In the Studio with Zoe Waring
last updated 05 May 2022
With a beautiful Spring colour palette and charming character design, Zoe Waring’s illustrations in Bunny with a Big Heart really bounce from the page and bring her story to life. Join her in the studio, as she discusses her approach and inspirations for the book which is out in May and is published by Sterling Publishing Co Inc.
My name is Zoe and I’m a Children’s Book Illustrator, Author and Designer. I’m here to share a little bit about my working practice and new book, Bunny with a Big Heart.
What inspired the story?
My main inspiration for this book was my little girl Freja, now 4 - I swear she has the biggest heart I know. She asks a lot of questions and has a deep level of empathy for others. I try to protect her from most of the news, but celebrate ways we can help each other and discuss the good things people are doing. She always has a smile for that little old person sitting alone and the joy she feels from helping or doing a good deed is almost palpable, you can feel the sparkles. When Eve Adler (Executive Editor for Sterling Kids at the time) approached my agent wondering if I had any ideas around Spring themes, it all slotted into place.
Spring carries a real feeling of joy, hope and promise for me. Flowers begin to bloom, the evenings get lighter, people seem to come out of hibernation and join together - I think it may be my favourite time of year! So I leaped at the opportunity.
I pitched the idea with a brief synopsis along with two other ideas and they went for it. I still remember opening the email and bouncing around the room, much like Bunny!
We worked together (both before and after the lockdown) to develop the story. I was very open to Eve’s feedback and editorial expertise and she was fantastic in prompting me to solve problems for myself. I really love the collaborative part of the writing process, it gives me a real buzz when I know I’ve landed on the line. (I also still have total imposter syndrome, despite this being my second author-illustrated book).
Tell us about Bunny and her friends
I have drawn a lot of bunnies over the years so I didn’t have a bazillion development drawings of her, it was one of those, yep THAT is her moments! There was a bit of scribbling in sketchbooks and then some colour roughs on my iPad, which is how I always begin exploring my characters. I probably spent more time deciding on who her birdy friend would be. I initially was going to go for a blue crested bird, but then realised he may not show against the sky too well, so I went for one with lots of contrast.
The sense of place in the book is fantastic, how did you approach creating such lush environments?
This was probably one of the most playful parts of the project. I had to decide where Bunny lived. Outdoors felt natural, but she’s an anthropomorphic bunny so deserved a proper house - as did her friends. I sat at the kitchen table with my laptop looking at holiday cottages, yurts, treehouses, caravans and Hobbit houses - honestly working, not shopping for my next escape. I came across some amazing cabins and just started sketching.
The inspiration for the Spring Fair came easy. I used to love going to music festivals (don’t get much of a chance these days), but who doesn’t enjoy dancing in fields with friends. It was so fun designing the stalls for the Spring Fair, and obviously I had to sneak in a pie stall. (I do love pie).
I was lucky enough to be working on this book in Spring, so inspiration was flooding from the beautiful parks near where we live. I would often go for walks to clear my head and snap photos of the flowers on my phone, or the blossom trees in full bloom, including my own - they are just the epitome of Spring! I was lucky enough to visit Japan, during the Sakura season, some years back now and WOW. Bunny just had to have a blossom tree to hang her heart on.
The heart was a very important part of this book, I think it will make a great talking point and activity for kids. I plan on creating some hearts with blank spaces, to open up conversations - thinking of ways we can help each other and not being afraid to ask others for help, when we need too. It could be a great activity for schools, or for children with their carers.
Where did you start?
I sketch everything really roughly initially, then take photos, airdrop to my Mac and redraw in Photoshop. This enables me to easily play with composition, cutting, moving and enlarging where I need to alongside the text. When sketching I tried to keep things loose and mainly concentrate on Bunny’s emotions. She goes through a lot of them, but bunnies are very expressive and have a lot of useful features to help show their emotions. The ears come in particularly useful.
Can you tell us about your approach to colour?
I tend to choose a palette quite early on and stick with it, maybe swapping out a couple of colours as I work. For this book I knew I wanted spring colours, bright but easy on the eye, happy and joyful to reflect the text.
How did everything come together?
Once everything was approved, I had eight weeks to create the final artwork, which is pretty tight. I could have definitely spent a lot longer playing, but it did help me to focus and I’m really happy with how it came together. I work digitally, on my Wacom, in Photoshop, using textures and some shading, but I tend not to render my art too much. I like it to feel immediate and accessible to any child picking it up. My art style is usually very friendly, as are my characters, so I’m mindful of this throughout any of my projects and try not to lose sight of who the book is for.
What’s next on the horizon for you?
I am currently celebrating the release of my other latest work SuperDaisy, written by the wonderful, and truly inspiring, Rebecca Smith. This book is published by HarperCollins and all profits will be going to the Little Princess Trust.