Today I’m pleased to be sharing with you the rather lovely ‘When it Rains’ by Rassi Narika, which was originally written in Indonesian. I also have a special piece from Rassi about the process behind illustrating her book.
Kira is bored, bored, bored of the never-ending rain. You can’t do anything fun in the rain, not even reading as the pages go soggy!
When her two good friends knock on the door she quickly pulls in her wellies and raincoat and heads out to explore in the rain. It turns out there are plenty of fun things you can do in the rain if you look hard enough AND you get to have a nice steamy shower to warm up when you get home.
A great story about exploring the great outdoors and observing the wonders of nature. Surely it’s impossible to get bored, even when it rains, with the great outdoors as your playground?
This is Rassi’s second picture book and I am thrilled that she’s written a special piece giving us some insights into the process behind illustrating her story.
Drawing When It Rains, by Rassi Narika
A story about raining had been at the back of my mind for a while. I have always liked the rain: it gives me a sense of being refreshed and, when you live in a big city like Jakarta with little access to nature, it feels like nature is trying to connect with you. Even on days when the rain is a bit troublesome, like when it causes an even more chaotic traffic jam, I still find ways to enjoy it: catching the drops of water blurring my view of the road, listening to the sound of raindrops on my window, or having my own space in the bubble of my umbrella as I walk through the busy city. I cherish them all.
I came up with the story of When It Rains because I felt that rain is often misunderstood. We blame the rain for limiting our activities, but there are things that we can only do when it’s rainy outside. When I was a child, I got excited about rain because rainy days were time for adventures. So I wanted to tell a story about the things we can do when it rains. I immediately pictured a scene that I wanted to find in the book – little kids dancing in the rain – and I started developing the story from there.
The illustration process started with a storyboard, which is the visual story-making stage. I worked on the storyboard right after I’d finished the first draft of the text. Some of the text was easier to illustrate than others, because I had already imagined the visual imagery as I wrote the words. Other pages were more difficult. But in this stage I just tried to draw the first thing that came to my mind, to get going and get a sense of how the story and visuals worked together as a whole.
For the first draft of the storyboard, I didn’t think too much about colour or composition. I picked the colours intuitively without analysing how they might – or should – affect the vibe of the story. Again, I just wanted to finish making the story visually. Once I completed all the sequence, I set it aside.
After a couple of days, I came back to it. Leaving a work-in-progress for a while and then coming back to it really helps me be more objective about scrutinising my own work: it lets me see how the story flows and how the visuals fit with the text and the surrounding pages. Sometimes, I realise that a piece of text would work better with the drawing from the next two pages, so I shift it across and draw another illustration to replace the page that has become empty. At other times I realise that I like how the illustration is, but not how the text works with that particular illustration, so I rephrase the text. Then I go ahead and make a new storyboard.
The storyboard making (and re-making) is crucial to my visual storytelling process. Picture books rely on how you communicate and engage readers both verbally and visually, so it’s essential to identify what works and doesn’t work before moving on to making the actual artworks. If you look at my second storyboard, you will see that most of the drawings eventually ended up in the book. That’s because I had eliminated things that didn’t work, so what remained were ones that worked – or at least closer to what would work.
In the second storyboard draft, I started incorporating colour schemes into the drawings, so my final colouring process would be less daunting. I picked a lot of bright colours for this book because I knew there would be darker tones in the backgrounds showing the rainy day. I wanted the pages to capture the gloomy side of the weather, but also to include some cheerfulness popping up from what the characters were wearing or seeing. It is meant to imply that we can choose how we respond to days that seem unpleasant; our responses and perspectives can help us get through the day.
Making the actual artwork was both easier and more challenging than the storyboards: easier because I had most of my directions, but challenging because I like to experiment with textures and details so I was opening myself to things that might not work. I work in four stages: pencil drawing – inking – colouring – experimenting with details, and then I repeat these as I evaluate what I’ve drawn. I make a couple of alternatives of one illustration. When I’m lucky, I get it right on the first go. But I’m not always lucky.
I mostly use watercolours and gouache, with ink and coloured pencils for outlines and details. In When It Rains, I was also playing with the idea of putting raindrops separately in a different layer. So I drew all the raindrops with watercolours on a plastic sheet and layered it on top of the scenes in the digital editing stage.
The digital stage was when I put all the illustrations together to see how everything fit. As I worked on the editing, I took some time to rework the illustrations if I didn’t like how their compositions went with the neighbouring pages. I did two reworkings for When It Rains: the page with a city view as it rained both from eye level and bird eye view; they ended up being my favourites. This stage was also when I came up with the idea of sharing Kira’s world and adventure with the reader by putting a map at the end of the story.
A big chunk of the writing and conception happened in Jakarta. I completed the illustrating and digital editing while I was visiting a friend in London and, ironically, got trapped at home because of rainy days. It gave me a lot of ideas to add to the artwork though. This proves that something good can come out of the days when it rains.
What a fascinating process! I love love peeking into an illustrator’s scrapbook and seeing the beautiful final images come together and hope you have too. If you’d like to buy yourself a copy of ‘When it Rains,’ you can use this link: https://theemmapress.com/shop/when-it-rains/
*Many thanks to The Emma Press for sending me this title to review*