An Evolution of Words and Images
Susan and I have been friends, as well as colleagues, for a number of years, so when she approached me to collaborate with her on The Adventures of Yin & Yang: Snoepje and the Pizza Box, I was intrigued.
I had watched much of what this story reveals in real life - first at Susan and Martijn's charming cottage on Lake Minnetonka, and then in the big brick duplex they moved to in my old Seward neighborhood in Minneapolis, Minnesota. There, Susan and Martijn's life together was a part of my day-to-day activity. We lived blocks apart and spent much time at one another's homes. Over the years, I saw first hand not only how they cherished each other but how they cherished the two actual cats who inspired this book, Yin and Yang. And, I remember when they brought Snoepje into their lives and what a spirited and naughty sprite she was. So, when Susan approached me to professionally illustrate this book for publication, I knew I should be her collaborator. And, I knew also how I wanted to approach the imagery - with texture, depth and history.
Susan had provided some of that texture and history. She had originally written this story of cats and kittens for Martijn on Father's Day (they having no two-legged children and having just adopted "Miss Snoepje") and illustrated it with charming, simple, childlike drawings.
Susan termed her drawings primitive. Given the emotionally charged circumstances for her now wanting to make this book public, (Martijn's passing from cancer), I knew I needed to use her original sketches in some capacity, either as inspiration, or as raw material.
Transforming primitive to polished
In some cases, I chose to use the basic structure of Susan's original drawings as the foundation of the new artwork for the book. And in a couple of instances, I used the actual art as an element in an image itself, for example as the framed art in the living room scenes in the opening and the closing illustrations of the book. Those two images are two of Susan's originals, and I think bring a wonderful "Hitchcockian" sensibility to the visuals.
Original: Sara and Antoine with cats on the couch
Original: Antoine with Ying and Yang remembering the Netherlands
Above are two of the original images Susan forwarded me as we started to talk about the look and feel of the book. She wanted me to understand the history of the story and the special place it both came from and held in her heart.
I took a lot of inspiration from these simple drawings. You will notice that Susan rendered the inhabitants, Sara and Antoine and the two cats, in a different style than their surrounding environments - pencil for the things that are living, and felt tip pen for the things around them. I used that same idea for the images in the book.
Above, please notice the framed art on the wall of the living room behind the plants. The "paintings" are Susan's original sketches. Now look at the composition of this illustration and notice how it was inspired by Susan's drawing of the couple on the couch with the cats.
Furthermore, I'd like to point out the difference between how the various characters in the book (Sara, Antoine, Yin, Yang, Snoepje and the others) are rendered against their environments. All of the book's characters are done in flat colors. Crisp and simple. The backgrounds, environments and habitats are rendered in fibrous art paper textures. Rich, "nubbly", and warm. This treatment makes the characters pop out from their backgrounds the way they do in Susan's original pictures. The purples and greens in this establishing image are also pulled from the colors in the original drawing. So you will see a lot of Susan's original treatment in my images.
More from the Artist's View
In my next entry I will explain how I approached the character development for this book.
Until then, if you can, go snuggle a four-legged friend! And, I hope you will pick up a copy and cherish this sweet tale.