Toucan Can!


Watch out for the crazy Toucan!

He'll dance all over you if you give him half a chance. And, what's more, he knows kung fu. Plus he's got a lot of charisma, so he's pretty hard to resist.

Toucan Can, written by Juliette MacIver and published by Gecko Press, is turning into a book even as you read this. The illustrations are all done and dusted, the amazing designer has worked her magic with the cover and text layout, and the whole shebang is being sent away to be magically printed with whatever arcane leprechaun-powered devices they use to do that sort of thing. I thought that now, in the midst all the therapeutic things I do to aid my recovery after meeting a tough deadline, in between sips of champagne, during the pauses in the interpretive dance routine devised by a troupe of intelligent Himalayan Mountain Ponies and a dozen carefully trained chickens, while the orchestra in my bathroom is pausing to tune the double bass and my personal French chef is sauté-ing more truffles for the souflee, NOW would be the perfect time to write a blog post about why Toucan nearly killed me. 

To start with, there is a LOT going on in this text. Uncles, aunts, pandas, panthers, kangaroos, salamanders, dancing, juggling, kung fu... it was hard to know where to start! Here's a sample from the text. Read it 5 times very fast without taking a breath and then ask yourself how YOU would cram so many shenanigans into the confines of the printed page. 

Yes, you can dance!
But Ewan’s aunts
cannot, cannot, cannot dance.
Auntie Shanti can’t at all, and Aunty Tanya’s much too tall.
But Auntie Anne and Candy can,
and Auntie Candy’s Panda can,
with Aunt Amanda’s salamander,
Sandy’s goose and Andy’s gander.
And Aunt Samantha’s panthers can!

Indeed. I thought so. It's not humanly possible. And that's why, for a little while, I was feeling like Toucan Can might turn into Toucan Can't. But I got there in the end. 

A crazy book needed a crazy style, and my initial character sketches were on the crazy side.

But then the publishers felt that my first attempts at a final style were much too careful and decorative, and that the colours were too weak and pretty, and that somehow, somewhere along the way, poor old Toucan had lost his mojo. 

The Original Insipid Toucan....

Tissue paper draped all over my studio!

Tissue paper draped all over my studio!

The characters naked except for a thin layer of tissue - hardly any linework covering them! The indecency!

The characters naked except for a thin layer of tissue - hardly any linework covering them! The indecency!

So I had to find a bigger, bolder, brighter style that preserved more of the energy of my early sketches.  

In the end, I hit on a way to paint tissue paper, rip it really roughly without even worrying about making it the right shape, draw the linework spontaneously over the top, and then paint a little bit and scribble a little bit more on top of that.

This forced me to loosen right up - I couldn't be precious or precise. Here's how it looks: much brighter, and bolder, and far more sass and energy. The wise old publishers were right, I think. What's your opinion?

Adding more linework, paint and colored pencil

Adding more linework, paint and colored pencil

The New, Improved, Funky Toucan!