Saturday, December 6, 2008

2. Doing the Research

When I talk to students about the process of creating Talking Walls, I explain that in addition to all the research that author Margy Burns Knight had to do to write the stories, I as the illustrator had to do visual research. I had to make sure that the walls I painted looked like the actual walls. And, I tell them, I even had to do "face research."

I studied many, many photographs and did a lot of sketches to make an accurate representation of the Great Wall of China. Different sections were built with different materials, and the topography of the land affected the design of the Wall in that area. I looked for a segment that was visually dramatic and that was iconic, a definitive and recognizable image of the world's most famous wall.

I had to also be sure that the people I painted on the Wall looked Chinese. Of course there are thousands of ways to "look Chinese," but the people needed to be specifically Chinese, not generically Asian. And I wanted to portray individuals and characters, not generalized representatives of ethnic groups.

I looked through books of photographs of China until I found one of an irresistible young girl with a winsome smile. She became the inspiration for the child who welcomes the reader and invites them to go on a journey around the world.

Illustrating the Talking Walls books gave me the opportunity to study the facial structures of children all over the world, from Australian Aborigines to the Ndebele of South Africa, Moroccan urbanites to British villagers, Chileans to Tibetans. 

It was like being invited to a visual feast.

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