Ever been offered a job that’s just so perfect, you have to pinch yourself? I could hardly believe it when, a couple of months ago, I was asked if I’d be interested in illustrating the official website for amazing children’s author, Dick King-Smith. Now that, I thought, is right up my street – or perhaps, given Dick’s aversion to towns – in my field.
Over the summer, Rufus and I did quite a bit of field work, visiting plenty of farm animals on our holidays.
This also gave me an excuse to read, listen to and watch some of the best stories for children ever written. (Remember Babe, based on the book, The Sheep Pig?) Many were already favourites in our house, but as Dick wrote well over a hundred books, there are plenty more yet for me to discover. And he didn’t even get started until he was in his fifties!
Unlike some authors, such as Jacqueline Wilson or Roald Dahl, there is no single illustrator associated with Dick King-Smith’s work. His 2001 autobiography, Chewing the Cud, was illustrated by Harry Horse, and Anita Jeram, David Parkins and Mini Grey are among those who have illustrated his children’s books in recent years. They’re all rather daunting acts to follow.
But Dick’s particular form of anthropomorphism (not to mention his humour) really does resonate with me. And like him, I’ve found myself especially drawn to pigs. When I started out in illustration, they were the subject of my final degree project, which of course required some sketching in the field. My first close-up encounter with a couple of large sows and their young left me in no doubt of the truth of Dick’s observation:
“…the look in the eye of a pig is, quite simply, knowing. Other beasts think, ‘This human is looking at me.’ The pig thinks, ‘I am looking at this human.’ There is all the difference in the world.” (Chewing the Cud, Penguin Books, 2001)
Whenever I draw animals, I can’t seem to do so without imagining myself to be behind their eyes. I think Dick King-Smith had the same approach when he penned his characters.
That’s why I’m super-excited to be working on this project. The research is done, the drawing has begun, and I’m loving every moment. Since this work is for a website and not for a book, there isn’t the usual need to keep it quiet before publication. So if I get time, I hope to share some more sketches along the way. You can follow me on FaceBook or on Twitter @LaynMarlow #DickKingSmithwebsite.