The Biggleswick project has been a fantastic opportunity to develop a variety of skills within my practice. It has helped me consider the importance of consistency within a project of this scale, particularly with character design. Throughout my experience as an artist and illustrator, I have always relished the opportunity to create characters, whether they be human, animal or completely imaginary. I have found this aspect, along with the consistency focus, enjoyable and challenging in equal measure throughout the project. Although Biggleswick has a good mix of both human and animal characters, it wasn’t until one of the earlier meets with the author, Jack Alford, that these characters really started to come to life in my head. I started to imagine where they had come from, what exactly it was that brought them to Biggleswick and why they had settled there. To be fair I already knew about the pirates, but I won’t go into it now as that is, quite literally, a story for another time. However, this did get me thinking about the other characters and who they were. As the pages for Biggleswick progressed, so did the characters that inhabit this special little town. Character development has been a large aspect of this project and I have no doubt that my practice has greatly benefited from it.
Characters that have really influenced my own practice are those from King of the Hill (Joel Adams) and BoJack Horseman (Lisa Hanawalt). I recently came across the work of artist Lisa Hanawalt, and was inspired to see the variety within her portfolio; I would strongly suggest checking her out. What I love about the characters from both these shows are that each drawing style is very individual but they retain a familiar style that is distinctly unique to the show. As with both of these animated series, each Biggleswick character has their own personality and back story.
For me when I was working with Biggleswick, half the fun connected to the character design was considering the back stories for them. Where did they come from and how did they end up in Biggleswick? How does their story embed itself within the town? Are there any connections between the characters?
The mischievous monkey, for example, was a great character to develop with these questions in mind. Firstly, as it is a monkey, it has great potential for lots of cheeky antics and therefore he can easily fit into a number of pages and scenarios throughout the book. Dr Healy, on the other hand, originated from a more personal experience. She came from a previous travel experience in Cuba where many of the people that ran casa particulares were also trained medics. I have tried to represent this by having Dr Healy appear in front of her work building and, in a more relaxed mode, dancing with her partner (as music and dance is so intrinsic within the Cuban culture). Flora the florist was inspired by 1960’s popular culture and music. Her beehive hairstyle and heavy eyeliner fit perfectly into the bright colours of the flowers that surround her. She also appears in another page, where little old ladies with super-powers are saving her from a giant, flesh eating, Venus fly trap.
There are also other characters that have strong links with people I have physically met or have known. Dr Filling, is based on a dentist I used to visit in Deptford London and Constantine is reminiscent of the owners of nail and hair bars in Peckham. The two little old ladies that you see, for example, are based on real life nans. The little old lady who is able to make plants grow incredibly tall is Jack Alford’s nan and the other little old lady who always backs the winner in the horse races is my own nan. These super-powers were based on what we personally associated with these incredible women in our lives.
The sweet shop owner, who doesn’t actually have her own page, again comes from real life. The mayor is my wife Laura (who saw the potential of Biggleswick as a series and has been another pair of eyes on the artworks) with nieces, nephews and God daughters all making an appearance too. By doing this I hope that I have provided each character with individuality whilst maintaining a consistency in my style.
As with many of the other details throughout the book, these characters were there to add to the story and help instigate those important discussions about what can be seen, imagined and interpreted when reading with children of different ages and backgrounds. The characters aimed to, where possible, incorporate various cultures and genders without inadvertently reinforcing stereotypes or preconceptions.