Thursday, January 6, 2011

Heidi Illustration Challenge from Tomie dePaola

The theme of Tomie dePaola's annual SCBWI contest was to illustrate the first paragraphs of Johanna Spyri’s Heidi. Not knowing whether I would have time to finish my entry by the deadline (just before the holidays), I resolved to make the attempt – if only as an exercise.

As well as the problem of dealing with a classic character many are familiar with (in this case I consider Jesse Wilcox Smith’s beautiful illustrations for the 1922 edition to be perhaps the most loved) I believe the very text chosen to be illustrated to be a problem. Spyri tells us where Heidi is going and with whom, describes the terrain and her outfit (both in elaborate detail), gives her age and even her complexion. With so much spelled out, and with Jesse Wilcox Smith’s illustration of the scene fixed in my mind, how was I to portray the scene in a different manner? Indeed a challenging contest idea from Mr. dePaola! And did I mention he wanted something unique? I considered portraying Heidi as a tan-faced, rosy-cheeked Swiss mouse or other creature..... but finally approached the challenge by trying several angles of Heidi on her journey up the mountain with her companion. (I’ll show three sketches – there are even more!)

I did not have time to enter the contest and can’t say my preliminary attempts rose to the challenge, but I feel I learned from the process and became even more aware of the difficulties involved in creating characters for classic works of fiction.

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