Here’s a timelapse of me painting a page from The Last Viking Returns.
This page features Odin and his ravens, as well as Freya (the goddess of love and beauty), Sigurd (blacksmith to the gods), and Thor (no introduction needed).
All the illustrations in the book (including this one) were drawn with pencil, then scanned and coloured digitally using a Wacom Intuos3 graphics tablet and Photoshop CS3/Corel Painter X3.
The footage was captured using Screenium. The colouring process took 4 hours in real time.
The Last Viking Returns is the sequel to The Last Viking (2011) and is once again illustrated by James Foley (me) and written by Norman Jorgensen. All being well, it’ll be released in October 2014 by Fremantle Press!
Yesterday, Peter Jeffery from 95.3fm interviewed myself and talented fellow Fremantle Press author/illustrator Sean E Avery about making a living as children’s book illustrators. Click below to hear the interview.
There’s a scene in Last Viking where Josh arrives at Nan and Pop’s house, says goodbye to his mum and dad, and watches them drive off. Sounds simple enough. It took Norm and I a few goes to get it right.
The text and pictures would have to achieve a number of things- introduce Nan and Pop, introduce the setting, and show Josh’s close relationship with his Mum and Dad. The text and pictures couldn’t show Josh’s parents leaving in a way that implied they were dumping him so they could go away for the weekend together… it had to be sensitive.
The first and second goes didn’t achieve these things :p
Last week I spoke about some of the other illustrators who influenced my approach to The Last Viking. I forgot a couple of important ones… so I’ve put them in this post.
First up is Jan Ormerod. Moonlight was one of my favourite books as a child (still is). The sister book, Sunshine, is amazing too.
For those of you who’ve never seen these books (shame on you), the amazing thing is the lack of words. Everything is told in panels, using only body language and facial expressions. The figure drawing is so accurate and subtle, it makes me feel very jealous to look at it now. Jan also breaks the panel borders regularly, which stops the panels feeling stale or constrictive.
I hadn’t noticed that these books had an influence until I re-read them randomly last week… I then realised that the panel sequences in The Last Viking probably owe a lot to Jan’s work seeping into my brain at a young age. I can’t find any pics of the interior spreads on the web…
Another huge influence on me is The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base.
I was obsessed with it around age 10 or 11. I loved all the puzzles hidden in the images and borders. Unfortunately, I wasn’t patient enough at the time to figure them out… my parents sent for the hint sheet to be mailed out to me (this was back in the day before they started including the hint sheet with the book), and once I got it, I couldn’t resist reading through and checking every little clue. No will power at that age, obviously.
When Norm and I thought about incorporating runes into The Last Viking somehow, it seemed natural to use them as borders, and to have them spell out secret messages.
If you’d like to have a go at decoding some rune messages, check out the new ‘Resources‘ page and download the rune handouts. There’s more messages in the book too… on the front and back covers, for example 🙂
Norm has spoken previously about some of his influences while writing The Last Viking. This week I thought I’d talk about the influences I had while doing the drawings.
I’ve been a huge fan of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes for many years. It was written and illustrated by the incredibly intelligent and talented Bill Watterson. The comic looked at the worries of childhood with humour and sensitivity. I was a teenager when I first start reading the comic, and I often didn’t understand the deeper philosophical side of each story, but the inventive and expressive artwork was more than enough to get me hooked. It’s easy to see the similarities between Calvin and Josh- both are young boys, both are loners, both have animal friends, and both get lost in their imaginations on a regular basis.
Another major influence for me has been the Asterix comics, written by Rene Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo. I loved the historical references, the attention to detail in the costumes and backgrounds, and the ridiculous puns. That’s all come through in The Last Viking (except for the puns… though I feel that Norman’s gentle, daggy sense of humour is very much in the same vein as Goscinny’s, and also mine). And of course, there is an animal companion- a little white dog, called Dogmatix… very much like Wolverine in The Last Viking.
First off- apologies for missing a week! I’ve been pushing through the final artwork and attending family weddings. Busy busy busy.
The original story mentioned quite a few Norse Gods- Odin, Thor, Sigurd, Freya and Hemrod. Our brilliant editor Cate helped to whittle the text down, removing supplementary characters to focus on Odin and Thor (Check out this post by Norm for more info on Odin and Thor).
Here are my first sketches and notes on the Gods.
After a bit of research, I found out that Odin is an old old man. So the black hair wasn’t going to look right for his character. Also, Thor is his son, so they have to look similar.
I thought people were hard to draw. Turns out ravens are impossible.
Okay, I’m being melodramatic. They’re not impossible- just difficult. I’ve never made a habit of drawing birds before, so I’ve had to start practicing.
I’m paying attention now. In the last year whenever I’ve seen crows or ravens about, I’ve stopped doing whatever it is I’m doing and I’ve stared. I’ve chased crows around the park with my mobile phone, trying to take videos and pictures. I’ve sat on the grass with my sketchbook and tried to draw them as they hop around, then inevitably fly off, their opinionated squawking trailing into the distance. And my drawings have gotten better (mostly).
Ravens are incredibly intelligent birds, capable of logic and problem solving- I had no idea how intelligent until I started researching on youtube.
There are two ravens in Norse mythology- their names are Huginn and Muninn, which mean Thought and Memory. They belong to Odin; every day they fly around the world (the land of humans known as ‘Midgard’) and note the events taking place. Then they fly back to Odin to report.
So in our story, the ravens provide a vital link between Josh’s world and the world of the Viking Gods. When the ravens turn up, the Gods aren’t far away.
My first sketches in the storyboards were merely placeholders- rough ideas of where the ravens would go, once I knew how to draw them.
Many sketches later…
…and I’ve learnt to draw some better looking birds.
Random facts about ravens:
You’ve probably heard that a group of crows is called a ‘murder’. The same name is used for a group of ravens, but there are some other suggestions floating about too : a conspiracy, an unkindness, a storytelling, a congress and a parliament are also used. (Or at least, that’s what a quick google search told me).
Ravens were used as symbols in Viking times, and can be found on flags, in the Bayeux Tapestry, and on helmets.