Why not ride the bike? Just one problem - he can’t ride a bicycle at all.

But with no way else to get there and the encouragement of a friend, he learns to balance enough to get himself there. On the way he begins to get into the ride, the wind in his hair, the speed, the swooping downhill…and by the time he arrives at the birthday party, he is of two minds whether now this bike also is, in fact, the “perfect present” for his nephew. Now what does he do?

The short answer to the design is I was in Denmark not long before this book was illustrated so I incorporated Danish countryside and historic elements, then “animated” the action sequences with multiple images going across the double page spreads.

I have always loved animation so I indulged this feeling for movement since so much of the story involves action with little words.

Unlike Baby's Firsts pencil line and digital color, it’s all done in watercolor with brown pencil line – the only time I’ve done this. I don’t experiment all that much with technique compared to some. The color was also an exercise in "mixing on the page". In other words, I mixed most of the color by layering thin washes of transparent watercolor, such as painting the grass with layers of blue and yellow instead of green. Why? It’s supposed to look more luminous. And in the hands of a better painter, maybe it does. but in a printed book I think maybe it was just a waste of time…. Who knows? But I never did it again. Too much work. I love the bright colors of Baby's Firsts. I wouldn't do it any other way.

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