BLOG TOUR: The Tale of the Whale by Karen Swann, illustrated by Padmacandra

It’s DAY THREE of the blog tour for The Tale of the Whale by Karen Swann and Padmacandra. I’m so pleased to share a guest post from illustrator Padmacandra with insight into the artwork from the story, as well as my thoughts on the book.

The Tale of the Whale is undoubtedly a stunning debut from both author and illustrator, telling the story of a child and whale journeying through the oceans. Their beautiful friendship captures the symbiotic relationship between humans, the sea and the creatures who live in it, and their discoveries show the extreme harm plastic is causing. A lyrical narrative combines with beautifully drawn scenes from under the waves and brings to life the reality of pollution. A brilliant book to support children’s understanding of environmental issues and show just why we need to act now to save our seas. Not only this, it’s a really beautiful book to read and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this on award shortlists in months to come.

Welcome to the blog Padmacandra!

“Hello! I am Padmacandra, the illustrator of the Tale of the Whale. I am an ordained Buddhist which is why I have a funny name! Many people think this means the I should be wearing robes or have a bald head, but within my Order it means that I have made a commitment (with quite a long training process) to do everything in my life in the light of kindness and awareness, with the aim of waking up more and more to the truth of the interconnectedness of all life. I was delighted to be asked to illustrate The Tale of the Whale which speaks to this interconnectedness so lyrically and beautifully. Karen and I talked about the importance of the connection between the child and the whale and their friendship throughout the book, as well as connecting with the awesome beauty, joyfulness and depth of the ocean. It was so inspiring to research and make the images of all the ocean creatures, and their home, trying to communicate this beauty and connectedness.

One other detail about me is that I also work part time as a carer for the elderly, mostly living in for a week at a time. I enjoy the simplicity and practicality of the work: it can be such a straightforward way to be of service to others.  I have the privilege of often being alongside people when they are facing the challenges of old age – when they have stopped feeling the need to “put on a face”- which feels like a real meeting.  Perhaps also this flavour of joy in meeting comes across in the tale of the whale!

My Art Processes

I remember trying to learn Salsa some years ago and finding myself challenged by following step by step instructions. However, when the music started and I was in a group with other people dancing I found myself picking up some of the steps and moves by simply feeling my way. Likewise, with art I’ve found I seem to learn best by playing around and making mistakes. I also find it invaluable to look at the work of others that I admire. Not to copy, but to educate my eye. I find Instagram a good place for this.

I love to experiment with mark making.  This was very much encouraged on the Cambridge Art School MA, and I continue to do so.  I seem to have settled with oil pastels and wax crayons as a main medium, sometimes (as in The Tale of the Whale) combining these with monoprint textures (the monoprints are created by rolling ink and paint onto paper).  I usually create images by laying down lots of lovely colours in layers first. Then I will either create images by scratching away layers to reveal what is underneath, or I add lines and shades on top with more crayon, coloured pencil, and occasionally acrylic pens. Usually, it’s a combination of these!

The Tale of the Whale was a lovely text to illustrate, and particularly as it was my first book as illustrator – I felt in good hands with the designer Ness Wood, and editor Janice Thomson. It was obvious that Karen had really thought about the illustrations in a very skilled way when writing her text. One challenge was to render the underwater scenes as well as the scenes above water. In the end, the method of layering waxy crayons with soft oil pastels on top worked very well, and I combined monoprints with these digitally.

Bringing texture to images is important to me – especially for this older age group of 4 to 8-year-olds who are starting to have a subtler appreciation of it. I hope texture brings more psychological depth, interest and sensitivity to my images. It reflects the way that nature is.  Of course, it’s important to get the balance right between simplicity and complexity in an image – an area I find interesting to explore.”

The Tale of the Whale by Karen Swann, illustrated by Padmacandra, out now in hardback (£12.99, Scallywag Press. Find out more at scallywagpress.com. With thanks to Scallywag Press for inviting me to host a stop on the blog tour. Don’t forget to follow the rest of the tour:

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