29th June 2016 - Dave Ladd and Stephanie Anderson
Dave Ladd and Stephanie Anderson are the confusingly named He She It They I: a husband-and-wife illustration and design duo. Together they share a home, a studio, a three-year-old daughter and a sense of humour. They live in Sydney, Australia and until Animals Are Delicious, had never illustrated a children’s book. Below, exclusively for Foyles, they talk about the process of putting together their first book, in which three of the longest food chains of the animal kingdom - terrestrial, avian and aquatic - are depicted in three accordion- oldouts, complete with stunning dimensional art and simple read-aloud text.
When it came to designing the elements for our three food chains, we wanted the creatures to look and feel like the toys of our childhood. Not the now-collectable action figure kinda toys, the ubiquitous farmyard or zoo-type plastic toys — complete with seams, knobbly bits, imperfect paint jobs, wonky eyes. Our rather audacious plan was to hand-sculpt, cast and paint all 18 critters, build three set-up environments (Land, Sea and Air), background elements for all, then photograph and retouch all 21 scenes + cover. Yoinks!
We drew poses best representing each animal’s features, actions and attitudes towards dietary needs, using scientific reference to ensure we weren’t GM-ing the poor things. With a preschool-aged audience, we had to strike a balance between stalking and striking — avoiding the gore of the actual attack.
Simply and cleverly written by Sarah Hutt, GULPS! and CHOMPS! replace actual flesh tearing, with junior readers’ engagement heightened through the repetition of the phrase …but someone else is hungry…
Once they had been approved, we sculpted their forms using all manner of materials: balsa, timber, polymer clay, the top bit of the second smallest Matryoshka doll — whatever suited the size and form best.
Once finalised, our real work began. Steph had recently modelled a 70s style figurine of our daughter for her second birthday and had successfully trialled and error-ed her way through the process of silicon moulding and casting a largish, quite complicated figure in multicoloured resin. No mean feat. She had applied the same technique to the test build of the Orca to some success. Material cost and level of difficulty became obvious factors and so all animals were built no larger than about six inches in length. Many were half that.
As it turned out, smaller models gave us better results. Blemishes, seams and oddities were slightly exaggerated at this scale and it forced a level of clumsiness into the finish that suited our chosen aesthetic perfectly. And despite buying a brand new airbrush for the project, the model Dave hadn’t used for 20-something years produced more pleasing results. The one specialist we did enlist was the fellow who flocked the Shrew. Try saying that five times. We have since flocked one ourselves, and I’d rather meet a guy in an industrial park with cash-in-hand and have him flock a Shrew, let me tell you. What a mess.
Environments next, and we looked to create museum-style tableaux to house our beasties. Stylised dioramas built with card and paper meant to evoke their natural settings, but not meticulously replicate them. They’re food chains after all, and it’s the menu items that ought to whet the appetite.
We’ve done quite a few paper-based projects and wanted to ensure the backgrounds didn’t take over and become the dominant design feature. Style-wise, the animals needed to be the focus—and needed to look delicious.
Building these was something done almost-live. We created most of the elements in our studio, but once it came to photographing each scene, there was no end of cutting and gluing on the spot to make each scene similar, but different to those in the surrounding chain. With the models cast at a similar size — not relative scale — the scale shift between a Black Beetle and Bobcat needed to be implied through the background elements. Richard Attenboroughs of the world please don’t look too closely.
Photography of course, is where a mess of card and strings and bared teeth becomes an image. The bit people see. The unflappable Michael Corridore stared down our unreasonable deadlines and folders of scrap paper, and did what he does best. A more talented and tolerant photographer you’d be hard pressed to find.
After production comes post-production. There was a degree of retouching, there always is, but with our scenes we wanted to iron out a few of the bumps and dried glue spots, but maintain the character of our characters: the seams, edges and overspray. Our pal Paul is an ace colourist and he ensured all our blues were blue and animals were presentable. ‘Plating-up’, celebrity chefs would call it.
From there, Meagan and her design team at Phaidon took our finished files and a few months later there were books on shelves. Beautifully designed, printed and packaged books—with our names on the cover. The Coach character in a teen film would drawl Teamwork makes the dream work right about now. And he’d be right. It does and it did.
Illustrating our first children’s book wasn’t easy. It was bloody hard work and it was bloody hard to do at times. But it never stopped being exciting. From the first email discussing a potential children’s book, to the first sighting of our finished animals on shelves—in the wild!—it’s been exciting. Sure, there was a lack of sleep, the occasional argument, some tears, some stitches, and a flock-load of swearing. But when isn’t there when something good is being made?
And our daughter aged 2-4 loves it, which is pretty cool.
Let’s end it here. Someone else is hungry…
Dave Ladd: @daveladd / hesheittheyi.com
Stephanie Anderson: @stephaniespies / hesheittheyi.com