I started attending a clay sculpture class in November 2008, the year before I started working on this picture book. I find clay a great medium to work with, especially for making models of characters. I’d made one sculpture of Knut already- the big-nose version- but I wanted to make an updated version.
The head isn’t very big, it fits into the palm of your hand.
Then I started making the body over three sessions.
Firstly, I got the basic body parts in there. No detail at this stage.
I hollowed out a hole in the bottom of his head so that it could pivot on his neck. This kept the head stable.
The next time round, I added a base to give him stability, and I put in the details of some clothes.
Then in the third session, I put in finer details- his fingers, the stitching and the wool on his ugg boots, and I shaped his shirt a bit.
I’ve left gaps in his hands to hold a sword and shield, and I’d like to make a model of Wolverine to sit beside him (that’s why the base isn’t symmetrical).
I’m glad I made his head separate, because I’d like to redo it. His face is a bit flat, and his nose and eyes are too high on his head. He also needs his viking helmet! Perhaps I’ll also make some cardboard armour.
So, that’s how the character of Knut developed. From next week, I’ll look at some of the other characters in the book.
At this point I had a meeting with Cate to show her my character design for Knut. She gave some great feedback-
The gap in the front of his teeth might need to go- kids usually only have those gaps when they’re younger, around 4-6 years old, and Knut was supposed to look a tiny bit older, around 6 to 7 years old.
The size of his head, arms and legs in proportion to his body made him look slightly too old- maybe 8 or 9.
Maybe reduce the pointiness of his chin, and make his cheeks rounder
Wolverine looked great and could stay as he was.
Based on that feedback, I revised the character design on my computer, fiddling with the body proportions.
From there I started resketching the character, making the face rounder and the chin less pointy. This version of Knut I call the ’round-cheek’ version.
The body proportions started to look better with this version, and his character was more closely aligned with the text- Knut is a very innocent, sweet and gentle boy. His hairstyle is more consistent now too, with the two little bits of fringe coming down on either side and the little curl at the end. It was a lucky design, because when Knut wears his Viking helmet, his fringe pops out from the front, making him still recognisable.
I had been working on Knut for a long while at this stage- my first sketch had been in June 2009, and the round-cheek sketches were from March 2010 onwards. Here’s how he progressed. Which is your favourite?
Next week- I show you how I made a clay model of the round-cheek version of Knut.
I started working on a new version of Knut, one without the big nose.
You can see here that I’m trying to draw the same face over and over again while keeping it consistent. Well, I’m trying at least! I’m also trying some profile sketches so I know what Knut looks like from different angles.
I was pretty happy with Knut at this point. I had a meeting coming up with Cate, our editor at Fremantle Press, and I needed to show a watercolour sample of Knut. I used one of the big-nose sketches as a guide, but made his face more pointy-chinned…
I do enjoy colouring on the computer for the ease of use, the speed, and the amount of control you get- but you can’t beat the feeling of using a real brush, real water, and real watercolour paint. I reckon the finished product looks a lot better too.
Next week I’ll tell you what Cate thought of the character design so far, and the improvements that were made after the meeting.
The first version of Josh/Knut had a huge nose. I made a small clay sculpture which seemed to be cute… but when I translated it into drawings his nose was enormous.
His character was starting to come through here- alternately brave and afraid, with his faithful Viking dog Wolverine by his side. But the nose had to go, it’s far too big for a young boy.
Character design tip- Did you know that our ears and noses continue to grow for our whole lives? Babies and kids have small ears and noses compared to their head size, but older people have much bigger noses and ears. If you draw a character with big ears and a big nose, it will make them seem older. Unless of course your character is a baby elephant. In this case I’d recommend making their eyes much bigger than usual. The babies of all animals have bigger eyes than the adults, compared to their head size. Except those blind cave fish, they don’t have any eyes. And tadpoles, they’ve got tiny eyes. And… sorry where was I?
Right, yes, I was getting rid of Knut’s big nose.
The next version of Knut is the ‘pointy-chin’ version, you can see his nose is much smaller:
I’ll show you some more of this version next week, including an early watercolour sample.
To recap- a boy who lived across the road from my parents was helping me develop the main character for the book. This boy, Nick, seemed very much like the main character of Josh (Knut)- both are very inventive and creative boys, with vivid imaginations. For research purposes (and for fun), Nick, his dad Roy and I set about building a Viking longship out of a cardboard fridge box.
We laid the cardboard out flat and ruled a line straight down the middle- we’d be building two identical sides for our ship, so we would need to divide the cardboard in half.
We drew the outline of the boat onto one half of the cardboard, making one half of a ship.
While Norman was in the Shetlands researching, I was at home in Perth, doing some research for the pictures.
I made a few initial sketches of Viking things- costumes, houses, the bows of ships, rune stones, helmets… Norman has a huge collection of books on Vikings, so I wasn’t short of material. These sketches gave me lots of ideas for how the pictures and characters might look. (I haven’t shown all the sketches here, because don’t want to give away too much of the story).