Critical Reflection

For this unit, I wanted to explain the concept of a “quality” to a young audience; specifically, children aged three to five years old. My goal was to create a small children’s book, consisting of a series of illustrations that would serve to visually explain the concept. There were several reasons that I wanted to go in this direction.

The first of these is that I felt that an illustrated children’s book would be an excellent way to explore visual explanation, as a large amount of children’s books are intended to teach a wide array of concepts, from vocabulary words to morality lessons. After this occurred to me, I decided to stick with the idea because it involved two areas that I had been previously unfamiliar with – illustration for children, and bookbinding. Similarly, the reason I eventually chose to work with watercolor was because of my unfamiliarity with the medium. I felt that this would be an excellent opportunity for me to develop my range as an illustrator, as well as serving as an interesting and challenging project.

Because I was largely unfamiliar with the production of work aimed at a young audience, as well as with bookbinding and design, I knew that research would be an extremely important factor in helping me to create the final product that I wanted. For this purpose, I purchased several books to get me started and provide me with inspiration throughout the project. All of them helped immensely with the process of developing a concept for my book, but The Bloomsbury Guide to Creating Illustrated Children’s Books, in particular, contained a wealth of useful information, and was unique among the rest in that it provided advice on story writing as well as illustration.

In retrospect, I think that this was one of the main problems I had with this project – developing a story for the book. I felt, at the time, that it was essential to have a basic plot in order to provide a frame for the illustrations, and so I spent a disproportionate amount of time trying to figure out what sort of story I wanted to write, how I wanted to write it, and what specific age range I wanted to target it towards. For assistance, I turned to The Bloomsbury Guide, which offered advice regarding everything from plot themes to character descriptions. Eventually I came to a point where I realized that that my focus on the narrative was overpowering the actual purpose of the project – to produce illustrations – and I being editing down my ideas to a much more simplistic story. While this did help me target a specific age range, as a simpler story necessitates a younger audience, I realize that I did spend far too much time on it, and this hurt the development of the rest of the project.

I have mixed feelings about the final product. The text, especially, really bothers me. I had wanted a handwritten style, because I thought that it would make the book more informal, and help make the reader feel as though they weren’t being talked down to. From an aesthetic perspective, Sara Fanelli’s Mythological Monsters inspired me, because I love the way her handwritten text intermixes with her illustrations. However, I don’t think the same can be said for mine. While I wanted it to look informal, I feel like it doesn’t have a definite stylistic presence, leaving it feeling more unprofessional than anything else.

Additionally, I had some trouble with the actual book binding itself. Although I did make a small test version to try out the binding method covered in a tutorial I found online, which involved sewing signatures together, I decided for the final product that it would be better to use a method from the Bloomsbury book, which involved gluing the spreads in individually. Looking back on the project, I wish I had not been so ambitious as to assume I’d be able to bind the book myself, rather than looking more seriously into having it professionally done.

On a positive note, one thing I do like is the illustrations themselves, particularly the designs of the five animals that the main character meets through the story. Stylistically, this was a huge change for me, and I really like how they came out. With the main tiger character’s design, as well, I was quite happy, because I felt he was different enough to stand out to the reader, and anthropomorphic enough so that he would be easier to relate to than a more realistic approach.

All in all, while I am not terribly happy with the outcome of this project, it was definitely a learning experience for me. I always wondered if I might enjoy children’s illustration, and I now have much more respect for illustrators who work in this area. I did enjoy working out of my comfort zone, and would like to continue to explore this area in the future.

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