KeyColours award ceremony and opening Kleurboel exhibition

On 22 september was the opening of the Kleurboel exhibition, and the award ceremony of the KeyColours picturebook competition.

I took part in the KeyColours competition with my picturebook Helme’s Grote Hoofd (Helmes Giant Head), along with 422 other illustrators all over the world, who submitted their picturebook. To my big surprise, my work did not only make it to the longlist of 44 illustrators, but it also made it to the shortlist of 6! This meant that my work would be included in the Kleurboel exhibition in the Stadsmus in Hasselt, and that I was one of the six finalists that could win a cash prize and publication by Clavis Uitgeverij.

The opening of the exhibition was on 22 september in the Stadsmus museum in Hasselt (Belgium), and the award ceremony took place a couple of hours later in the offices of Clavis Uitgeverij on the beautiful Herkenrode Abbey site. It was a great day on which I met a lot of nice and interesting people, and saw a lot of great illustrations. And then it was time to get a bit nervous for the award ceremony… Of course the publisher and the alderman of culture of the city of Hasselt kept the tension until the last minute. After the winner of the award: Eva Schirdewahn from Germany was announced, they also announced that Clavis Uitgeverij will also publish the other finalists, which was the first time in the history of the KeyColours award that they decided to do that. So I am over the moon that my book will be published!

A big congrats to the winner Eva Schirdewahn with her book Fido! And of course congratulations to all of the finalists:

  • Effie Lada from Greece (A Forgotten Sunday)

  • Sara Casilda Campos from Spain (Anna, va dormir dans ton lit)

  • Maria Fernandez de Cordova Miralles from Spain ( Bob’s Journey)

  • Eva Schirdewahn from Germany (Fido)

  • Manuel Sumberac from Croatia (The Red Bird)

  • Ellen Lambrichts (me) from Belgium (Helme’s Grote Hoofd)

So keep your eyes peeled when you are in a bookstore next summer :-)

If you want to visit the Kleurboel exhibition: you can still go visit the Stadsmus in Hasselt until 4 november. Do pop in if you are in the neighbourhood!

card for the Boekenkaravaan to thank volunteers

A while ago, I was asked by the Boekenkaravaan to illustrate a card that was going to be sent as a thank you card to their volunteers. The Boekenkaravaan is an organisation that aims to show underpriviledged children how wonderful books and reading can be, knowing that better language skills and a broader horizon can improve those children's chances on a better future.

To reach this goal, the Boekenkaravaan works with a lot of volunteers that go read books to children, sometimes in playgrounds, but mostly at the children's own home on a regular basis, thus building a lasting relationship with those families. Often these weekly reading dates become something the children really look forward to, so it goes without say that these volunteers really do a great job and deserve a heartfelt thank you every once and a while!

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When I was asked to make an illustration for this card, I wanted to make an illustration that would really resonate with the volunteers, and would make them feel appreciated indeed. I asked myself what their biggest motivation would be to keep giving their time and dedication to this initiative every week, and I figured that the main reason would be making those children happy, of course.
What would give them more satisfaction than looking up from the book they are reading, and seeing the happy or attentive faces of the children in front of them? So I drew just that.

I made a lot of sketches of children's faces, to make sure they looked etnically diverse without focusing on their skintone too much. When drawing children of diverse backgrounds, I feel it is important that the children can identify with the characters as individuals; I wouldn't want the characters to look as stereotypes. After I had sketched a group of characters I liked, I made some sketches to obtain a composition that worked, and started working on the final illustration with those elements.

Below you can see a little gif that shows how I built up the final illustration. As you see, I worked more or less color by color, to make sure the colors are balanced throughout the image and look harmonious.

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After I finished the illustration, the Boekenkaravaan had cards printed, that were sent to their volunteers. By now the cards have surely all arrived. I heard there was enthousiastic feedback from the volunteers when they found the card in their mailboxes, which meant a lot to me. It is always great to hear that my work made someone's day just that little bit better!

The cards are being posted by the Boekenkaravaan. Photo by Eefje Raats.

The cards are being posted by the Boekenkaravaan. Photo by Eefje Raats.

boardgame about climate change

A while ago, I was commissioned to make a game of goose for de Boekenkaravaan, so today, I want to shed some light on how this boardgame came about.

The boardgame was intended to teach children a thing or two about climate change in a playful context, and to install the awareness that climate change has a direct influence on the entire planet and all its inhabitants. Of course this project immediately appealed to me, since climate change and sustainability are things I feel strongly about.

The people at de Boekenkaravaan wanted the game to have the structure of a game of goose (ganzenbord in Dutch), in which the pawns would race to be the first to arrive at the finish, and with special tiles on the board that would set you back or give you some advantage in the race. (I think we all played this game at least once in our lives, so I'm sure there is no need for me to explain the rules any further) They also wanted the pawns to be animals, but apart from these simple guidelines, I was free to fill in the blanks to my best judgement.

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I was paired up with Lynn Rongé who took care of the copy for this game. Together we decided early on that the animals would each represent a season, and that, while travelling the board, these animals would pass through the seasons as well. Picking out the animals who would symbolize the different seasons was easy: we chose a swallow to represent spring, a dolpin for summer, autumn would be symbolized by a hedgehog, and winter would be a polar bear. While playing, the animals would come across things that would have a direct impact on them due to climate change. Those tiles could set back some animals, but could leave others unaffected or could sometimes benefit them. So, on their journey, the animals would have to deal with early frost, early thaw, heatwaves, forest fires etc.

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Now that the concept was clear, it was time for me to design the game. While this concept surely triggered my imagination, it was also clear to me that it posed some difficulties design-wise. For instance, the four animals we chose all lived in different elements: one lived in the sky, one in the sea, one on the ground, and one partly in the sea and on the ground, which raised some difficulties in designing a landscape in which all of these animals would be able to travel together. A second thing was that the board also had to show the passing of the seasons in some way, while still retaining a visual harmony.

At this point I hit my drawing board and started sketching. Initially I tried to keep the tiles of the different seasons somewhat separated, so I sketched a lot of different ways for the tiles to meander on the board, each season in their own corner, and I also sketched ideas for the background, in which the tiles led through the landscape of different continents, seen from above, but it instantly became clear that this approach would show way too many details that would lead the attention away from the game itself, and, although showing different habitats, it didn't really show the different seasons either. Also, the ideas in which the tiles followed somewhat intricate patterns with the seasons separated looked too hectic, especcially when the colors would be added. (At this point, I still tried out four color palettes to show the different seasons.)

Normally, I would show you the sketches I made here. But I have to admit that when I'm trying out a lot of different ideas on paper for my own eyes only, those sketches tend to look rather rudimentary, and although I might be able to read them perfectly, I doubt other people would make much of them... But I do promise to show sketches in my next blog post!

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After I made all of these different sketches and saw what didn't work, I decided to go back to basics, and keep it simpler, balancing all of the elements to match each other. I decided to refrain from showing an intricate background landscape that featured different continents, and I also simplified the color palettes to show the seasons. Instead of four, clearly defined color palettes, I chose soft light blue hues for the colder times, that would gradually change to creamy orange hues for the warmer seasons. As for the tiles: in stead of the wilder, swirling routes the tiles took in some of the sketches, I now opted for a soft, boxy spiral to fit all of them. I also designed the animals with softly rounded, boxy lines, to make sure that they looked in harmony with the board itself. For the background I ended up with one grassy meadow, that would have a different appearance in each corner of the board, to represent the passing of the seasons.

I chose gouache to color the illustration, to give it an opaque and substancial look, and colored pencil to add details.

Below you can see the game as it looked in the newsletter, ready to be printed out, play and start a discussion with children.

I guess there is only one thing left for me to ask. Who wants to play? I call the hedgehog!

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