Behind the Book: Cress Watercress
last updated 31 May 2022
Cress Watercress hit shelves last month and has taken the publishing world by storm! Written by the author of Wicked and illustrated by award-winning Bright artist, David Litchfield, this read is a standout. We had the opportunity to hear more about the process of creating this book from David, and are excited for you to read more about this touching story.
I absolutely jumped at the chance to illustrate this book. Gregory Maquire is such an incredible author and everything he writes is brilliant. I obviously knew of him from the Wicked books but I also love Egg & Spoon. I pretty much said ‘yes’ to this book before I had read one line of the manuscript. The colors, lights, and shades of the forest jumped from Gregory’s words and I hoped to capture that within each image.
I sketched everything out in pencils and sometimes water colors. I originally drew Cress in a very cartoon-y style. I initially felt it should all look surreal and other worldly. But after talking to the art director at Candlewick we realized this wasn’t the way to go. I started thinking about the great illustrations by EH Shepard for The Wind In The Willows. The animals look realistic and recognizable.
The fact that they are in human clothes and drive cars was enough of a surreal element to make the story feel unique. The charm of books such as The Wind In the Willows and Winnie The Pooh are that you accept the reality that the author and the illustrator present. I soon changed my approach and the next set of sketches made the characters look more realistic. I’m really chuffed with the final look of the characters and it proves that sketching ideas out is an invaluable part of a project. From my experience, ideas will never arrive fully formed on your first attempt at drawing them.
Even though Gregory’s story is based on a family of rabbits, the themes are all very human. The book deals with loss, sadness, friendship and new beginnings. Cress is a very young rabbit, who due to her new found circumstances, is having to act much older than her age. The forest that she and her family are travelling through is terrifying, but she needs to keep on a brave face for the sake of her younger brother and mother.
Click below to listen to the Children’s Book Review podcast with David Litchfield, on Cress Watercress
This story has both incredibly sad and happy moments. For me the forest acted as a visual metaphor for this idea. It is full of the beauty and colors of nature. But if you look past the plants and the blooming flowers there is a hidden terror and danger. When I read the book it felt like the characters were always under threat of the fox or the snake appearing. I tried to convey this with the artwork as much as possible by mixing the beauty, color and light with darkness and an imposing fear.
I’m most proud of the double page spread of The Broken Arms Tree. For me this represents the mix of light and dark that I just mentioned. The tree is scary looking with broken, twisted branches shooting out everywhere, but there’s still color and light.
I do also really like the Two Chimneys illustration. It’s quite a scary, imposing image with the terrifying building at its center with trees and vines snaking their way around. As a fan of horror films, I had the chance to channel that interest in spreads like this one.
To be honest, I’m really proud of all of the images in the book. I think that Cress Watercress is absolutely one of favorites of all the books I have illustrated. It’s one of those projects that you actually miss drawing after you have finished. I could have stayed drawing that forest forever.
Miss April’s Behind the Book blog featuring I Color Myself Different? See here to read all about Bright artist, Eric Wilkerson’s experience in illustrating such a meaningful title! Check our blog site each month to learn more about our artists and how they came to shine so bright.