Dean Griffiths is the illustrator of Best Pirate, the feature book in our September Picture Book Box. This is the third book in the series about Augusta the (dog) pirate. The series has received the Rainforest of Reading Award, a Kirkus Review star (both for Bad Pirate) and a glowing New York Times review (for Good Pirate). Dean is from Duncan, British Columbia.
MARMALADE BOOKS (MB): When did you know you wanted to be an illustrator?
DEAN GRIFFITHS (DG): I've always loved drawing, but it wasn't until I was 12 and bought a copy of Iron Man #135, where he battles the Titanium Man across New York until they end up at Rockefeller Plaza on the ice rink. I still remember sitting on the chesterfield at my grandparents’ home in Moose Jaw, and being totally absorbed in it. It was like watching a movie, and there was a scene where they are in the subway where I told myself that drawing stories is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It's interesting how crappy stuff can inspire us (not that Iron Man #135 is garbage, but it's a far cry from Wind in the Willows, or Lord of the Rings).
MB: You are a very talented award-winning illustrator but I understand you struggled in school. Any advice for kids who are having a tough time themselves?
DG: I did struggle in school, especially in the area of math. I just could never get my head around numbers. If you're struggling in school, try not to stress about it, and know that you have talents and interests that you can trust in. No one is brilliant at everything, and that is a good thing. If you have a difficult time at math, or struggle with science, don't let it frustrate you, and don't think there is anything wrong with that struggle, if you are working as best you can. At some point you will realize what you love to do, and you'll see the gift you have there, and that is what you are meant to do.
MB: Your animals have such great expressions and human qualities. They are so consistent from page to page and every angle. How do you do it?
DG: Thank you! It's a lot of practice. Drawing, drawing, and more drawing. I still have struggles to get a character to fit into their environment, but I love that challenge. After I have decided on a scene, it may take pages and pages of sketches to get the character looking properly. For example, with Augusta, I studied hundreds of photographs of Springer Spaniels, from all possible angles, and did hundreds of sketches of her. And it wasn't until the third book, that I felt I was really starting to get a handle on her. There are still some angles that I have a hard time with, and to get it done right takes a lot of drawing, and sometimes there just isn't the time due to deadlines, which is a shame, but such is life.
MB: You used a different process to create the artwork for the Pirate series. Can you describe it?
DG: "Bad Pirate" was my dive into digital colouring. A few years before, I bought a Wacom Cintiq tablet, computer and Photoshop software, and with the aid of a good friend of mine, and my art director, I learned on the job. The process is simple, I still draw on paper, and then I scan those drawings at a high resolution and place them into a "canvas" in Photoshop. As an example, I just finished a poster illustration for Chemainus Theatre for their production of The Little Prince. The image size they wanted was 13" X 19". So I created that size, and placed the scanned drawing onto it as a layer. That drawing layer will stay at the top, which is set to "multiply" mode. In multiply mode, all the other layers of colour that I place will be seen underneath. In that illustration, the star field is the bottom layer, then some of the gaseous formations above that, then the bright starts, then Asteroid b612, then his boots, etc, etc. There are many videos of the process online, and most much better than I could ever do. Photoshop has all sorts of brushes so that you can make your painting look like chunky pastel, thick, rich oils, or even light, fluid watercolour. The possibilities are endless!
MB: The illustrations for the Pirate series are so detailed and fun. You must have had a ball creating them. What kind of research did you do?
DG: Thank you, oh it was so fun (except when I had to work all night)! I've always loved history (one of the few subjects I was able to do well in at school. eh, heh, heh), so getting to research pirates, and all the different ships and clothing and weapons of that time was a joy. I have a copy of The Ship: An Illustrated History, by Bjorn Landstrom which he produced in the mid sixties, and it is one of my absolute, all-time favourite books. It's fun to get all the rigging right in portraying the vessels. I love adding the little details like the ornamentation on their belt buckles, or the hilt of their swords, that is way too fun.
MB: Of all the characters you have created, which one was your favourite?
DG: That is hard, but I guess, it would be Augusta. I love her like crazy. She's a sort of quiet, in-the-background kind of character, but she has a wonderful strength and resourcefulness, and is very loving and caring towards her family and crewmates. Plus, she is a joy to draw!
My thanks to Dean for this interview and for the opportunity to get to know more about him and his work. I’m a huge fan.
*The first book in this series, Bad Pirate is included in our Pirate Box. You will find this box located on the Special Boxes page of our website.