GUEST POST: The Pocket Chaotic – the illustration process by Daniel Gray-Barnett

As spend another period of time living in very close quarters, it seems appropriate to share this post about the illustration process behind the delightful picture, The Pocket Chaotic by written by Ziggy Hanaor and illustrated by Daniel Gray-Barnett. The story brings to life a delightful family of kangaroos, in a story of a journey towards independence – and how family life can make us feel like we’re living on-top of each other! Read my review of The Pocket Chaotic here.

Today, illustrator Daniel Gray Barnett shares insight into how he created the artwork for the story and his thoughts about the book. Welcome to the blog Daniel!

“When I was asked to work on Ziggy’s story, I (quite aptly) jumped for joy! I love drawing animals, and I love drawing families – getting to illustrate this particular one was something I was very excited about.

It’s a very funny, touching story that I think most people can relate to in one sense or another – whether it’s the parent-child connection that evolves as the child grows up and learns independence, or just the clash of personalities which often happens in families or relationships. Trying to maintain your own space in your life or home when you’re a neat, organised person and other people are a bit more chaotic is a common challenge. Maybe you’re the messy person with hoarding tendencies and your family just don’t understand the value of your treasure trove! Working on this project was a bit faster than previous picture book projects I’ve worked on – it was completed over a period of about 8-9 months. The sketching and storyboard phase took several months. I do all my sketching digitally in Photoshop, which helps me to be less precious about the process and keep things very loose! The editor had some ideas for how the spreads might work, which helped speed things up. Most of the storyboards have stayed fairly close to how I originally imagined, with some small tweaks.

In working on the illustrations, I was very inspired by the work of Ludwig Bemelmans (of Madeline fame), one of my favourite illustrators. In the past, I tend to work in quite limited colour palettes, but was also looking for the challenge of working in full colour – and non-digital colouring at that. Ludwig’s work helped me see a way of combining these methods into a cohesive book. I love how in Madeline he contrasts illustrations of limited colours with full colour illustrations, which seem to be mostly used for the outside world in the story. I borrowed the same approach for The Pocket Chaotic – when Alexander is inside Nancy’s pouch, those illustrations are shown in the limited black, white and egg-yolk yellow colours. When Alexander is in the outside world with his mum, those illustrations are shown in full colour.

After the storyboards were all given the go ahead, I spent a few weeks doing colour tests, playing around with inks, pencils and crayons to find that just right combination for the look of the story. I print out all of my sketches then use a light box for my inking process. I ink my linework and colours separately, just in case. I’d hate to have to redo an entire illustration because of one stray line! My illustrations are usually done in bits and pieces, before I scan everything in and layer it all in Photoshop. It feels like digital printmaking, in a way.

This project was a bit of an experiment for me. I used to work in only black ink and use the computer to do all my colouring, but on this book, I used a variety of coloured acrylic inks to do as much colouring as I could outside of the computer. I think there’s something wonderfully unpredictable, loose and warm about how it turned out. We decided to print the egg-yolk yellow in a special Pantone colour, which was saved for Alexander and Nancy and the pouch interior illustrations. It’s so terrifically bright!

It took about 4-5 months to finish all of the illustrations. I had a couple of speedbumps, trying to get my linework somewhere which had the loose energy I was looking for, but still a bit refined. Quite symbolic of the battle between Alexander and Nancy’s personalities, really. There were a few late nights but I’m really happy with how it all came together! Usually I have to wait about 9 months to see the finished product, but 2020 has been such an unusual year. It was only several months from our print deadline to seeing a completed copy. I’m so pleased with our book, I hope you all love it as much as Ziggy and I do!”

With thanks to Daniel for this fantastic guest post! The Pocket Chaotic is published by Cicada Books; find out more The Pocket Chaotic — Cicada Books.

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