The Tale of the Whale introduced by illustrator Padmacandra
Padmacandra is one of six illustrators shortlisted for the Klaus Flugge Prize, which recognises the most exciting and talented new picture book illustrators.
‘I am trying to keep the whale’s eye out of the gutter and the tail out of the trim. I have had to crop the octopus off’ – these words from Ness Wood, the book designer I worked with for The Tale of the Whale arrived in my inbox in the middle of the final artwork being created for this book. At the time I had the 14 and a half roughs for the book printed out large and pinned to a piece of cloth covering the whole back wall of my studio. As I completed the artwork for each one, I replaced the rough with the finished piece (printed out) – a very satisfying process, following many stages of roughs and feedback from the Scallywag team.
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 Ness and with my editor Janice Thomson. It was obvious that the author Karen Swann had really thought about the illustrations 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.
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.
Another challenge was to communicate the strong connection of friendship between the child and the whale throughout the book, as the story is all about connection and interconnection: connection with the child and the child’s friends – the wider community – waiting for them on the beach, the connection between the reader and the story, and of course our interconnection with the natural world.
I tried to communicate this connection through eye contact between the characters and facial expression, as well as gesture and movement. As an illustrator one finds oneself feeling one’s way into the mood and emotions in quite an embodied way whilst making the images.
My road to picture book illustration is quite a long one.
When I was about 9 years old, my family didn’t have very much money, so as a present my mum decorated my bedroom (which I’d just stopped sharing with my younger brother) for my birthday. As part of this she made a little desk area inside a tall cupboard, complete with pens (and a beautiful painted box with my name on it which I still have) and I remember sitting at the desk and thinking I wanted to do something with my life that involved having my own space, and drawing or writing at a desk like that.
When I was at school I did well at art and English, but I had very little self-confidence, and tended to undervalue or overlook my own skills.
In the end, I was offered places both at art school and studying social work, and I decided to go for the social work, as I thought it would help me to get to know myself and others better (it did!)
But since then, I continued to doodle in the corners of notebooks. It was like a little voice saying ‘hello! Pay attention to me’. Sometimes if you meditate (as I do) you find yourself hearing things like birdsong, or silence, that you didn’t pay attention to before. In the same way in 2016 I began to listen to this little doodling voice, and eventually found I had the confidence to apply for an MA in Children’s Book Illustration at The Cambridge School of Art.
I was so delighted and chuffed when Sarah of Scallywag Press asked me whether I would be interested in illustrating The Tale of the Whale. I found the text very moving, as well as being told in an engaging, non-preachy way, as an invitation.