• Chris Wormell

    Chris Wormell



    NOVEMBER 2017

    Templar Books' WELCOME TO THE MUSEUM series takes the reader through stylish galleries of exhibits whose objects are portrayed in beautiful drawings and engravings alongside supporting text, with previous titles in the series including Animalium, Botanicum and Historium, as well as The Story of Life: Evolution.

    The latest addition to the Welcome to the Museum series, DINOSAURIUM, is a beautifully-crafted book that no dinosaur fan should be without. Aimed at ages nine to adult, DINOSAURIUM is a gorgeous book to dip into to find out more about dinosaurs including when and how they lived and what they might have looked like.

    We asked DINOSAURIUM illustrator - and dinosaur fan - CHRIS WORMELL to tell us how he approached this project and how he created the distinctive engravings used in the book:

    Q: What attracted you to the Dinosaurium project and how long did you spend working on it?

    A: I love dinosaurs, and love drawing them! This project was absolutely right up my street. From the first brief to the finished book was about seven or eight months, though I did work on other projects during this time too.

    Q: Did you know much about dinosaurs before you started to illustrate them?

    A: I thought I knew lots, but discovered I knew hardly anything! Most of what I knew I learned when I was a child, or when my children were small, but most of what's known about dinosaurs now seems to have been discovered since that time.

    Q: There have been a lot of changes in our understanding of what dinosaurs might have looked like, particularly feathered dinosaurs, so where did you go to research your images?

    A: I have many books on dinosaurs (many now out of date) and was supplied with loads of reference material by the art director. There is masses of good information on the internet.

    I also looked at lots of animals that are around in the world today - lizards, crocodiles, ostriches, rhinoceroses and elephants, to name a few.

    Q: How did you decide on your colours for these dinosaurs?

    A: To a certain extent I chose the colours I used. But I did have guidance from an expert. There is quite a lot of informed guess work about what colours and patterns dinosaurs might of had.

    In one or two cases fossilised dinosaur skin has survived and by analysing this and its make up expert are pretty certain of what colour the creatures would have been.

    Q: Were there any species that were particularly difficult to envisage?

    A: Not really, we managed to find reference material for more of less all the dinosaurs in the book. On some of the feathered dinosaurs, the extent and size of the feathers is not really known, so I used my own judgement on some of these.

    Q: How did you decide how to illustrate each page eg with the entire dinosaur, or some heads, or a landscape with dinosaur etc?

    A: Winsome D'brau, the art director made these sort of decisions; she was the one with the vision of how the whole book would lay out.

    I kept my nose to the drawing board, so to speak, working on the detail, and didn't really get to stand back and look at the whole thing until it was finished.

    Q: What for you was the key to making these images look like 'exhibits'?

    A: In a way I think I was not so aware of this when working on the images - except with some plates, the hadrosaur heads for instance. I mostly depicted the dinosaurs as living, breathing creatures. Laying them on flat plain backgrounds I think was the key to making them more like exhibits.

    Q: How did you create your images, what is the process you went through for each spread?

    A: The pictures in the book are what I call digital engravings. First of all I scanned a pencil drawing into photoshop, added a layer above the sketch and then drew on this layer using a drawing tablet.

    Essentially I 'cut away' from this dark layer the way I would if I were making a wood engraving. When the 'engraved' image was finished I added coloured layers and engraved on these also.

    Q: Is there a spread in Dinosaurium that stands out for you?

    A: I think I enjoyed all the spreads. I particularly enjoyed T Rex!

    Q: Do you visit museums much and do you have a favourite if so?

    A: I do - mostly those in London. I love the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum. Also, the Ashmolean in Oxford is a wonderful - and of course the Natural History Museum!

    Q: Where do you work and what project are you working on now?

    A: I work in a very messy studio at the very top of the house. As well as various other projects, I'm working on another book in the Welcome to the Museum series - this one's about space!



    JANUARY 2013

    In his latest picture book, Scruffy Ball and the Lost Ball, author and illustrator Chris Wormell revisits a character that we first met in Scruffy Bear and the Six White Mice.

    In this story, when Scruffy Bear accidentally kicks the rabbits' ball into a tree, he knows will have to climb the tree to find it - but it proves to be more of an adventure than he had reckoned on.

    Christopher Wormell says that when he wrote the first book featuring Scruffy Bear, he knew the character would feature in another story. "Although most of my stories are a one-off, I wanted a character that I could use again and he felt like that kind of character," he says. "I didn't define what he was all about in the first book and in the second book, he could be a bit more mischievous; he's not just the clever hero who saves everyone, he can also be other things."

    Like many of the recognisable characters we see in children's literature, Scruffy Bear's 'look' has changed from the first rough drawings Wormell made. He says, "The first drawings I made of him are very detailed. You need to do that to get the essence of a character and once you've got that, you can go back and simplify your drawings. It can take you ages to work on all the details but when it comes down to it, it's the central essence of the character that works."

    Wormell's picture books will often depend on having a distinct character like Scruffy Bear, he says. "Before I really get to grips with the story, I have a doodle to find a character that really 'speaks' to you. Once you have that, all the other illustrations coming along, everything grows from around them. It's like having a central character in a play; the scenery comes second."

    When he writes his picture books, he avoids planning his stories ahead because, he says, "then you can discover things as you go along - just as a reader would discover them - and that makes it more exciting for both you and the reader".

    Once he has the germ of an idea about a story, he will create thumbnail sketches and develop the story as he goes along. "No one would recognise the final story from these images but they help me to plan what goes into each scene. Then I plot out the story and draw the characters and the scenes and draw full size sketches for each spread. I only show the publisher the idea once I have fully roughed out the sketches."

    With Scruffy Bear and the Red Ball, he says, "I just thought, 'let's have a red ball and see what happens'. Perhaps Scuffy Bear is in the park, someone has kicked the ball and then he kicks it into the tree and it doesn't come down where would the story go from there?" With the earlier story, Scruffy Bear and the Six White Mice, he simply 'followed' the bear when he saw the six white mice lost in the woods to see where the story would go.

    This story features a tree and climbing, which appealed to the illustrator in Wormell. "I liked the idea of the bear being high up in the branches and seeing all the different views. It's one of those memories that most of us have from childhood, climbing up a tree and seeing how far you could go and looking down and seeing that it's an increasingly long way down. That kind of memory sticks in my mind although probably fewer children these days climb trees."

    He adds, "I had most of the pictures in my head at the beginning so I didn't find it hard to draw from the perspective of high up in the tree." The only illustration he struggled with was one that comes as the climax of the story - Scruffy Bear falling down through the tree from the stork's nest at the top. "I tried to do that as a landscape view but the publisher's designer suggested doing it as a portrait spread, which was a great idea, so you see bear falling down, down, down through the tree." A little danger works well in a story, he adds. "You can study fears in picture books as long as there's a happy ending."

    Following a suggestions from his publisher, he also brought the six white mice from the first story into this one, so you see them arrive on the last pages. "It's always nice to have a visual joke at the end of a story," says Wormell. We may see Scruffy Bear in another story although the next one he is working on is "vaguely to do with aliens".

    Wormell tends to illustrate his picture books in watercolour, which he finds the easiest and most adaptable medium. "One of the first picture books I created was in lino cut and then I had an idea for a story that needed lots of detailed illustration so it had to be more drawing-based it was called The Animal Train and it involves a train crash with lots of food flying around; it took so long to draw it all and I found I was spending four or five days on one picture and was losing patience. Then I moved on to stories that didn't need so much detail, like George and the Dragon, which had a bright red dragon and much less detail and I moved on to using watercolour."

    For Wormell, the illustration comes first. "I was working as an illustrator long before I started to create picture books. I did my first work illustrating in my 20's." While he always wanted to write and illustrate children's stories, he says he "didn't have the nerve" to show anyone a story he had written. It wasn't until his early '40s that he had his first picture book published.

    He adds, "I don't find it hard to illustrate someone else's work but I would find it difficult to have someone else illustrate my story. When you plan a book, you take out a lot of the words because the pictures say it for you, they help tell the story. It would mean having to write the story and give instructions about how to illustrate it, which wouldn't work for most illustrators."

    Wormell has started using some digital techniques in his work and his commercial work is influenced by our digital world, he says. He does his work from his studio workshop at the top of his house in a "very busy" room. "I'm not a nine to five person, I usually get up early and do my work in the mornings. I might do a bit of gardening in the summer and tend to work in the evenings or late at night to get the work done, if I have a deadline."

    As well as picture books, Wormell illustrates in other areas, including publishing, newspapers and magazines, designing packaging and so on. "I enjoy working in other areas and to tighter deadlines which I thrive on children's books tend to work to long deadlines."

    He adds, "I would like to see much more illustration in books for older readers, teenagers and adults as well as children. I believe that lavishly-illustrated books are the future for physical publishing, because that's what sets them apart from e-books."