Water, it’s a tricky thing.
excerpt from Dream Boats:
Water is memory; water is dreams.
Clear or mirror, deep as sleep,
water flows inward and Dream Boats follow.
Take me, Dream Boat, and show me everything I know.
This recent post on the blog Illustration Art not only includes example of how some of my favourite illustrators and painters handled the tricky subject of water, but it is also a rather timely post. I’ve been thinking about water and how to paint it for a really long time, having spent most of 4 years trying to figure out the best ways to render it in the illustrations of Dream Boats. It’s a central theme in the book and main element within the text.
I made a decision really early in the concepts not to ground the book in the terrestrial realm. It is a book about dreams, after all; anything can happen. So I took the characters up into space, I floated them on muddy rivers, on canals that changed between pages from window glass-clear to looking glass-reflective, through misty trees, and roiling oceans, and in the sky above oxbow rivers, frozen seas, and the deltas where the rivers of Iceland meet the sea.
Wherever the boats went, it was important that water was present, somehow. Up in space, water is represented in the blue surface of the earth, in the flow of the composition, and in the creatures that drift among the masts and oars of the boats; moon jellies, lookdown fish (chosen for their flowing fins and similarity to the Atlantic moonfish), radiolarian (rendered in gigantic proportion). The result is the boats might just as easily be thought to be drifting beneath the surface of the oceans, as above it. And so water becomes portal to other worlds, as much as a conduit to adventure.
Practically, the representation of water became tricky when the ocean, seen from above on one page, became the sky on the next page, and then a storm tossed sea transformed into a snow covered landscape.
Continuity is exceedingly important in a picture book. But how do you deal with that when your character can at once rise up in all manner of rolling forms, break itself into white foam, and burn the colour of a blazing sunset, at at another be as clear and flat as a pane of glass, or turn the colour of a blue summer sky?
Inspiration was drawn equally from Hiroshige’s flat, graphic representation of bodies of water, the natural bloom of ink on a wet piece of watercolour paper, and the photographs I’ve taken of rivers and oceans from a plane over Iceland, the Arctic, and Northern B.C.
This post is part of a series documenting my process of illustrating the picture book Dream Boats (author Dan Bar-el, pub. Simply Read Books). The entire series of posts is archived here.
View a gallery of all the work-in-progress images including first sketches, reference material, mistakes, redraws, and tests, to final art at a much larger size, here.