Like most children, when I was a kid, the pictures and illustrations were my favorite part of any book. As a dyslexic kid, illustrations were especially important to me: pictures were often the key that made it possible for me to fully understand the story. The more pictures the book had, the better I liked the book. A good children’s story isn’t complete without at least few illustrations to help bring it to life, and in The Eldridge Conspiracy, Illustrator/artist Dave Allred doesn’t disappoint.
Dave has been creating the art for the Sir Kaye series since Book One, The Knighting of Sir Kaye. In The Eldridge Conspiracy, the fourth and final book in the Sir Kaye series, Dave has stepped up his game with some incredible illustrations. Since this is the final book in the Sir Kaye series, I wanted to take this opportunity to interview Dave about his work as an artist.
Before we begin the interview, I would first like to share one of my favorite illustrations from The Eldridge Conspiracy. This particular illustration I find especially evocative and to me it really highlights Dave’s skill as an artist. The illustration features Reggie and Beau as they are headed to Eldridge to find Sir Kaye and are stopped by two thugs.
Don: Tell us about yourself and how you started in the field.
Dave: I can’t remember ever NOT drawing. I have always had an obsession for doodling on something! As a kid, I always wondered how artists got paid to draw professionally for people. It has always been a learning process for me to discover how to do that!
Don: What influences have shaped your taste and style?
Dave: Disney animation and Comic books. (Specifically the artist John Byrne.)
Don: Do you want to establish a consistent and recognizable style, or are you willing to explore different directions as time goes by?
Dave: I have two default settings: Disney cartoony-style and comic book illustration style. (For example: Space Cop Zack style or Sir Kaye style) Everything else I really have to work for. I try to stay focused on those two genres.
Don: Your book illustrations capture the essence of the characters and give them and their defining traits a visual representation. Can you walk us through that process for the Sir Kaye series?
Dave: Usually it starts with direction I get from either the author or editor, and then as I read the script, the images of the characters pop into my head. As I draw the characters, as time goes on, they become more alive to me, and I can refine them.
Don: When the images of the characters pop into your head, have you ever been surprised at what they look like, or have any of them been unexpected in any way?
Dave: I don’t think I’ve ever been surprised how a certain character ends up looking. I try to visualize them first and hope my hand can cooperate with my brain to translate it on to paper. Sometimes I can nail it right out of the box, and other times, it takes an evolutionary process. An example of that is seen in comparing Kaye 1 with Kaye 4! Often with creation, you have to let it happen on its own—it shouldn’t have to be forced.
Don: What’s the technical process? Pen and paper first, then digital work?
Dave: My process starts with pencil sketches, and once approved I move on to inking those sketches, then scanning them into the computer to clean them up and correct any problems. Sometimes I have to draw pieces of a scene if there are a lot of elements, and then I reconstruct them on the computer into one cohesive scene.
Don: Are some characters more fun to draw than others? Do you have a favorite character from the Sir Kaye series?
Dave: For the Kaye books, all the characters were evenly matched as to which one was my favorite to draw, but Reggie is probably easiest to draw because I can relate to him. He has the most facial expressions because the story is told through him. I think my favorite character is Beau. He is a royal but doesn’t need or crave the acclaim or the spotlight. He is a loyal supporting character that lets Kaye (and sometimes Reggie) have all the glory.
Don: What do you think as you look back on your earlier work: are there changes?
Dave: It has been over 5 years since I drew the first Kaye book. In that time, just by drawing so much every day, I have become a better artist. So, my artwork has changed for the better. I have more patience with myself these days, and I can visualize scenes easier. The actual execution of drawing—the mechanics, I have refined more. I still have a ways to go, and I’m always trying to improve in my artwork.
Don: What is the best part about being an illustrator?
Dave: Two things: Working from my home studio in my PJs, and seeing my drawings turn into characters, and seeing those characters come to life.
Don: Why do you think the Kaye series is good for kids?
Dave: In all four of the Sir Kaye books, the characters portray teamwork and friendship. The characters are not perfect. They seem real because they are human and make mistakes, get into trouble, get out of trouble, help each other, and through it all, they remain friends. There is a spirit of never giving up throughout the series, and kids need all of these attributes through life. These books teach good morals and perseverance.
Don: Why do you think the Kaye series appeals to reluctant readers?
Dave: Because the stories in these books are character-driven stories, not event-driven. Any reluctant reader can read just the first couple of pages and instantly connect to the characters. This hooks the reader into reading further, and further until the pages keep turning, and before they know it, the reluctant reader is making new friends of these characters.
Don: What do you like about illustrating the Sir Kaye series featuring the same characters and their continuing adventures?
Dave: It stretches me because it is a period piece dealing with the medieval times and customs and in working on a series the characters evolve stylistically, as I get to know them better.
Don: I’d like the thank Dave Allred for taking the time to do this interview and most importantly, for all of his hard work illustrating the Sir Kaye series. Check out Dave’s website: http://www.drawnbydave.com/
As promised in my previous blog about ships in the Middle Ages, below is a scene from K4 featuring the medieval cog ship The Triumph.
And keep on the lookout for the fifth and final K4 Making of… blog where you’ll get to see a pre-release preview of the book.
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