Being desperate for a pet, and more particularly a dog, is a perennial theme in picturebooks and one that many children will relate to. I was that child, and I had to wait until I was 16 to get mine! Danny, the hero of Danny and the Dream Dog (Tiny Tree Children’s Books ), written by Fiona Barker and illustrates by Howard Gray, is desperate for a dog. That’s all he thinks about in fact. So when his mum arranges for him to look after his new elderly neighbour’s dog, Maximus, you’d think he would be over the moon. But Maximus is nothing like Danny’s dream dog; can he come to love him nonetheless? More than just being just a book about wanting a dog, Danny and the Dream Dog explores the bonds that having a dog helps us create, sometimes with people that we might think we have nothing in common with, such as Danny and Mrs Owens. The book might come as a great help for those parents trying to convince their children why they can’t have their own dog just yet, but also makes a lovely case for the ‘scruffy mutt’, particularly if parents have agreed to a ‘dog’ but want to adopt rather than ‘shop’. Lots of humour, particularly in the illustrations, keep this a light, entertaining read and will become a favourite of young budding dog owners.
As part of the blog tour, I am delighted to welcome illustrator Howard Gray to Library Mice to talk about his work on Danny and the Dream Dog.
The story behind the art:
Fiona and I met at a SCBWI conference a couple of years ago. We had shared our story ideas with each other at the pre-conference crit-group session (and I had inserted a couple of illustrations along with my story). We chatted about illustrating Danny, whom, by then, I had come to know, and I agreed to provide Fiona with a character development piece for him, and then later some roughs for the rest of the story
To back track a few months, on the lead up to that meeting, I was only really getting started on my journey to becoming a children’s illustrator… and hopefully, one day, author/illustrator. I had recently finished a PhD on the population genetics and phylogenetics of (mainly bottlenose) dolphins in the Arabian region. In a nutshell, I was looking at their evolutionary history and how different populations today are related to each other. It was interesting. I was spending a lot of time in Oman working with a team involved in whale and dolphin research, particularly humpback whales. The whales there are really special and unique, being a non-migratory population. You might have heard of them if you watched BBC’s Wild Arabia! I’m in there somewhere too, briefly.
I have always enjoyed producing artwork and coming up with stories. Usually the stories come from something, or a scenario, I would really like to paint, rather than coming up with a story first. Growing up, my Dad had an old version of Photoshop I was able to explore and play around with. If it wasn’t for this exploratory period, I’m not sure I would have got into illustration in the digital way I have today. I don’t work exclusively in digital, as I do love to incorporate textures and original drawings where I can. I have a folder on a hard drive bursting at the seams of megaspace with collected textures and painted washes. My wife is gradually getting used to me stopping in the street to take a picture of some lovely textured concrete. Often using her camera too! I put her wetsuit through the scanner once. I usually start drawings very rough. Extremely rough. To capture the essence of a pose, or get a feel for a composition. You probably wouldn’t be able to tell what I had drawn. If working digitally, this is usually layered on top of. I then chip away at it. Drawing on top of drawing until I get something I like the look of. Sometimes, this can take a lot of drawings. Then, I isolate the linework (there are a few ways to do this) and then start painting ‘behind‘ it. At a certain moment, I then start painting ‘over the top’ of my drawing and apply textures. I am trying to keep more and more original line work in my artwork these days. I have decided that things are more fun to look at when you can kind of see the imperfections of original lines and brush marks.
Danny is the first picture book to feature my illustrations. Hope you like it!
Thank you Howard! You can have a look at Howard’s other work in his portfolio.
Danny and the Dream Dog is out on October 25th and you can buy a copy here.