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The Wonderful Dogfish Racket ~ Part 2

Last time, we heard from renowned poet and writer, Tom Dawe, about his recent publication The Wonderful Dogfish Racket (Pennywell Books/Flanker Press). Today we hear from the book’s illustrator, C. Anne MacLeod, about her prolifically creative career and her cohesive, collaborative relationship with Dawe.

MacLeod is a video/film animator and graphic artist, originally from the Isle of Man, who has been living in Newfoundland since 1968. She is the illustrator of a number of books including The Clothes Lion stories, Winter of the Black Weasel and Moocher in the Lun. She has led animation workshops in elementary schools across Newfoundland as well as educational activities around the world. Earlier this year, her design was selected to be the logo for the newly designated UNESCO World Heritage Site at Red Bay, Labrador.

What inspired you to illustrate this book?
CAM: I enjoy working with Tom Dawe and love his writing. The stories evoke images that unreel in my mind. I have a film/animation background and Tom’s writing inspires that kind of story-telling through images.

Did the work come together quickly or did you really need to work at it?
CAM: Tom spoke to me about the idea he was working on and I started to research the period and the setting for the story. Once I had worked through the first draft I identified the characters, underlined the action to be reflected in the illustrations and the images began to emerge easily.  

What was the most challenging aspect of the process?
CAM: The period between Tom outlining the idea and waiting for the first draft – I’m doing research while waiting, but it’s only after the first draft of the story arrives that things begin to come together.

What was the most rewarding part of the experience?
CAM: Tom and I work well together and so it is always rewarding to get his feedback as the characters and settings begin to emerge. In turn, Tom will often make adjustments to his text and I make adjustments to images based on each other’s feedback.

What did you learn during the process?
CAM: The illustrations for “The Wonderful Dogfish Racket” are the highest resolution (600 DPI) and the most complicated I have worked on. Photoshop layers made it possible to move and change characters at will. It also gave the layout person at Flanker access to images he could pluck from pictures and insert them throughout the book. The cover was created from the independent Photoshop layers of characters throughout the story. Having a backup drive is essential to save daily work as the files were huge and redoing them would have been a mind-numbing task. I used InDesign to layout the book and sent PDF files to Tom to see how things were developing. All the multi-layered Photoshop files of the artwork and a Word file of the text, plus a PDF of the layout were delivered to Flanker on a jump drive. As each project becomes more complex there are new procedures and new capacities of the software to master.

What has the response to the work been like so far?
CAM: Very positive – especially from people who lived through the 1930s and express the opinion that the time and place are well-reflected.

What made you want to be an illustrator?
CAM: There has been a natural progression in my work from animator through art director of films to illustrating stories. I especially enjoy working on stories like those Tom Dawe writes – stories full of imagery and fun.

Are they the same reasons you do it today?
CAM: Yes; and there is an excitement waiting for the next story. Right now, our publisher and I are waiting for a “Christmas ghost story” to take shape.

Is your creative process more one of inspiration or perspiration?
CAM: Both! The inspiration comes from the text and absorbing the spirit of the story. The perspiration part is breaking the text into blocks for pages, laying out initial pages and experimenting with a variety of “looks” to decide which way to go. What medium will best help tell the story: watercolours, various computer generated styles, oil or another medium. In this case I settled on working in the computer. I worked up pencil sketches of the images and scanned them. At this point Tom and I begin to interact through e-mails – I attach my imagery for his feedback; he may adjust text and offers ideas that I can incorporate. Once the layout for each page is settled I begin to work on the details – adding characters and components, selecting and applying colours, shading, etc. Much of this book was finalized in Photoshop – with many layers for each image. We also bounce some of the work off others – and sometimes actually make adjustments based on their reaction; for example one image both Tom and I liked depicted a starving dog with a dead rat in its mouth, but both our spouses suggested it was too disturbing and would receive negative reaction. So we substituted a somewhat toned down image.

In your estimation, what makes a good book?
CAM: It all starts with a good story or poetry supported by evocative imagery. The cover must “hook” the reader, but without strong content he/she won’t consider reading beyond the first page or so. This type of book is a marriage of word and picture; a common comment on the book is that people will return to it time after time not only for enjoyment but also because each time they go into it they discover something new – an element in a picture that was overlooked or a turn of phrase that takes the reader deeper into the story and the period.

What are your thoughts on the current state of literature in Atlantic Canada?
CAM: It seems to be vibrant. Certainly our publisher, Flanker Press, is very active with a wide variety of titles coming out on a regular basis.

What can we do better?
CAM: I just enjoy illustrating and don’t have a feeling for the industry. Possibly support for wider regional promotion and exchange would help – but this may already be taking place more than I know.

Do you have any advice for aspiring illustrators?
CAM: It is important to believe in what you are doing – in your “vision” – and not allow yourself to be discouraged by rejection. I believe it is also important for an illustrator to have a positive creative relationship with the author of the story. Certainly that creative experience has been important for me.

What's next on your creative agenda?
A Christmas ghost story with Tom Dawe and Flanker Press.

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