Wildly Adorable

Creating Animal Character Illustrations

The joy of illustrating animal characters comes from knowing you’re creating a substitute for a child. They can have playfulness, curiosity and silliness. In a picture book, they can show another visual story that might not be mentioned in the text. As the sidekick or silent partner they can offer some additional emotion with their expressions and postures. In Eva’s Imagination, the dog is a loyal companion and protector, but there’s also a curious cat in the house on the edge of the storyline. For ‘The Flying Optomotrist‘ the dogs weren’t mentioned but they appear on almost every page. They are such a fixture in the rural setting and as the action moves forward the dogs join in.

The Animals are People in Disguise

I love illustrating dog characters, and I’ve had a lot of opportunities to do it recently with Albert and Teddy. Greyhounds are wonderfully expressive and quirky dogs in life, so it was fun to illustrate them

Often animal characters represent people and human relationships. Sometimes the animals represent whole families. I was given the chance to do this in Five Little Platypuses. The challenge was to give each little platypus different characteristics. Emily Gravett illustrates the expressions and characters of an extended family brilliantly in Meerkat Mail where we are taken on a journey all over the world. One of my all-time favourites ‘Pig in the Pond‘ has the farm animals representing children misbehaving whilst the grownup is out.

Where do you start?

Whatever the animal is I start from photos and a good Google search. Some animals are completely unfamiliar. I remember clearly the first time I had to draw a reindeer. It took a lot of scribbling and drawing what looked like horses and dogs. What makes a reindeer look like a reindeer? Essentially it’s the large hooves, fluffy ears and the horns. It’s all about finding what is distinctive about them.

Monkey Trouble

I find drawing monkeys and gorillas quite tricky because they have such human faces, but they shouldn’t look too human. This video shows how much scribbling and playing around goes into a first character drawing, and then you can adjust the limbs and proportions to show different expressions. The facial expressions of course are all about the eyebrows.