5 Questions for Little Thunder Co

For this instalment of 5 Questions, we have with us Little Thunder Co., a small design studio from Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Currently, they are working on their first children’s picture book Chalky and the New Sports Car, and have recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for the book. The story is about the adventures of Chalky in his neighbourhood.

Check out the Kickstarter project at https://kck.st/17NyNHM

The team behind Chalky consist of Gabriel Muldoon (Art Director), Tim Potter (Art Director), Michael McKeever (Designer), Stanley Potter (Author), Jordan Henderson (Illustrator) & Kyle Steed (Typographer).

Qn1. Can you tell us more about this cat Chalky?

GABRIEL: Chalky is a stray male cat that was rescued by Tim, son of the author, Stanley Potter. He was approximately 7 months old when he was found on a cold and wet winter’s evening in a friend’s shed, sleeping on a bunch of old plastic bags. Tim brought him back to his family home and since that night almost 10 years ago, he has resided as the Potter’s family cat.

TIM: It is still a mystery as to where he came from and how he had survived the previous 7 months on his own, but one thing we know about Chalky is that he is a good scavenger. He is also very friendly and has a big personality and no doubt was receiving handouts from kind folk in the neighbourhood before he found his permanent home. He does still have a wild streak in him from his days as a stray so he’d leave presents for our family in the form of a dead mouse or bird from time to time, but he’s a genuinely caring and lovable character.

Qn2. Can you tell us how the art is created? The black and white draft pages look lovely. And the coloured artworks look like they are drawn on textured canvas.

JORDAN: All paintings in 'Chalky' are digital, painted using a Wacom graphics tablet, but heavily inspired by traditional techniques.

When first approaching an illustration, I like to draw plenty of thumbnails - very small versions of potential compositions. Thumbnails are loose, fast and the idea is to figure out the 'bigger picture' and not get hung up on the details. Nothing beats traditional pencil and paper for this. I've come to view thumbnails as the most important stage in the process - it's like building a house on solid foundations. If the initial composition of the painting isn't right to begin with, no amount of fancy details will fix it at a later stage. I am massively influenced by the incredible work of Andrew Loomis. In his book Figure Drawing For All Its Worth he advises, "it's not how you draw, it's WHAT you draw".

The next stage of the process is to choose the strongest thumbnail to take forward. At this point, it's important to really consider the context in which the illustration will be used. For 'Chalky', it was critical for children to easily be able to connect with the illustrations. I repeatedly asked myself, "What is the best way to tell this story?". The fairly detailed painting style of Chalky is balanced by using simple, easily-readable compositions which help to drive the narrative of the book forward. I'm constantly thinking about how the text will interact with the illustration work. Both should work in harmony within a picture book as both help to communicate the story.

The next step in my process is to produce a 'prototype' illustration. This is a quick, digital sketch used to quickly determine if the illustration is working or not. If you're making a picture book, this stage will save you a lot of time in the long run. At this point, tweaks can be made fairly quickly without worrying about colour, texture and details. I usually feel like I am 'sculpting' the illustration here as I am still working with just one brush and a very limited tonal palette.

Once the prototype is looking solid, it's time to begin painting the final piece. I pay close attention to 'value' in all my paintings. I use patterns and combinations of value to lead the viewer’s eye to where I'd like them to focus on. It's so important to consider the experience of the reader. I plan a visual journey for the viewer in each illustration.

The aesthetic of 'Chalky' was developed very organically. Working closely with Tim And Gabriel, I started the initial paintings with a loose style and slowly began to work the details in. All the illustrations in Chalky were born out of the discussions that we had as a team. We crafted these illustrations through our conversations. This was the most enjoyable part of illustrating this book - Tim and Gabriel constantly brought exciting ideas to the table and it was a pleasure to bring them to life.

I use a variety of digital brushes that aim to reproduce traditional oil and paste techniques. Many artists feel like it really doesn't matter what type of brush is used because a brush does not compensate of a lack of technical ability. While this is true to an extent, I do believe that selecting the right brush is a huge part of digital illustration. I love working with texture, so I am always on the lookout for brushes that take inspiration from traditional approaches. It feels natural for me to paint in this way. I usually start with big, broad, powerful strokes to capture the form and rhythm and then I slowly decrease the brush size with each sitting until the painting is refined.

Qn3. How did author Stanley Potter come up with the story?

TIM: The neighbourhood where Chalky lives is pretty small (approximately 5 houses and 5 apartments) so it’s easy to keep track of his comings and goings. Like most cats he is curious and has a special admiration for cars. He has learned that when a car arrives, the bonnets are typically warm from the engine heat and given the UK climate, any heat is welcomed. Neighbours and visiting family would often return to their car to find a furry white ball curled up and enjoying the heat. He is well know by all the neighbours and most visitors by now, so they find it quite entertaining.

He also likes to peer up the exhaust’s of cars, I’m not quite sure why, but the bigger, the better as far as Chalky is concerned. Being a white cat, it is pretty obvious what he has been up to when he comes home as he’ll have a white ring of soot around his face, so Stanley took these real life hobbies of Chalky which set the story for Chalky and the New Sports Car.

Qn4. Did you learn anything new that you didn't know before about cats?

TEAM: Drawing a cat is actually quite a challenge so we learned a lot about their anatomy. We studied their movements and mannerisms to enable us to create a believable character, but the great thing about children’s books is we can take any characteristic and over exaggerate them to give them more presence within the illustrations, like the big, excitable eyes in the case of Chalky.

We also learned that you need to pay close attention to positioning when drawing a cat’s face as if the nose is too high it can make it look like a fox and if the brush strokes for the fur are too thick and the eyes are closer together, it can look a little bit like a bear.

Qn5. If you are a cat, what crazy things would you do? Why?

GABRIEL: I’m not sure I would investigate the exhausts of cars but I’d certainly enjoy my own adventures as a cat.

MICHAEL: If I was a cat I would draw pictures of people. That would really freak them out wouldn’t it :)

Check out the Chalky and the New Sports Car Kickstarter project at https://kck.st/17NyNHM


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