Danni Gowdy

Danni Gowdy is a freelance Illustrator from Belfast who has an MA in Children's Book Illustration from the Cambridge School of Art. She prefers to use traditional drawing tools including dip pen and ink and often adds colour digitally in photoshop. Her work is bright and colourful and she uses humour to connect with the viewer. She is a member of Usfolk Illustration agency in Belfast and is represented by Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency in the US for her children's books. Her debut picture book ‘Teach Your Giraffe To Ski’ was published by Albert Whitman & Co in November 2018. 

We asked Danni about children's illustration and some of her top tips for those looking to specialise in it!

How does creating a story or concept for children differ from creating one for an adult?

I guess for me the most important aspect of creating a story for children is to create something that interests them enough to want to turn the next page. Kids have short attention spans (I know this all too well from having an almost 4 yr old nephew and a 1 yr old niece!) so I think you really have to keep this is mind when creating artwork to engage with children. I try to connect them to the book or the image by using humour - I think if you can make a child giggle from looking at a picture then you’re winning! I like creating expressive characters that children can relate to - whether its a bored giraffe or a frightened vegetable.  I’ve actually never tried creating a story for adults - although this is something I’d love to try at some stage. I love graphic novels and one of the most beautiful ones I read recently was ‘Jim’s Lion’ by Russell Hoban & Alexis Deacon. It’s about a boy who finds bravery during a serious illness, and the imagery is so powerful and moving. I suppose the difference between creating artwork for children and adults is the freedom to express the darker subject matter. Although of course there’s artists like Edward Gorey who aren’t afraid to portray darker subject matter to kids. One of my all time favourite books is ‘The Gashlycrumb Tinies’ which tells the tale of 26 children (each representing a letter of the alphabet) and their untimely deaths, presented in rhyming couplets. It’s completely sinister but you can’t help but laugh! 

What part of the design process do you find the most challenging and which one do you enjoy the most?

I think the most challenging part of the design process is deciding on the final composition or design solution. There’s so many ways you can go and I often find it overwhelming in the early stages of a new project when my mind is filled with ideas. I think I’m naturally quite an indecisive person therefore I really have to force myself to make a decision about final outcomes. The part I enjoy the most is the initial brainstorming of ideas and doodles - quite often the first sketch I do for a new project will be used in the final design. When I was doing my Masters, I l did my dissertation on ‘The Process of Finding the Finished Piece’ which explored the concept of the ‘honest’ line and how drawings can be deadened if they are overworked. This has stuck with me ever since and taught me to be confident in my scribbles as sometimes they are the most honest and therefore the best outcome for a project.

What are some tips you'd give to illustrators when creating artwork for children?

Put yourself in the child’s shoes - what would make them laugh? What would make them relate to the drawing? Try to find a means for them to feel emotionally connected to the image.

Look at what else is out there - there’s noticeable trends particularly in the childrens picture book scene, for example dragons and bears were REALLY popular in 2015! 

Don’t try to copy a particular style or ‘visual language’ - when you draw enough you naturally develop your own style, even if you don’t see it yourself. I quite often get told that I have a distinct style that people recognise but I honestly don’t see it myself. Be confident in your work and try not to compare yourself to others - there’s so much talent out there but everyone is unique in their own individual way :)