The inspiration for Creature Colours came from my dissatisfaction with some of the colour-learning books that I had shared with my own children, many of which were confusingly illustrated or thrown together using artwork taken from other books.
Most children are able to learn and recognise colours at a very early age, when their language skills are very limited. Given this, it seems obvious that a colour book should not be too dependent upon its text. It also seems obvious that the most effective way to communicate the concept of colour is through the illustrations. However having struggled my way through several colour books with my children it seems that such an approach was the exception rather than the rule.
One of the reasons for this is that many colour books currently available are created as tie-ins to popular pre-school television and picture books series. As a result the colour-learning aspect is often neglected in favour of providing appealing images of the characters.
A spread in one of the colour books I came across featured a popular pre-school character standing beside a big blue paddling pool wearing a bright red top and holding an orange ice-lolly. The spread was meant to illustrate the colour orange - I only know this because the text on the page read "orange lolly". Admittedly the book was intended to be read to a child by an adult, but even so a couple of lazy assumptions had been made about how the relevant colour would be communicated. Specifically, it was assumed that EITHER the child will know what a lolly is and will bother to look for it on a page that was dominated by larger objects, OR that the adult will point the lolly out for them.
Even if these assumptions were justified, it seemed clear to me that such an illustration would not make a lasting impression in terms of the colour that it is meant to be illustrating. In this particular example, orange was actually the least dominant out of all the colours used on the spread, taking up less than 7% of the total area, with the lolly itself taking up a less than 2%.
The brief that I set for myself when I began designing my own colour book was intended to address such shortcomings.
This sketch shows an early cover idea, featuring all the creatures in the book.
In the original version of the book, some of the animals were given negative attributes, which is why the whale in the bottom right corner looks angry instead of happy, as he does in the published book.
Firstly I decided that a minimum of two-thirds of each spread would be filled with the colour that it was meant to illustrate - that way the relevant colour would be immediately apparent.
Secondly I decided not to use any objects on the page that were not of the relevant colour. This was meant to ensure that even if a child was unfamiliar with the name of an object referred to in the text, there was no possibility of them confusing it with one that was of the wrong colour.
Next I wrote up a shortlist of 11 suitable colours, eight of which would be used in the book*.
I decided that black and white, the primary colours, red, yellow and blue , and one secondary colour, green , were all essential. That left a choice of grey, purple, orange, pink and brown for the remaining two colours.
As with my previous pre-school pop-ups, the text was written in rhyme to make it more appealing. Early versions of the text included vehicles and other inanimate objects, but I soon narrowed it down to animals. Finding eight familiar animals of appropriate colours, four of which had names that could be used as two rhyming pairs is not as simple as it might sound. Before finalising my choice I sketched out some pop-up ideas to make sure that I could come up with a pop-up design that would suit each animal.
The book is intended for very small children and so all the pop-ups I designed use relatively simple sturdy toddler-friendly mechanisms. Each mechanism is meant to provide the animal with a characterful movement as the page is turned; the friendly dog wags his tail, the hungry pig licks his lips, the sleepy cat wakes up.
The pop-up that took the most time to design was the fox, whose eyes dart from side to side as the page is opened. Although the pop-up uses a very basic mechanism, I had to make more than ten prototypes each one with a slightly different eye shape or fold geometry - before I came up with a natural looking eye movement.
Although Creature Colours is the fourth pop-up I have had published, it is the first one that I have illustrated myself. The illustration linework was done in ink using a brush pen and then scanned into my Apple Mac computer and coloured using Adobe Photoshop.
* The number of colours could not be too high or, with a pop-up page for each colour, the book would be too expensive for the preschool market. I settled on eight as a simple two verse rhyming text can be split evenly across this number of pages.
A delightful book for the very young child, this exemplar of paper engineering comprises eight pop-ups of animals. Each is identified with a colour and another adjective: a croaky green frog, a hungry pink pig, a clever red fox and so on. The pop-ups are effective, continuing to work well after many openings. Their novelty will ensure that this would become a favourite with pre-readers. The best is kept to last: a detailed bat that appears to fly out of the book. Ages 2-4
READING TIME - the Journal of the Children's Book Council of Australia