1. Interview with Dan Ungureanu

    by
    ,

    To celebrate the release of the first book in the Sir Foxley-Fox series, General Falconius Fox and the Roman Invasion of Britain written by Andrew Lauder and illustrated by Dan Ungureanu, The Lounge was given the wonderful opportunity to interview Dan about the book and his process.

    Can you tell us about your path into professional illustration?
    My first attempt to illustrate a book was in 2010, when I was invited to work on a small poem book for children and I couldn’t refuse the challenge. Before that project I had worked as a storyboard artist and character designer for an animation studio, so I found it very easy moving from one field to another. Also, in the past few years I had the chance to experiment different techniques and mediums, from painting (my bachelor degree) to graphic design and app design.

    In 2013 I decided to enrol in the MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art, feeling the need to learn more about the field. It was one of my greatest experiences as I learned a lot from the great tutors and colleagues. During the course I found the courage to write my own stories. My first written and illustrated book will be launched in the spring of 2016, called “Nara and the Island” published by Andersen Press. During the two years I spent in Cambridge I entered several contests for illustrators. I was highly commended in 2014 at The Macmillan Prize, my work was exhibited at the Cheltenham Illustration Awards in 2014, and I was 2015’s V&A Illustration Student Award Runner-up.

    What was it about the Sir Foxley Fox stories that attracted you to the project?
    The first thing that attracted me was the idea to illustrate a novel for kids, as I had never had the chance to work on such a project. Then the idea of animal characters along with humans in the same image stimulated my imagination, and when I found that the story was historically based, I knew I had made a good decision. Considering the non-fictional aspect of the text, I really researched the clothes, architecture and landscapes for the project, which was something I really enjoyed doing.

    With many memorable Fox characters throughout history, what steps did you take to make Sir Foxley Fox unique?
    As the story is based on true facts, I couldn’t stylise the characters too much, so I tried to have a more realistic look at both the fox and human characters. The process of creating the fox character was easier as the description in the text gave me enough details. I immediately envisioned the look of both Sir Foxley-Fox and Falconius from the first reading.

    Can you describe your creative process for the book?
    Andrew sent me the prologue in order to familiarize me with the characters and the text. I drew the first page, the one with Mr. and Mrs. Foxley-Fox sleeping and holding paws, where I tried to set the character’s appearance, the Victorian age by clothes style and all the other details. We agreed on these aspects, so I started sketching the full page images and the vignettes. As the text describe all the scenes so well, and is based on historical facts, it was pretty easy to put together each image.

    Can you describe your working environment and the main illustration tools you use?
    In almost all of my projects I mix techniques. I like the complexity of pencil marks, from soft lines to dark shades. I like to emphasize these tangible effects with limited digital colour pallets. So my main tools are pencils and Photoshop, but for other projects I’ve used watercolours and coloured pencils as well.

    What has been the most satisfying part of the project?
    Working on this project was a joy, from the first drawing right to the last one. I think the most enjoyable part was the research and the wide range of scenes I had to illustrate. So, with each image I had to work on different aspects, things that made the process very diverse and complex.

    What are some of the new things you have learned?
    Besides the historical facts from the text, it was a good challenge to match the images with the text. The pacing of images is different in novels than in picture books for instance, so I think I’ve learned how to adapt illustrations to a novel book.

    What was the best bit of creative advice given to you?
    Draw, draw and draw. The first part of my first year in Cambridge was marked by the observational drawing, and then I learned that the best created images are rooted in observation. After a month of daily observational drawings, new characters and situations came to me much easier than usual.

    We love sharing inspirations and likewise hearing other people’s. Can you tell us 3 of your favorite illustrators and why?
    The list is very long and various, and is very hard to find just three illustrators. But if I must, I would say Shaun Tan for the lyrical and silent images, Alexis Deacon for the storytelling of his compositions and the quality of his work, and Emily Hughes for the playfulness and childish approach to the illustration.

    Are there any illustration projects would you love to do in the future?
    I would love to work on a classic novel like “Wind in the willows” and I would like to finish my non-fiction graphic novel about my friend Eli.