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  • Writer's picturehet Fabel Atelier

Illustrating 2: Putting visual ideas on paper

Today the first presentable version of Didi, the white blood cell is revealed in this Blog post.

But first: If you’re curious about the end result, we need your support!

Our goal is a children’s book that will make kids more aware of what happens in their body when they are ill. This day and age Authors and Illustrators need an audience before they publish. Strange, you might think, but true. With the possibility of gathering a fan base before you have published something, comes the need to have such pre-existing readers.

This seems the opposite of logic, but come to think of it, why not know beforehand whether there is interest in something you want to publish? As I understand it, publishers often too look towards creators with followers on social media. It is -after all- a good way to see whether a creative idea has enough traction with people to sell it. And if we end up publishing the book ourselves… well, getting this project realised depends on you either way.

Please subscribe to this blog, or @ImmuneCellDidi and spread the word. We need you! Your help is very much appreciated! <3

The start of this project was especially hard, though very inspiring! In retrospect the illustration process can be best described as the quest to find an answer to these two questions: How can I graphically translate what I had seen of the world of immune cells? And… What do I add to this world to visually express Frederike’s characters and their actions?

The answer to the first question is not captured in one or two sentences. It is a process and I can talk about it for hours. Blogging about it, however, is not my strong suit. It takes up a lot of time, time I want to spend illustrating. That’s why I have decided to give Didi an Instagram account, where I show rather then tell. I might reveal some technical illustration tips too, who knows!

Let’s talk about question number 2 then…

Besides looking at the micrographs (the images on cell-level as explained in my first blogpost) I had to read a lot to understand what I was looking at and answer questions like: What are immune cells made of? What is their texture and that of the spaces they live in? How do they go from one place to another? Do they know where they are going? How do they see in a place where no light penetrates?

Of course, the writer’s words are partially guiding me… In Frederike’s stories Didi communicates with all sorts of cells. She expresses feelings too. To illustrate her interaction with other cells and the way she experiences what is happening, I would have to give her some sort of face. But how far do I want to go with that? Would you like Didi if she looked human? With eyes, a mouth, ears and a nose, and dimples in her cheeks, maybe with freckles and long hair? Would that guarantee that our young readers would see Didi as their friend?

Isn’t that how everything is anthropomorphized, by making it look human? Actually, I think it is not. Our brains are quite capable of doing just that by themselves. It is called: facial pareidolia. Apparently, our brain is actively anthropomorphizing everything it sees without us giving a conscious order. Thus, the illustrator merely has to give the impression of a face. Very cool! What do you see in this rusty piece of machinery?

In art this phenomenon has an evolution of its own. In fantasy and science fiction for example, anthropomorphism is common. Animals speak and have emotions. Even things often have feelings… In our centuries long history of storytelling I think robots are the most recent and most evolved examples. Take a look at D-0 droid who develops a bond with BB8 in “Roque a Star Wars Story". They both have no face at all and yet… Tell me if you don’t see features of their faces somehow in the place where their heads could be!

We humans don’t need actual eyes, noses and mouths to get the impression something has a face and therefore a personality. With most robots it is implied. Funny side note is that our favorite fictional robots have little facial features, whereas real “life” robots are made with smiles painted on them as to make them more human, friendlier. Star Wars teaches us it is the actions that count, not the suggestion of a smile.

Of course, Didi is not a robot, but it goes to show how little is needed to give the illusion of a facial expression. I wanted to create a figure that is easily transferred into simple animations in case we might launch her into the digital world, but it was important to me that she would visually challenge our little readers. She needs some sort of edge so that she would not disappear in the mold of mainstream illustrations.

I wanted Didi to remain a bit hand drawn, a sketched figure, with little mistakes,

if you catch my drift… you’ll just have to see… Anyway… she would have to shine a bit too, with colour. She should have colour. She is a colourfull character in a colourless world. With that I started sketching and painting and splashing with inks.

I gave her an open and kind face; she became pronounced feminine for she is a female hero. She is the glue of the story, I feel, friends with all and concerned about everything. A curious soul. I gave her big eyes without lashes (lashes would have been too much), but with irises and pupils to hint at what she is looking at. I drew a simple line for her mouth and three cute little tentacles on top of her head, which is her body of course. She has no arms or legs, no hands nor feet. She touches and moves around with her big curvy tentacles that sprout from everywhere out of her body, differently every time. They are not at all realistic, but give her a recognizable look. They will distinguish her from the cells in her family. In reality, they all look pretty much the same, you know, these immune cells!

(1) Monocyte, (2) Lymphocyte, (3) Neutrophil (4) Red Blood Cell (RBC), (5) A few platelets Bruce Wetzel (photographer). Harry Schaefer (photographer)

Some”when” in the midst of this sketching period, I have put Didi in my laptop… I just scanned her and there she was: materialized or rather digitized on my screen. I am still developing my digital skills, but I am sure now she will be a mixture of mediums; an analogue-digital-hybrid, if you will. Created with pencil and inks, finetuned with Affinity Serif (the software I use, which I will gladly tell you about some other time).

So, without further a due… here she is, our Didi! Created by Frederike Schmitz, illustrated by yours truly, here in het Fabel Atelier.

She is a sweet little thing and because I am generally not a fan of too “sugar sweet” for children -or in general- I’ll have to do my best to make the other characters less so. I write this with a smile… The topic of our immune system -our bodies fighting viruses- is currently very heavy for some of us. It is a serious subject to say the least. Therefore, a little sweetness is welcome, I think. Besides, the other characters in Frederike’s stories have different traits ;)

I sincerely hope you like Didi. Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to follow and share! Spread the word! Thank you!

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