Illustrator Rovina Cai has created visually stunning illustrations for And the Ocean Was Our Sky. In this Q&A she gives readers insight into her process, the collaboration with Patrick Ness and how she went about reflecting this dark and philosophical tale.
Tell us about how you scored a collaboration with Patrick Ness to illustrate And the Ocean Was Our Sky?
The art director at Walker UK, Ben Norland, had seen some of my work online. He got in touch and sent over the manuscript, and we talked about the kind of imagery that would suit the book. It happily turned out that we were on the same page about the direction of the images, so I agreed to illustrate the book.
How long was your process for creating the artwork in ATOWOS?
It was about 6 months of work all up. I started with rough sketches, and then moved onto creating finals as each sketch was approved. The process was quite intensive, and involved a lot of revisions to get the images looking just right.
Did you get to work with Patrick Ness while you were illustrating the book?
Not directly – I worked with the art director, who passed along feedback from Patrick at each step of the process. Before a sketch or final was approved, various people had the opportunity to provide comments; this included Patrick, the editors, and the team at the book’s US publisher.
ATOWOS’s central character is a whale. How did you get into the mind of the whale to bring Bathsheba to life? Do you enjoy drawing animals?
The whales always felt very human when I read the story, so a lot of emphasis was placed on making sure they were depicted in a way that suggested intellect and emotion. This includes using a lot of close-up shots, focusing on their eyes, and conveying mood and atmosphere. It can be easy to assume that a book involving animal characters is a cute children’s story, but ATOWOS is nothing like that. It is quite dark at times, and touches on a lot of philosophical topics, so the illustrations had to reflect that.
Was there any scene from the book that was your particular favourite to bring to life, or that you’re most proud of?
There is a sequence of images in the middle of the book that lasts several pages, where you see a swarm of sharks slowly come across a pod of whales. It was actually the first sequence of images I created, but remains my favourite, for the eerie atmosphere and slow realisation of what is going on. Getting that right really helped set the tone for the rest of the illustrations.
Who are some of the children’s authors or illustrators that you loved growing up, or that inspire you now?
One of my current favourites is Jim Kay, who illustrated Patrick Ness’ previous novel, ‘A Monster Calls’. I’m also a huge Harry Potter fan, and his work on the illustrated editions of the Harry Potter books is incredible.
Often, illustrations are either full page, as in a picture book, or separate from the text, like chapter spots in a MG novel. But illustrated novels seem to be emerging as a new middle ground, where the images and text are woven together. I think Jim Kay does this particularly well, and he was definitely an inspiration while I was making the illustrations for ATOWOS.
What’s up next for you?
After illustrating an entire novel in 6 months, I am spending some time working on smaller projects! It’s a different kind of process to work on single images like a book cover, or spot illustrations, and I’m enjoying the change of pace.
Rovina Cai creates illustrations that evoke a sense of intrigue and she is often inspired by the past. From myths and fairy-tales to gothic novels, she loves stories that bring a little bit of magic and wonder to the present day. She was awarded the 2018 CBCA Crichton Award for Best New Illustrator. Rovina lives in Melbourne, Australia.