Behind the Scenes of "The Antlered Ship"

Seira Wilson on September 26, 2017

AntleredShip200The Antlered Ship is a Best Children's Book of September and one of my favorites this year. Dashka Slater's story, illustrated by Terry Fan and Eric Fan, is a fantastic match-up of talent which is immediately evident when you turn the pages of this beautiful book about friendship and the joy of discovering life's next adventure.

The first Dashka Slater picture book I fell in love with was Dangerously Ever After about a danger-loving princess, which my daughter and I read on repeat when it came out in 2012; and earlier this year Slater's French snail, Escargot, won me over with his humor and shiny wit.

As for The Fan Brothers--the picture book they wrote and illustrated last year, The Night Gardener, was our pick for the Best Picture Book of 2016, and I'm convinced is a classic in the making...  In The Antlered Ship every page is truly a work of art.

We asked the brothers if they had any sketches we could share with our readers, to show their process of translating Slater's story and characters into the breath-taking result of the finished book. 

Below are some before-and-after illustrations, each with captions written by The Fan Brothers, explaining how they worked on this story.  I didn't think it possible but seeing the iterations they went through and the thinking behind the images, has made me appreciate their work even more...

*click illustrations to view larger image

Some early sketches of The Antlered Ship. We were trying to find a way to illustrate the mechanism that lowered the bow of the ship. Not an easy task when it's an imaginary ship!



More early concepts for the ship. The details of the ship changed significantly, but the mood we were trying to evoke was evident early on.



We had a tough time illustrating the complex antler forms of the bow from side-view, so we ended up constructing a rough bow from clay to use as visual reference.




In the beginning we weren't certain how anthropomorphic the characters were going to look and played around with a lot of different ideas, including the characters in full costume. The lower image is an early concept for Marco the fox rendered in more of a cartoony style. We ended up going with a more realistic style for the finals.



This top spread is from the first dummy (it went through many more revisions) with the pirates as human characters. We eventually changed them to animal pirates as you can see in the final image below it. There was nothing in the text to suggest that the pirates were animals, but we decided that it made sense and liked the idea of the story being set in an alternate world of sorts, populated entirely by animals.



This is another example of how drastically images can change as the book develops. We loved the drama of this night scene from an early dummy, but the final ended up being set during the day for continuity reasons.



This is the opening spread showing the difference between an early version and the final.



Some more “before and after” from the first dummy to the final.




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