Anja's Artblog

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Katschawatscha and the Blue Puppy

Hello everyone!

A week ago I received my printed copy of a children's book I did some illustrations for earlier this year. I'm very pleased with how the printed German version of 'Katschawatscha and the Blue Puppy' came out. The reproduction of the images is outstanding (and it's very hard to please me when it comes to that!). My only regret would be that it's a tad too small for my taste but I understand that the author tried to keep production costs very low to be able to offer it at a competitive price.
Here are a few photographs:


As stated earlier this is only the German version. There is an English one available which probably varies slightly as the publisher is a different one.

For more information and to purchase your own digital or printed copy please follow these links to or respectively.

This has been quite a lenghty project and I'm glad to finally be able to talk about it here.

Tatana Fedorovna approached me last summer, asking if I would be interested in illustrating her children’s story ‘Katschawatscha and the Blue Puppy’ which is a Magical Russian Fairy Tale Adventure about ‘Brave Dogs, Courageous Knights, Elves, Tartans, a Princess and True Love’ – as the subtitle suggests. I have worked with the Russian-German author before in 2013, illustrating her novel ‘Zarin der Vampire’ (‘Tsarina of the Vampires’) so I was already familiar with her writing. This project was going to be quite different though, as the story was mainly aimed at children.

In her story ‘Katschawatscha’ is the daughter of the infamous Slavic mythology character ‘Baba Jaga’. Her mother strangely disappeared and left her offspring – who is a far cry from being a well educated witch – alone in her bewitched house that stands and walks on two chicken legs. The young witch is full of mischief and on one dull morning decides to dye a puppy bright blue. This is where the story starts. Different lines of action take their course and are all at some point connected through this bewitched blue puppy.

I grew up in Eastern Germany shortly after the DDR had been dissolved and joined with Western Germany. Books and films from the former Sowjetunion still played a very big role in that area and I vividly remember especially Russian stories as part of my childhood. Some of the old picture books I kept therefore served as reference material as they perfectly captured the cultural elements that were useful in realising ‘Katschawatscha and the Blue Puppy’.
The story itself has its roots in the famous tales about Baba Jaga but the addition and main focus on Katschawatscha, the daughter of the famous witch, puts a new spin to the classic stories and therefore a slightly more contemporary feel. In a similar way I wanted to use the old picture books to inform fresh illustrations that would feel rooted in tradition.


Character Design

The first thing I did was to design the characters. I absolutely love this stage of every project as it helps greatly to really get my head around the particular world and its inhabitants I'd like to capture visually. There is a variety of different characters in 'KatBP' and I tried to vary their designs according to their personalities and roles within the story. It was very important to me to give each of them an easily recognisable silhouette and it was fun to play around with form and colour schemes.

 This is Katschawatscha - Baba Jaga’s daughter. She is a young witch around 20 years old, which is exceptionally young for a witch..
She wants to be the talk of the town and prove to everyone that she too is a very special witch, just like her mother.
She is not exactly dumb and can read very well.
This is the Blue Puppy. It was bewitched by Katschawatscha before his birth to have bright blue furr, as dazzling as a parrot. He is the seventh puppy of Aljona, Petja’s dog and because of his strange colour he is an outsider in his family from the beginning.
Petja plans to drown the poor thing but then feels pity for him and leaves him alone at the river bank. From there we accompany our little friend on his search for a family.

This is Baba Jaga - the over 100 year old infamous witch.
She dissappeared to who knows where and left her only daughter behind.
She boasts to everyone that the devil himself is her lover and father of Katschawatscha – which, as a fact, is not at all true…

This is Petja, Katschawatscha’s real father. Neither he nor Katschawatscha know about it though.. The poor drunkard was tricked by Baba Jaga in a Pokergame.
He lives alone with his dogs and has no family because since his unfortunate encounter with Baba Jaga no woman dares to approach him.
Even his friends are dishonest louts that stab him in the back and so his best friend is the bottle.

He also is the owner of the pregnant dog Aljona..

This is the enchanting Lady Puppy whom our Blue Puppy meets in the forest. She is the daughter of a hunting dog that the imperial hunting master had selected as his favourite and the only one who isn’t alarmed by the colour of our heroes fur.

The kind King.
Wadim - the ancient servant of the King’s father who knows Baba Jaga from earlier years.

The lovely Princess.

Like every real witch Katschawatscha obviously also has a cat. Since she lives in a house on chicken I figured it only makes sense if her cat shares a similar fate. Maybe due to a witchcraft accident…Katschawatscha is not very experienced after all.
He is only mentioned in the text once very briefly but I am thinking about featuring him on every illustration Katschawatscha is one. He’ll be doing curious things and the reader can have some fun looking for him on every image. This is in keeping with the overall humor of the narrative.

For this one I even created a model out of sculpey. It's a great tool to create 3 dimensional characters out of your drawings – they can help you immensely with figuring out their look from every angle.
I didn't quite manage to finish it though as someone knocked it of the shelf at some point and it now has several cracks and lost all its was helpful making him nervertheless!

 Aljoscha Popovich - the most stereotypical hero of the narrative also based on a character from traditional Russian folklore.

A mother’s boy at the beginning he is bestowed with the gift of courage and wit by an elf and goes on to rescue the kingdom of Rus from the Tartan Kings and their armies.
He also helps to join the two dogs and marries the princess in the end.

 Aljoscha’s little sister. She’s just a supportive character but very lovely and I greatly enjoy drawing her.

The Popovich siblings.

 Ilja Muromez of Murom - a veteran warrior with supernatural strength. His companion is the strong, black mare Karuschka which is able to talk.
He becomes Aljoscha’s teacher and helper.

The General - a Royal Knight who follows Aljoscha into battle.
I then carefully analysed the narrative structure of the story. I identified 3 different main plots that intertwine with and influence each other and each has their own hero which makes it quite an unusual structure that didn’t match with any of the narrative theories I tried to apply.
In the heroic saga plot of which Aljoscha is the main character I was able to identify some of Vladimir Propp’s 31 functions but that was about it.
It was very useful however to get an idea of the exact succession of the events that partly take place at the same time only at different places. Figuring this out gave me the opportunity to integrate small details into individual illustrations that hinted at how the apparently separate plots intertwine.


 I then created the storyboard for all required illustrations and small coloured thumbnails for each of them to give me a vague idea of the overall colour scheme. These are but a few examples.


Creating the Final Illustrations

Now all that was left was to create the final illustrations. I created pencil drawings on water colour paper first, then applied the first wash of coloured ink over it, sprinkling it with salt as I went to create some interesting texture and finally I added multiple layers of acrylic paint, coloured ink and coloured pencil on top to create depths and vibrancy. I've been using really bright colours for this project which was a bit of a challenge as I usually prefer muted hues but it was a good experience and I feel much more comfortable in the use of colour overall now.
Here are a few work in progress and final images.





If you'd like to see all of them in their full glory I do recommend to buy the book. :)

Also some of the A3 sized original illustrations are now up for sale in my Etsy shop. Go and have a look if you're interested. :)

I do hope this post gave you a small insight into my journey of creating these illustrations. :)
All the best,