Like all great adventures, it began with a call from the world.
I was walking my regular route to the fallen oak on the hill. It was a little later this time and the chatter of the woods had been hushed under a veil of cool, silvery light.
Directly ahead, I could make out a hazy smudge of white in the middle of the path before me. Was it moving? I stopped and squinted. It was coming towards me. Fast. I could make out two black stripes running the length of its long, flat head. It hadn't seen me. I gazed at its stocky grey limbs and wide paws in a hasty trot. Just as I shuddered at the thought of it running into my legs, its small black eyes caught my gaze and it stopped suddenly, letting out a piercing hiss through its white fangs before bolting into the undergrowth.
I stood in shock. The air felt alive; heart pounding. What just happened? Then, against the inky silence of the woods, I heard the faint rustle of leaves and the crack of a twig. What now? I saw movement in the undergrowth. Those black and white stripes passing between the shadows, but as I looked on, the tiny button nose and miniature stripes of a cub followed intently. My senses tingled as I watched them gently pick their way into the darkness.
The magic of that moment has never left me and I yearned to capture that feeling somehow. This was the seed for ‘Wildful’ to be born.
Making Wildful has been a joy. It was a refreshing change from the highly collaborative, tech-driven projects I’ve been used to. Three simple ingredients; ink, paint and story. And a lot of observation.
I’m no naturalist but through the making of this book, something magic began to reveal itself to me. I wanted the environments to feel real and in some ways my lack of knowledge helped; the book is set in spring and I’d just draw what I saw. But through this process of looking, really looking, I began to feel something change.
I could feel a presence, faint at first; quiet and polite in delicate lone flowers, while others poised defensively with their thorns and stings. And above, the trees would reach out, each twisting and gesturing in their own individual ways. A squirrel would come down and for a closer look, curiously cocking its head. We would gaze at each other; two very different worlds meeting for this moment before it would scamper up into the canopy and disappear.
Beneath the names we give things, a living being is there, and sometimes it takes peeling back what we thought we knew to see it, feel it and appreciate it.
Life is busy and it takes effort to stop. To remember. And this is what Wildful is about.
I made a model of each character to better understand them. It turned out the model was useful to draw difficult angles from too...
And there's always myself for photo reference. The things we do for our art...
The pen stage drawn in black biro
The ink stage adding shade and contrast to the world
In a story of the senses, how do I draw sounds like birdsong? How does the song of each bird differ? What would the whole Dawn Chorus look like?
Here are the original drawings laid out on the floor of my studio. I couldn't fit them all in. I'd love to see them all displayed on a gallery wall some day...