Thursday, February 27, 2014

Patricia Coombs & the "Dorrie" books

I learnt to read somewhere around the age of four. I have a very clear memory of the actual moment that the words in my "Dr Suess's Beginner Book Dictionary" made sense and became recognisable. From that time until the present, I have loved books and reading and could count on one hand the number of nights in my life where I haven't read myself to sleep. Even if I fall asleep without a book, I invariably wake an hour later and reach for whatever story I am currently engrossed in. I can't even imagine not reading every day and I am truly and deeply amazed by people who tell me they don't read for pleasure.
When I was primary school age, some of my absolute favourite books were the "Dorrie" series by American author and illustrator, Patricia Coombs. The books centred around a little witch called Dorrie who lived with her mother the Big Witch and her cat, Gink and a female cook. There was no father ever mentioned in the books and I wonder now if that played a sub-conscious part in their appeal for me, as I grew up without a dad in a completely female household.
I was lucky enough to live literally just down the road from a large and very well-stocked
community library. Whenever the Dorrie books were available I would borrow as many as my
card allowed and take them home to read and re-read until it was time to return them and hope
that new ones had come in.
Possibly even more than the stories themselves (which were, and are, completely wonderful) the
most  appealing aspect of the books was the incredible illustrations. I am lucky enough to own several of the twenty Dorrie books (click here for a full list) and when I look at them now, which I often do, I am no less impressed. The illustrations are mostly monochrome with occasional splashes of colour and are rendered with either ink or graphite. Each character has a distinctive and immediately recognisable silhouette and the mood of each story is deftly maintained throughout every book due to the skilled and sensitive use of these two mediums.
I'm sure that these books were very popular, but I've never met another person my age who read or remembers these books from their childhood. Perhaps they weren't in wide circulation in Australia? Pity. I read the books to my own daughters when they were younger and they all loved them. So, I'm sharing some of the illustrations here in the hope that more people will seek them out - I've heard that some are being re-printed, but I'll have to look into that further. Would love to hear from anyone else who read and loved these as a child.

Each book begins with these words.
("Dorrie and the Blue Witch", 1964)

I love Dorrie's profile and her faithful companion, Gink.
("Dorrie and the Wizard's Spell", 1968)

Lovely pen and ink.
("Dorrie's Magic", 1962)

Splashes of colour heighten the atmosphere.
(Dorrie and the Blue Witch", 1964)

Beautiful, soft graphite drawings.
("Dorrie and the Birthday Eggs", 1971)

("Dorrie and the Wizard's Spell", 1968)

("Dorrie and the Screebit Ghost", 1979)

("Dorrie and the Birthday Eggs", 1971)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Narrative Project

Towards the end of last year, one of my major assignments involved storyboarding a narrative of my choice. As children's picture books and stories played such a vital role in my childhood and beyond, I regarded this as an opportunity to explore the process of illustrating a children's text.
The story I chose to illustrate is called "Brave Molly" by Terry Jones, which is from a book of short tales by the author called "Fairy Tales" (Puffin Books, 1981). I love this collection of stories. They are a perfect mix of fantasy, humour, darkness and danger - all of which, I believe, are the essential components of a good fairytale. Besides, who doesn't love Terry Jones...he was always my favourite Python and he's worked with Brian Froud (the 'Lady Cottington' books).
Anyway, "Brave Molly" is a terrific little story about a small girl who encounters a big monster when she seeks shelter in an abandoned cottage to escape a thunderstorm. Ultimately, she discovers that the monster is not what he seems and finds her courage in the process. The story is full of fantastic imagery to illustrate and besides being very laborious and a steep learning curve, this whole process was a complete joy for me.
I did storyboard the entire story, even though I was only required to complete sixteen small
(80 x 90mm) cells and I'm continuing the project in my own time by rendering each spread at full
size with type.
I thought I'd share the process for one of the completed spreads here and then post more as I complete  the final versions.
1. Initial sketches for Molly and the Monster.

2. Rough line cells (there were many more of these, but the one on the right was
the concept I chose to go with so I've just shown one of the alternatives).

3. Tonal study for chosen cell.

4. Colour rough for spread.

5. Final spread (full size) - coloured pencil, gouache and ink
 on illustration board.

6. Final spread with type.