Guest post from Robert Hunter, author and illustrator of 'The Jungle book: Mowgli's story'

Here at NSTBA HQ, we are very excited about the re-imagining of 'The Jungle Book' and were delighted when we were offered the opportunity to interview the very talented, Robert Hunter, about his beautiful version of this classic.

The publication of your book coincides with the 80 year anniversary of the death of Rudyard Kipling. Have you always been a fan of his work?

 I have been a fan of the Jungle Book since I was a child. I was definitely more aware of the Disney adaptation than the original text, but it was the story that I was gripped by.

 Did you enjoy creating the modern backdrop for your adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book story?

 Yes, it was great to include hints of a modern backdrop into the story. It was really fun to think about; initially I had many ideas that I wanted to include but I had a limited number of pages to use and the story had to take centre stage. For me it was great to be able to make an adaptation that would be set in present day, and hopefully that is fun for the younger audience to think about too.

 Where did the idea of creating a ‘classics here and now’ series of books, re-imagining stories for a contemporary audience, originate?

 This is something that I can’t take any credit for, you would have to ask Jenny Broom and Rachel Williams at Frances Lincoln. I believe it is there concept and a really fun one to work on. I am hoping to be asked back on another ‘Classics Here and Now’ project as it is a fun challenge to update the environment and characters and I am keen to push that side more in future books.

 Tell us more about the process you use to create your stunningly vibrant illustrations. What mediums do you use?

 I have quite a peculiar process that involves me planning the pages for the book over and over again. I like to start by writing out story beats and then assigning them to pages, then I will do lots of very small quick thumbnails sketches of each page and pick the most successful for each. After that I will produce a full-scale sketch of each page that includes more developed character and background designs. Once those sketches have been signed off I print them out and use them as a guide on a light box and produce a neat final in blue crayons, this is the final guide for me to draw the final artwork over which I do using black rotting ink and black pencil crayons. With all the line and brushwork finished I scan the final drawings into the computer and digitally colour behind the artwork and change the colour of the black mark making into colours too.

 How does colour influence your work?

 Colour can really get me inspired and excited about a project. At the beginning of the project editor Jenny Broom and I shared a few photos of locations in India to get the ball rolling, and I was immediately struck by how vibrant the colours were both in and out of the city - it was a feast for the eyes and I couldn’t wait to get started. One of the first pieces of artwork I had to produce was the cover, so that was the starting point for the colours in the whole book. I started thinking about the heat of the environment and the threat of the tiger and decided to make it as orange as possible. I decided to make the silhouette of Mowgli’s head on the cover purple, because it seemed more in-keeping with the kind of colour combinations I had seen in the fabric designs in my reference photos, plus I felt it added to what I wanted to achieve with heat, as it’s still verging on a hot colour even though it is in shadow.

 We are interested in your use of silhouette within your images. Please tell us more about this.

 I have always enjoyed using silhouettes as a graphical approach to telling stories. In this story Mowgli is hiding out in the jungle and is simultaneously being stalked by the Tiger, so I felt it was appropriate to use dramatic lighting and shadows to tell the story. I also felt that using the silhouettes again nodded towards the fabric patterns I had been looking at in my reference photos.

 Was there a character you enjoyed illustrating the most?

 Surprisingly I enjoyed drawing Shere Kahn the most, I think because I was so terrified of doing a bad job designing him that I put more time in doing observational drawings to learn the anatomy. So in the book I was able to enjoy drawing the weight of the tiger and the stripes going over the contours of its body. 

 What came first- the words or the pictures? Which did you enjoy working on the most?

 A very rough version of the words comes first and then I start to work visually from there. The two go hand in hand, so when I am writing initial ideas it gets me excited about the illustrations and vice versa, but overall I think I enjoy working on the artwork, as that’s the area I am more confident in, and I feel as though I can communicate more with the image than the writing. 

 How does your work with moving images influence your printed work? Was it satisfying to work on the book trailer and see your images come to life?

 It was an absolute joy to make a moving image teaser for the book. I do find that I will design in a slightly different way for moving images and try to frame images in a more cinematic way with more dynamic camera angles. This isn’t so present in the Jungle Book teaser because I wanted it to essentially be a moving version of the cover of the book, so it was important for me to retain the more graphic flat approach, but add depth by layering the different pieces of artwork in to create the background.

Everyone at NSTBA would like to thank Robert for taking the time to answer our questions.

Now go and enjoy the book!