Creating Carter: A Q&A with illustrator Shawna Daigle

Creating Carter: A Q&A with illustrator Shawna Daigle

Posted on August 11 by Kyle in Kids
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Today on the Dundurn blog we are excited to be talking to Shawna Daigle, a children’s book illustrator for Philippa Dowding’s Weird Stories Gone Wrong series of middle-grade fiction. We asked Shawna about her collaboration with authors and her inspiration. Here’s what she had to say...

KYLE: Philippa Dowding has been a Dundurn author for a few years now; how did you get involved with her?

SHAWNA: I’ve known her for quite a few years through some close family friends. She approached me to do some illustration work for her.


Did Philippa have ideas of her own the first time you worked together on Jake and the Giant Hand or did you take the lead?

A bit of both. When we first started to work together, I provided most of the initial visual layouts and Philippa chose what she liked the most and added her own ideas and suggestions.  As we worked longer together, she would provide me with more of her ideas, favourite scenes, and what she saw in her mind’s eye when she thought of the scenes. It was very much a collaboration.


Even with collaboration, over the course of three books, your style is definitely unique among our middle-grade books. Where do you draw your inspiration?

I’ve always loved drawing creepy, yet light-hearted, cartoons. I can’t say I ever thought there would be such a perfect fit for my particular art style so you can imagine how thrilled I was to begin working with Philippa on the Weird Stories Gone Wrong series.


I’m getting the feeling you were a doodler when you were younger.

Absolutely. I have been drawing my entire life! I go through phases of things I like to draw but I’d say fantasy ladies were always pretty high on my list —along with mermaids and druids and things along those lines. You can get really creative with them.


Sounds like you’d like another of our middle-grade series, Eldritch Manor by Kim Thompson. All about elderly mythological creatures in hiding at a retirement home. Mermaids and fairies included!

That sounds like a wonderful series. Right up my alley!


The use of doodles or graphic images in middle-grade books have become increasingly popular. Did you feel any pressure to conform to certain trends when developing the series visually?

Although children’s books have been a bit of a dream job for me, for the most part I’ve been working heavily in different, mostly unrelated, industries for my day-to-day work. Children’s books have been a fairly new venture for me. I’d say I’m almost fortunate to be coming from such an outside perspective because I have no preconceived notions of what is trending in the industry right now. It gives me a bit of freedom to the covers and interior my way without influence.


Our designers once told me they take a walk in a bookstore when they are feeling “blocked.” Do you ever encounter that trouble?

Creative block is always a hard one for any type of artist. It’s hard to just will yourself to come up with good ideas when you don’t have them. I do similar things to get passed it. Changing up your environment can be incredibly helpful. Going for a walk somewhere new, looking through art books. Anything to get your mind engaged. It can be as simple as seeing some beautiful brushstrokes in a painting or watching a sun set.


We actually have a question from someone else on the marketing team. Margaret would like to know how much of what makes you an artist you attribute to natural talent and how much is skill you learned.

Interesting! I have to say there is definitely an aspect of being born with the creative gene but anyone can learn to be an artist. It sure helps to be inherently good at art but I went to school for five years to hone my craft. There is far more to art than just drawing pretty pictures. There is a lot of colour theory, perspective, shading, and much more that goes into creating great art. Even though I like to draw cartoon-y figures with elongated limbs, I spent years perfecting realism and anatomy so it can still make sense to the viewer.


Now, as the artist, which of the three books is your favourite? Jake, Myles, or Carter?

That’s like choosing between babies! It’s a toss-up between Carter and Myles but I think I have to go with Myles simply because that was my favourite story. I felt so inspired when I first read through the book and I couldn’t wait to start creating the creepy fog monster! Something about the mood of the whole story just had my mind racing and I had so many ideas right off the bat for how I wanted everything to look and feel. So if I had to choose, Myles would be my favourite.


Thank you, Shawna, for talking with us today about your creative illustrations for the Weird Stories Gone Wrong series.