Bread Scented Shampoo

 

O, someone bring the smelling salts! Somebody who is an exchange student in Moscow posted this picture to Imgur. It’s bread-scented. You wash hairs with it.

I was once an exchange student in Japan, where among other minor culture differences which add up to make a sum of ‘foreign’, I noticed that Japanese natives tend to find different smells appealing. American women are notorious/famous among the Japanese for wearing too much perfume. Products for the bathroom were more likely to ‘smell like clean’ (if you can imagine that) rather than some highly potent chemically aroma smelling of some foreign, overpowering flower.

All of this just goes to show how scent and our perception is learned. Why not bread scented shampoo? At first glance this seems very strange to me, but if I take off my cultural lenses, bread is no more strange than the smell currently emanating from me, which is probably part coconut.

Watching Gilmore Girls recently, the character Lane complained that her always-hungry flatmates had eaten her food-scented body lotion on potato chips.

If you’re genuinely hungry, are food scented body products a special kind of torture? Or does everything start smelling of food?

Who does the nurturing work in children’s books?

“Mothers in the books were more likely than fathers to perform almost every nurturing behavior, including verbal and physical expressions of love, encouraging, praising and listening,” the researchers write. Similarly, mothers outperformed fathers on every care-giving behavior.

Gender stereotypes plague children’s picture books, from Salon

Mothers often appear at the beginnings of hero tales. They preside over the home which the hero leaves when he sets out on his quest, remaining there when he has gone. Sometimes they reappear at the end of the story to welcome him home. These mothers are invariably good, nurturing, sometimes almost saintly. They are the presiding spirits of the domestic sphere…The stereotype of the gentle mother content with her role in the home is, of course, not restricted to hero tales. It is widespread in advertising and it abounds in children’s literature of all kinds, functioning as a powerful tool of social conditioning. In 1992 a random selection of 282 children’s picture books published since 1970 revealed that 62 per cent of the mothers in these books were depicted in a purely homemaking role, with another 29 per cent in an indeterminate role. Only 9 per cent were shown in professional or professional/home-making roles, despite the fact that 1986 Bureau of Statistics figures showed that almost half the married mothers in Australia were employed. Interestingly, 36 percent of the home-making woemn in these books were depicted wearing aprons. Earlier studies had shown this badge of domestic servitude to be rampant in children’s picture books and while this study revealed some lessening of the phenomenon it was still quietly flourishing.

– Deconstructing The Hero by Marjery Hourihan, referencing The image of mothers in contemporary children’s picture books by Gillian Tunstall

I was called a misogynist because I was reducing women to mothers. ‘Reducing women to mothers’ – now there is possibly the most anti-women statement I’ve heard.

— Steven Moffat

 

This is not surprising when the general message is still that parenting is for women. Even large media outlets such as CNN are busting out with headlines such as The 7 kids’ health myths every mom should ignorewhich manages to ignore theh fact that dads might also need to ignore health myths, because dads are parents too. Salon has been interested in this issue for a while now, and also published a piece called: The Times thinks dads are just baby sitters. A flipside of this attitude is that women and men feel as though they are judged differently on their parenting skills: You know there’s still a double-standard for fathers and mothers when a man who can change a diaper is hailed as a hero from The Guardian. Australia is currently talking a lot about parenting in the lead up to the election, but it’s being framed as a women’s issue. Apparently French fathers don’t change nappies.

The links could go on and on.

Back to picture books, I was already aware of these issues when I wrote and illustrated Midnight Feast, and it was a deliberate decision to have Roya and Afya’s father involved in the bedtime routine. As the evening of the Midnight Feast progresses, it was a deliberate decision on my part to have the mother step down. While the father suggests party games, the mother reads her own book and talks on the phone. I ended up mindful of the fact that as the mother, this character would be judged more harshly unless she reappeared at bedtime the following night, saying ‘Goodnight’ alongside the father.

I still look at Midnight Feast and see a gendered society in action: It is the father who asks the mother about food, assuming that women are responsible for the household catering. In the morning, it is the father who is dressed in a dress-shirt and tie, presumably off to a middle-class job.

I considered reversing that, too. And now I’d like to explain why I didn’t: Because in the limited space of a picturebook, illustrators need to rely on certain stereotypes, or risk confusing the reader. The father’s necktie is designed to represent middle-class employment. This is important to the storyline because the message is that hunger may eventually affect even the middle classes of rich countries. Sometimes women wear uniforms to work — there’s no doubt I could have had the mother hungry, asking the father for food. I could have had the mother dressed in a work uniform with the father making the sandwiches for his daughters. And I’m looking forward to the day when I can do this without even thinking of it as a transgressive act against gender norms.

Small steps in the transgressive direction. I think we should all aim for that.

Related: Does Biology Determine Gender Roles? New Study Says It’s a Numbers Game from Dads and Families

 

Three Ways Of Looking At Character

FLAT/ROUNDED

flat-rounded

Is this character more ‘flat’ or more ’rounded’?

This distinction was first made by E.M. Forster in Aspects of the Novel. In any work of literature there is a place for characters of both orientations.

FLAT CHARACTERS
  • Are by nature 2D and without colour
  • Typically have one stand-out trait or none at all
  • Are often either ‘good’ or ‘evil’
  • Actions are predictable
  • Common in formulaic fiction
  • The characters in Winnie the Pooh are all flat, but collectively make up parts of a single character (Christopher Robin), who is not flat
  • But a flat character is not necessarily artistically worse than a rounded one — whatever serves the story is good.

 

ROUNDED CHARACTERS
  • More closely approximates a real person
  • Possess a number of traits
  • We can’t predict their behaviour
  • Protagonists aren’t necessarily rounded, though are more likely to be so
  • Secondary characters aren’t necessarily flat, though are more likely to be so
  • In children’s literature, the rounded characters are generally less complex than they would be in real life, for simplicity’s sake

 

STATIC/DYNAMIC

static-dynamic

 

Dynamic characters change over the course of the story.

Static characters remain the same.

What about the characters in the books you’ve published so far? Here are mine:

Asaf of The Artifacts changes. Therefore he is of ‘dynamic orientation’. He stops collecting material items to make himself happy and begins to broaden his mind with experiences.

Roya of Midnight Feast changes a little, but ultimately chooses to ignore the realities right outside her window. She is closer to the ‘static’ end of the continuum.

Hilda of Hilda Bewildered undergoes an entire character arc from overwhelmed to able to cope.

Allegra of Diary Of A Goth Girl also undergoes an entire character arc, from prickly and mean to loving.

  • Both main characters and supporting characters can be static or dynamic.
  • Old didactic (moralistic) children’s literature is more likely to have static characters.
  • But static characters aren’t necessarily worse  than dynamic characters — it depends on the story.
  • Contemporary children’s literature commonly depicts inner growth, and therefore needs a dynamic main character.
  • Rounded characters can be either dynamic or static — these are two different continua
  • There’s kind of a rule of kidlit that a good kid can’t turn evil, but the opposite often happens, even if the ending is left ‘open’, and we’re encouraged to assume redemption
  • Oftentimes, if a character were to change too much we’d be disappointed. We’d be disappointed if Anne of Green Gables lost her optimistic attitude, for example.

STYLIZED/NATURAL

stylized-natural

 

This distinction is important in children’s fiction.

  • Stylisation is a commonly used didactic device. (Stylised characters are used to teach the reader something.)
  • A stereotype is a kind of stylisation (as well as tropes and stock characters)
  • Contemporary psychological novels tend to feature natural characterization

 

The Dream House Made Into A Picturebook

floor plan of Midnight Feast
floor plan of Midnight Feast

Do you have a dream house that exists only inside your head? Perhaps it’s somewhere you hope to build one day, or a mixture of great spaces you’ve been to in your lifetime. If you were asked questions about this dream house, I wonder how specific you could get?

  • How many bedrooms does it have?
  • How does one get from one bedroom to another?
  • Where do the inhabitants keep their clothes?
  • Their shoes?
  • What would I find in the larder?
  • Which direction does it face?
  • If I flew into the air above your dream house, what does the surrounding area look like?

As Gaston Bachelard says, quoting Rilke in The Poetics of Space, those of us who keep dreamt-up houses in our heads haven’t worked out the details. Details such as: How does one get from one room to another without a connected corridor?

[The imagined dream house] is not a building, but is quite dissolved and distributed inside me: here one room, there another, and here a bit of corridor which, however, does not connect the two rooms, but is conserved in me in fragmentary form. Thus the whole thing is scattered about inside me, the rooms, the stairs that descended with such ceremonious slowness, others, narrow cages that mounted in a spiral movement, in the darkness of which we advanced like the blood in our veins.

— Rainer Maria Rilke, quoted in The Poetics Of Space

I realised that the house I had imagined inside my head wouldn’t necessarily work. And the architecture of the house is essential to the plot, which is certainly not true of many other picture books.

I wonder if it’s common for picturebook illustrators to draw a floor plan when illustrations are set largely inside a house. It really helped me out a lot, to spend half an hour visualising the entirety of Roya’s world within the story, down to the wallpaper.

Once I’d sketched a layout of the apartment, illustrations progressed at a faster pace*. I didn’t have to consider the interior decor, of her non-imaginary world, at least. I’ve heard art advice to the effect that you need to understand the entirety of a subject even if you’re only going to be depicting a single facet. I was imagining a banana when I heard that advice, but it certainly applies to houses and floorplans. Otherwise you’re liable to draw a house without any doors.

(By the way, I decided the toilet and bathroom are communal, downstairs.)

*This particular piece of paper also has the honour of helping a super poisonous Australian spider into a glass for deposition at CSIRO, so it’s come in handy indeed.

The View From Bed

Not interesting.
Slightly more interesting.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen from your bed?

For me it would have to be the spider I woke up to one morning. It was dangling at the end of a thread, right in front of my nose. It wasn’t exactly a Huntsman, but still not pleasant!

A Scene From Midnight Feast: Roya’s Bedroom

I decided to put the full workings of this first page up because it illustrates how I changed my mind about the colour scheme. As you can see, I proceeded to create a bluish sort of colour scheme, avoiding the black outline with a colour wash that appears in many children’s books. This is fairly quick to draw, but doesn’t look as attractive to me.

In the end, to overcome the feeling that this project will never get done, I decided to make the ‘A’ version of each page the line-drawing and wash sort of illustration which can take about half the number of hours for me to crank out. This is because instead of rendering form tonally, I can just plonk down an outline and colour it in with a block colour. This makes drawing the characters a lot quicker. Since some pages have multiple touch and fade ‘animations’, drawing each character tonally proved too time consuming. If we spent a month on each page, this app wouldn’t get done before I got sick of it. But it’s not just about time. The ‘A’ version of each page has to look different in mood, and I was wondering how to achieve this at the beginning of the story, before Roya has fully entered her imaginative world.

As you can see, I begin to change the colour scheme back to the colour of the original canvas. In keeping with a more sketchy style, I’ve decided to hand-write the text.

I made Roya’s arms shorter so that she looks a LITTLE bit younger. I think she can pass for 12-14 now so I’m happy with that.

I had to send a whole bunch of preview screens to Dan so that he knows where to position the elements.

That probably gives some idea of the number of elements in this page, and how difficult it will be for Dan to get this page loading quickly and playing nicely. So there are no guarantees that he’s going to fit all of them in. He tells me that Apple are vague about upper memory limits, which means coding an app for Apple is a matter of trial and error to some extent.

Anyway, it would be nice to think that mobile devices were completely free of the constraints of print publishing — the need for a 32 or 24 pages, the need for approximate rather than precise colour and so on. But there are limitations on what we can do in a storybook app, even in an app designed for the best mobile hardware out there: Apple’s.

 

And here’s the next version. I’d like to say it’s the ‘final’ one, but you never know! I figure the first few pages need mucking around with the most. After I’ve got a mood down, I can remember how I did it, then recreate it on all the following pages.

 

 

 

Unlikely Influences

This week we started watching Season Three of The Wire. I was struck by how much my transition page for Midnight Feast resembled the housing depicted in that series. Then I realised that I drew this just after watching seasons one and two, and that I’d no doubt been influenced by the rather depressing backdrop of The Wire as I drew.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how everything you do/see/read/watch/hear during a long-term creative project has an influence, subconscious or not, on your final product. It’s important to keep surrounding yourself with good art, good books and, in my case, good TV. Um, okay!

Midnight Feast: Roya’s Scary Bedroom

wireframing

Since I am intimidated by a white page, the first thing I do is fill the page with a midtone colour. Later, after the page is no longer blank, I’ll delete that layer of brown.

Next, using the default pencil in Artrage, I sketch the bedroom. These lines are actually as straight as I could get them without making use of the ruler stencil, but the wobbliness is the look I’m going for. In other words, if I aim for straight, I get pleasantly wobbly. If I’m too careful, the picture will end up looking like an off-kilter photograph rather than an illustration. Besides, this pencil sketch will only serve as a guide and, like the ugly brown layer, the lines will be deleted after I no longer need them. On second thoughts, I never delete these ‘wireframe’ sketches — I just hide them. Who knows when I’m going to need them again later, perhaps for a different page. Although this whole book has been storyboarded, and I know I probably won’t need them… you just never never know.

As you can see, this room is sketched in one point perspective, looking down onto the beds. I’ll need the viewer to be able to see Roya tossing and turning later, because she won’t be able to sleep.

By the way, the outlines for the beds are each on their own layers. By keeping objects in their own layers I can easily change the size and positioning of one thing without affecting the other things. I’m not yet sure about the positioning of those two mattresses, because they’re meant to look lower than the bed. These things will become more clear as the painting progresses, I hope.

 

laying down colour

Above is a screenshot of Artrage.

Since I’m working on the large canvas (iPad size = 2048 x 1536), which won’t be scaled down this time (to make use of Apple’s beautiful new retina screen), it can take ages to fill in large areas such as walls with the felt pen tool, so even though the felt pen strokes are what I’m after, first I use the roller to cover area fairly quickly. I’ve already sketched a different view of this room, so I’m keeping my eye on that as I look at the basic shadows. As you can see, I’ve imported a screenshot of that into Artrage to use as a reference. I am holding the Wacom pen in one hand. My other hand is hovering near the keyboard, pressing Alt to pick colours from that reference photo to use in this one.

walls filled in

Now the walls have been covered with a roller.

The room has to look the same from one page to the other. This poses a dilemma — not from an art point of view but from a storytelling point of view. For this story, each page has two versions: the version that happens in the real world of the main character (Roya), and the world which happens inside her head. For the majority of this story, Roya’s imagination has transformed her shabby, drab apartment into a luscious, brightly coloured interior. Yet she hasn’t quite gone there yet. Instead, she’s still using her imagination but not to good effect. The reader needs to realise that she is still in her bedroom, too, and it’s early in the story, so I’m caught between deciding whether to make use of the drab colour palette or the new one. I’m going to have to experiment with that. At this stage I’m thinking I’ll probably export the final background into GIMP and fiddle with the levels of blue. Then again, I may have to do something inside Artrage itself. As you can see, for the meantime I’m painting exactly the same room as before.

the concrete floor

I have put the floor on a layer of its own because I wanted to use a concrete overlay. This is just a photo of some concrete, which I imported as a tracing image, converted to paint (in a layer above my gray flooring), then adjusted the blend mode to overlay. This is exactly the look I was going for. The good thing about skirting boards (in life as in paintings) is that they exist to cover up messy edges. So I don’t need to bother cleaning those up too much.

 

curtains

In the story, Roya has trouble sleeping partly because it’s too light outside. For this reason the curtains will have to be substandard. I’ll make them a bit raggedy at the bottom. This will come in handy because Roya will imagine monsters coming under these curtains. I’ve heard a few people say they had this fear as children. I’m yet to find out (via user testing!) whether this is TOO scary for a middle grade audience, but I’ve found that worrying too much about the end experience is counterproductive, so I’ll stick to illustrating the story as I would enjoy it.

I have chosen blue for the curtains from the bright colour palette reserved for the b-version of pages, even though I know this is going to be too bright for the otherwise drab room. I’ll desaturate it later. I’m doing the curtains in two layers – first, the opaque layer, where the curtains overlap the wall. No light can shine through here.

opaque curtains

I continued to fill in the rest of the curtains in the same colour (and at 100%) opacity on a new layer, then dropped the opacity of the diaphanous layer (the part of the curtains which cover the window itself) to 75%. I can rarely guess the right transparency of a layer. I started by guessing 50%, but that was too much, so next tried 70. I couldn’t decide whether 70 or 80 percent opacity looked the better but life is too short to spend too much time worrying about such things, so 75 it is!

I then merged the layers and blended around the joins with the ‘instant blur’ tool in Artrage. Next, the spotty overlay, which I had in my library of overlays. I was really pleased at how the whiteness of this overlay meant that the world outside is also bright white. I haven’t yet painted the outside scene, so I don’t really want to show any of it! I’ve also added to the opacity by using the eraser at very high softness and about 20% pressure. Also, I desaturated the blue by -44, which looks better to me.

Sure enough, I had to move both beds over a smidge, so I was glad I put them on their own layers. I have also put a texture over the bedroom wall, but I’m not sure whether I’ll keep it yet, as the entire picture might look too ‘digital’ and not ‘handdrawn’ enough. Textures, like anything, need to be used sparingly. I have also put a poster on the wall above Roya’s bed. This serves two purposes: it tells the reader (at a subliminal level, I’m sure) that this is Roya, in the bed beside the window, and that there are four people in her family. I coloured the mattresses with grey and white, and I chose a grey portion of the yellow range so that when the white and grey mix together, I get a nice yellow colour. I’ve learnt it pays to be mindful of which grey I choose, for that very reason. Even in digital painting, blacks and greys are slightly complicated. There’s more to these colours than meet the eye!

After a few months’ break, I came back to the story and decided that Roya was older than about seven — as a foodie she can be about 12 or 13. This meant that the poster above her bed seemed too juvenile, unless it was something she’d done years ago, in which case she probably would’ve taken it down by now anyway.

Since Roya is a true foodie, it made sense for her to paint a roasted chicken. In my mind her full name is ‘Roya Gourmand’, though this won’t come up in the story. Room 13 sounds appropriately ominous since 13 is an unlucky number in some cultures. It’s fitting that Roya has an interest in painting because she has an excellent imagination. It’s likely she’d want to express herself somehow, with paints or whatever.

I had to desaturate the painting somewhat from the one above because in dim light, everything tends towards black and white.

For several reasons, I decided the little sister should have a poster above her bed, too. First, it’s likely that she’d look up to her older sister, who is a good few years older, and emulate what she does. Second, I’ve been wrestling with whether to give her a name. There are several reasons not to: it emphasises the familial relationship (even though it’s probably clear enough that these two are sisters), and makes the character more universal.

So I decided in the end to keep referring to her as ‘Little Sister’. In many languages, this is perfectly normal, but I’ve noticed from critiques in writing groups that some English speakers consider failure to give a character a name of their own is almost disrespectful. So if anyone feels like this and really wants to know what the little sister’s name is, here it is: I called her Afya, which in Arabic means ‘shadows’. Afya has only a supporting role in this story, so in a sense she’s in the shadows.

I considered getting the resident four-year-old to do me an authentic juvenile portrait but unfortunately she’s going through a pink phase, where every single thing she draws has to be pink. She also likes playing with all the different Artrage tools, like airbrushes, sticker sprays and gloop pens, whereas I wanted this to look as if it’d been done by hand with splatters of actual paint. So yes, I did that myself, taking cues from typical four-year-old paintings that I’ve admired of late.

 

This is pretty much the final version of this page, though I’m experimenting with a drop shadow on the text. I’m not a fan of drop shadows because I think they’re overdone, but when I minimised the picture on my computer monitor to 25% I got a vague idea of what it will look like on the iPod and iPhone screens. I couldn’t easily read the text without drop shadows. But the PC monitor isn’t a great gauge of readability because Apple mobile devices have screens a lot better than my cheapo computer monitors.

Also, when the four-year-old woke up screaming because of a hand moving in the shadows across her bedroom wall I strengthened my resolve to keep the ‘scary on-or-off’ functionality. I’m pretty sure it was this picture which gave her nightmares. Not recommended for under middle-graders, though I noticed that Monster House has a scene in it where a hand comes in through the window, so I’m confident enough that older children can cope with it! Monster House, too, is for middle-graders.

Dan is having problems with memory, because the precursor to this page already has so many assets, so I’ve been advised to err on the side of minimalism. For that reason, I decided not to have Roya tossing and turning in her bed, and I also decided not to have Little Sister’s blanket moving gently up and down with her breathing.

I’m not sure yet, until Dan tries to cut the code, whether we’ll be able to leave both hands coming in towards Roya, because each animation has about 30 frames. I look forward to seeing how the animations look. I’m not at all experienced with animation, so even basic animations such as these are plain old guesswork. I never know how it’s going to look until I see it in action.

Pros and Cons of Universal Apps

Most of you are probably already aware of what Universal apps are, but for those who aren’t let me give a brief description:

On the App Store, there are two device categories. iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch. Each device category has its own App Store, with its own list of apps.

Universal apps are configured to run in both categories, and should work on all supported devices. Now this is a great deal for consumers buying apps, because you basically get 2 for 1. Buy an app on the iPad, and it is linked to your iTunes account, so that you can then download and use it on your iPhone or iPod Touch at no extra cost. Our first app, The Artifacts, is a Universal app. You can tell a Universal app, by the little ‘+’ plus sign next to it in the App Store.

Ok now that I’ve explained it, lets go through a few pros and cons of this system;

 

Pros

  • Savings: Consumers can use an app on any device that is linked to their account, and they only have to purchase once. Obviously a pro for the consumer, and generally speaking, a happy consumer makes a happy developer.
  • Convenience: You might hear about a great app from someone you know.. but you only have your iPhone on you. You can buy the app on iPhone, and then later download it on the iPad, because it’s linked to your account.

Cons

  • Development time: It takes quite a lot of extra work to be able to support all device types in the one app (different screen resolutions, memory requirements, etc).
  • App size: Because you need to support different device resolutions, you need to have all the device graphics in the one app. This makes for a much larger app, especially for the smaller devices. The Artifacts for example is around 92 MB. It would be reduced to about 40 MB if it only worked on the iPhone/iPod touch. Our next app, Midnight Feast, supports iPad Retina images (2048 x 1536), which are 4 times larger than iPad images. Apple could provide some support in this area. If we could make “custom” versions of universal apps, it would fix this problem. It would work in a similar way to having different device versions of the same app for sale (so you’d have to buy two copies. One for iPhone/iPod touch, and one copy for iPad), but just make it universal instead so you only have to buy one.
  • App Store ranking: Now this is a biggie. Any developer knows that it’s important to get a high ranking in the App Store. The problem is, if the app is universal, it’s effectively ranked by each device. This means that if someone buys an app with the iPhone, it only affects the ranking for the iPhone store. This is clearly a poor solution, because it puts universal apps at a disadvantage. I’d like to see Apple give rankings for Universal apps based on the total downloads, not on downloads from each individual store.

It’s really hard to tell, because Apple do not provide the stats, but from the store rankings alone, we notice that we’ve had quite a few downloads on the iPhone/iPod Touch side of things.

We’ll continue to make universal apps, but I really hope Apple starts to support them in a way that helps the publisher AND consumer.