Spring has arrived! March 29 2015

All of a sudden everything around me is coming to life again.

It started very gradually with the first snowdrops in January and bit by bit, it got busier

and busier with flowers popping up all over and now Easter is almost upon us.

The same too with the animals that I’ve watched from my window, slowly coming out

of hibernation.

That’s what its felt like for me with our new woodland range; ‘The Friendly Forest’.
Since early January I’ve started to develop my new characters.
I’ve actually felt them waking up.
Very slowly they’ve come together. At first not wanting to wake up, then a wee bit grumpy
and dishevelled, with Mr. Sleepy in their eyes and bed head hair styles.
Stretching and yawning and brushing their teeth, they have slowly evolved into these new
and vibrant little animals that have bounced onto the site.

There’s lots more animals in the new ranges and I will blog about the others soon, but the
squirrels are where I started. We’ve called them ’Nut Squad’.
Quite fitting really, considering the little characters are full of fun and mischief and like hoarding everything.

The first thing when researching animals is looking at how they move and interact
with one another. We have lots of squirrels in our garden and its easy to study their quick, darting little actions.
Books are a great resource for looking at their shape and form and most recently I have discovered Pinterest which brings visuals to life, through photographs and illustrations.

This is all very well, but sooner or later I have to close those books and research and begin to draw the character that's in my head.
I’ve already pre-visualised what I want that character to do and how I see them working together as a range.
Having thought out in advance the look, style and colours I’m going to use and in some cases the title of the card. The hardest and slowest part then is drawing the character and making him look believable.
He comes about first as a sketch; pencil on paper.
Drawn quickly as a whole character, but then slowly redrawn separately in bits.
Head, body and appendages. HB and 2B Staedtler pencils work the best for me.
I like medium to soft pencils that I can smudge and shape and then use the little eraser on the top.

From here, I will work that sketch into the computer.
Either by using the sketch as it is, if I'm happy with it and scanning it in, or as in most cases now, using a Wacom graphics tablet to redraw or enhance.
These tablets are amazing to use, although they take a lot of practise and control to master.
Effectively I can guide, draw and transfer my thoughts directly onto the screen.

At this point I have a basic file or sketch on a white background and no more.
I then have to form that character.
I tweak his eyes, nose and mouth until it sort of looks right. I never profess to have the skilled drawing ability of a painter or artist, but I don’t think that matters.
Sophie Morrell’s world of design and imagery is more about the look and feel of the animal character.
All creative, great and small.

It's about making them look just believable enough with lots and lots of graphic detail.
Yet making the characters able to take on a human role.
Anthropomorphic, I believe is the term that is used.
This is defined in the dictionary as, ascribing human form or attributes to an animal, plant or material object. I think this is what make our images fun.
Its what we all see around us. How our animals and pets would take on the world if they were in charge. The important thing I believe, is not to overdo it and take the animal too far away from its natural environment. Otherwise it loses its authenticity and becomes too silly.

Now my little character is ready to go into Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator and be put together in his own little unique way. This usually involves detailing his face, hands and feet and tail and adding depth, shape and shadow to his body.
The animal bits and body are joined together by putting them together on separate layers, a bit like layers of tracing paper. This allows me to reshape their limbs into infinite poses and create multiple characters from the original.
So now I’ve got my little squirrel.
He’s starting to rise from his bed inside the big old acorn tree.
The Friendly Forest is starting to stir.

He’s shaking off the winter blues by combing his fur and now he’s started doing star jumps on my screen.
In my office I’ve two computer screens linked together to make my work flow easier.
And before I know it he's spotted the little acorn I drew recently, on the other screen.
I can't stop him, he’s off!
Bouncing from one computer screen to the next, to retrieve his little acorn.

Just then another little squirrel appears, slightly different to the first.
Then another and another.
I’m trying desperately to catch their little actions while they are moving and squeeze them into our square card format, so I can take them off to the printers.
But I’m losing control.

Those pesky little squirrels aren’t having any of it.
There’s mayhem in my office now with jumping squirrels, broken tree branches, leaves and acorns being thrown all over the place.

All of a sudden everything around me is coming to life again.
Spring has arrived!