Thursday 24 May 2012

WELCOME on board the Good Ship Book Sniffer - Jonny Duddle!

Avast and aghast Land Lubbers, Salty Sea Dawgs and Ship Mates, Tis now time to hear from piratical hero of the high seas Mr Jonny "the Doodle" Duddle
Shall we make him walk the plank at cutlass point or just pop him straight in the Book Sniffer quick fire cannon!?

Cannon!? correct! here goes


Marmite Yes / No?

So very, very ‘Yes’! I LOVE marmite on toast. And I used to have it on roast parsnips a lot when I was a student. Now you’ve said ‘Marmite’, I’m going to go and make some marmite-y toast, right now!

What do you listen to while you are working?

If i’m lucky, all I can hear is birdsong and the odd tractor. Sometimes I like listening to my girls playing around the house, but if it’s all getting a bit noisy (and I’m really trying to concentrate) then I stick my noise-cancelling headphones on and listen to music. But it’s got to be either pretty easy going if I’m trying to think, or loud and fast if I’m really getting into something. I’ve just bought myself a digital radio, so lots of music too.

What can you see out of your studio window?

I can see the scruffy outbuilding that I really want to be my studio, but it’s full of car parts and needs new doors and windows and a new roof... There are swallows having babies in there at the moment, scattering bird droppings all over the place. And beyond that, I can see lots of trees and some nice Welsh hills.

What’s your favourite type of biscuit?

Jaffa Cakes. If they’re a biscuit. Which they are, aren’t they? If they don’t count, then I’d probably say fig rolls. Fig rolls are brilliant.

Fancy dress of choice...

Um... Pirate?

Cats or dogs?

Dogs! When I was growing up, we had cats and dogs (three of each at one point, plus the neighbours cats would come for their tea too). Cats can be quite cute, but I love the personalities of dogs, and the walks, and the stick throwing and the silliness. Cats like eating things. Ours used to bring home rabbits and leave their body parts all over the house. Which is a little bit off-putting. We have loads of birds in our garden now, but when we had three cats, you’d hardly see any. I like birds.

Tell us your best joke...

I’m not very good at remembering jokes, but I always remember this one.

How does Bob Marley like his Donuts?


What does Bob Marley say to his band when he buys them donuts?

I hope you like jammin’ too

I know it’s rubbish, but it makes me chuckle.

Which three tools of your trade could you not live without?

My Mac.

My Wacom Cintiq.

My photoshop.

Sniffed any good books lately?

It’s not a picture book, but ‘Show Me a Story: Why Picture Books Matter’ by Leonard S Marcus is on my bedside table. It’s a series of interviews with authors and illustrators, including Maurice Sendak, Quentin Blake and Eric Carle. It’s fascinating and an inspiration.

Would you rather be fired out of a cannon, or walk the plank?

I’ve always thought being fired out of a cannon would be quite good fun, as long as I was wearing a brightly coloured leotard and a big round helmet, with an enormous net to catch me.

Funniest thing a child has asked you at an event...

Have you ever killed someone and drank their blood?” It was a cute little kid that asked me that. He had a pirate outfit, with a plastic sword. It was just after I showed some photos of when I used to be a pirate. I think he thought I was lot meaner than I really am, and he obviously didn’t know I was a non-meat eater.

Are you good at reading maps?

I am good at reading maps. Geography was my best subject at school. I got a very good ‘A’ level in Geography. Since I was a teenager, I’ve been mountain biking and walking in the hills, so I’ve got to know my way around a ordnance survey map. I’ve never found a treasure map though. Some treasure would be nice.

Which of your books are you most proud of?

I’ve only done two of my own, so far. I’m proud of them both for different reasons. I’d wanted to have my own picture book published for many, many years before ‘The Pirate Cruncher’ arrived in 2009, and had lots of rejections from publishers and agents when I first sent out stuff in the few years after university, so receiving my first real copies was massively exciting. And a lot happened while I was working on the book, including losing my Dad, so I was proud to get it finished, and just wish he’d been around to see it.

Peg leg or hook hand?

Hook hand. As long as it was my left hand. And I could change attachments. Like a Swiss army hand.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on my next picture book ‘The King of Space’. It’s full of robots, spaceships and aliens, and has absolutely no pirates whatsoever. Not even space pirates. It’s taking longer than I expected, and I’m full of self-doubt. But then I had a phase like that with ‘The Pirates Next Door’, and that all turned out OK in the end.

Where/how did you develop the idea for King of Space?

The King of Space was originally developed for an online art challenge on a CG artists’ forum, called CG Talk. They run big competitions once or twice a year, and I used to enter them for fun when I was working in the Games industry, and to inspire me to do personal work and build up a portfolio for illustration. The challenge was titled ‘Grand Space Opera’, and the first idea I had was a little kid who wanted to take over the universe. I originally thought it’d make a great comic project and kept revisiting the character over the years, until Mike Jolley at Templar suggested it could be brought down in age to a picture book. It was going to be my second picture book and I’d roughed out quite a few pages, but ‘The Pirate Cruncher’ was selling quite well and Templar asked if I could do a pirate-y follow up. So the basic concept is that the little boy, Rex, is trying to take over the universe with his secret robot army, without his Mum and Dad finding out. I hope people aren’t disappointed when it’s not pirates next time. People think that’s what I do! There may well be another Jolley-Rogers story in the future, but it’s ‘ The King of Space’ next!

Pirate Vs Alien who would win?

I think it would very much depend on which pirate and which alien and their weapon of choice. That said, a tiny alien with an enormous flob-blaster would probably be victorious against even the most gnarly of pirates. But that would only if the pirate played fair, and pirates don’t like sticking to the rules....

Have you ever thought of changing your name to Jonny Doodle?

I used to sign my work as Jonny Doodle when I was at school and University. But then I was a bit tiddly one night, and a ouija board told me not to. So I did as I was told. And I figured that Duddle was a silly enough name, and people could make their own connection to ‘Doodle’. After I won the Waterstones Children’s Book prize, somebody phoned my agents, Arena Illustration, and asked what my real name was. So, Jonny Duddle is probably a silly enough name for a children’s book writer.

How is the film/animation process different to the picture book process?

The big difference between designing characters for film and creating picture book illustrations, is that the concept art for films isn’t for publication. All the drawings are just a step in the process of making a film. Hundreds of people are involved and a character designer is a small cog in a huge creative machine. And all the work is created under the guidance of the director. You can’t be precious about any of your work, or sensitive to criticism, and almost everything will need to be changed and developed. The drawings become the characters in the film, which are in a different medium and take on their own style and personality, between the hands of the sculptor, the voice of the actor and the vision of the director.

With picture books, it’s all about the image and how it interacts with the story. I’m always aware that once the book is published the image will never change. Books last a long time and anyone can look at the illustrations for years to come. So I feel more under pressure top get it right. I spent hours on end looking at illustrations as a child, and I think that’s why I’ve developed my quite detailed style, with lots of stuff for children to look at.

Which do you prefer?

I enjoy working on both, because they’re so different. A picture book is something very personal that has my name on it. A movie is the product of an incredible amount of creativity and craft from hundreds of people. They are so different, and both very rewarding in different ways. In an ideal world, I’d split my time 50:50 between my own books and designing characters for films. The big dream would be to see one of my own books being made into a film.....

How did it feel to hand drawings to someone who would then continue working on your design to create the finished thing (i.e; the character models) and were you happy with them? Would you change anything?

This goes back to the previous question and the differences between designing for movies and picture books. The sculptors at Aardman are incredibly clever people and they take my drawings and put their own stamp, and some Aardman magic, onto those designs. Everyone has something to add, from Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt’s brief and direction, my drawings, the sculptor’s clay models, the production of the finished puppet, to make each puppet as good as it can be. And then when it’s animated and has a voice, the puppet takes on a real personality. My drawings are just one small step in the process.

How much did you have to think about the fact that they would be moving/ talking/ have expression etc when you were designing them?

There are lots of constraints when designing characters for stop-motion. So you always have to think about how the figure is made, and how it might move. Many of the characters use the same ‘skeleton’ (an amazing piece of engineering in itself!) or share mouth shapes (which are 3D printed, so each character has hundreds of interchangeable mouth shapes), to cut down on the massive cost of production. In stop-motion, the characters have to be able to support themselves. So within a series of constraints, you’re trying to make the most interesting and expressive character you can.

When you are left entirely to your own devices and without having to censor your work in any way, what do you prefer to draw?

Pirates, monsters, aliens, robots, dinosaurs, animals, trolls, knights, cars, funny-looking people and pin-up girls. In no particular order.

Your work looks traditional/painterly but I think it's done on screen (I might be wrong). What is the approach you use and how did you reach that decision?

I work almost entirely in Photoshop and Painter on my 21” Wacom Cintiq. I work in a bit of a painterly way, with a similar process to oils or acrylics, but entirely digital. I make drawings with either pencil (which I then scan) or with a pencil-like brush in Photoshop. The benefit of the Cintiq is that I’m drawing on the screen, which feels much more intuitive than a normal tablet. Next, I do an underpainting, either in monotone or blocks of colour, and then start developing a more finished painting over the top.

The big benefit of working digitally is that I don’t have to have a fully worked-out drawing when i start painting. I can constantly change elements in the illustration as I work, even making significant compositional changes or tweaking colours as I go along. Which lets me just get stuck in and have fun without too much worry about messing it up. The downside of that is that there’s always room for more fiddling, and it’s harder to call an image ‘finished’.

What is the ideal food to eat whilst drawing and painting?

Eating whilst drawing and painting is something I’m trying to do less of.... Doodling is a fairly sedentary job, and eating marmite on toast all day is expanding my waistline.

What best describes your approach to your work? Are you patient, obsessive about detail and can sit for hours. Or do you work manically, keep jumping up to make drinks and eat biscuits and go shopping in between?

I can sit for hours and hours and work obsessively, but if I get a bit stuck I’m suddenly downstairs making a cuppa and eating toast. I’ve started turning off my router, which is at the other end of the house, to avoid distractions like email, online banking, bbc online and facebook. And I’ve been trying to work in album-length stints, followed by a short break, before another album-length stint. That seem to work quite well. Then it’s just choosing the album that takes time...

What does your sketchbook look like? Is it a total scribble scramble or is it a neat, clean arrangement of finished drawings?

My sketchbooks aren’t used enough. I don’t get out much, so don’t get to sit on trains and buses with my sketchbook in hand, like I used to when I was a games artist. I don’t sit in cafes and museums much either. If I get to an art gallery or museum, I’m usually chasing my two-year-old daughter around to make sure she doesn’t break anything. I’m always at home and seem to be busy most of the time doodling proper jobs on the Mac. A lot of my experimenting takes place on the pooter, and I have lots of files stashed away. But I’m making a conscious effort to do more drawing, and to use pencils, paints and paper. I’m feeling a little jaded form years leaning over my Wacom Cintiq, and I’m missing the smell and tactile nature of paint and ‘real’ media. And it’s nice to look through old sketchbooks, remembering when and where you did a drawing. But back to the actual question, my sketchbooks are a bit of a mish-mash.

Which 5 things would you take with you if you were abandoned on an island by a bunch of unruly Pirates?

A fishing rod

A barbecue

A case of wine

A big sketchbook

A box of pencils

THANK YOU so much for letting us fire you out of the Book

Sniffer Quick Fire Cannon Jonny! You rock.

Check out Jonny's blog here!

Buy The Pirates Next Door NOW  Check out our review here!

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