Picture book illustrations can transport the reader into the heart of a story. Della vanDokkumburg achieves this feat in her latest book by using the lumpish medium of plasticine for her artistic creations.
The Conestogo-based artist and writer recently launched her second book, The 12 Feasts of Christmas, a work of fiction based on the popular Christmas carol The 12 Days of Christmas. The plasticine illustrations depict the 12 gifts, each set in a quilt panel.
“I wanted to pay homage to Woolwich Township because of its quilting heritage,” said vanDokkumburg.
Originally the plasticine quilt was to be part of an art show vanDokkumburg was having at the township administration building, displaying her recent works with the children’s clay.
A suggestion by friend to take her work and create a picture book using the images as the illustrations was too good for vanDokkumburg to resist.
The book is self-published by vanDokkumburg under her Cones To Go Publishing company and was designed, photographed, and printed by local companies in the Waterloo Region.
This is not the first time vanDokkumburg has approached storytelling using plasticine. In 2007 she illustrated a tale called ‘Obadiah Jones,’ an anthropomorphic story of the world. Those illustrations are currently on view at the township hall.
“As I was working on it I started to think how can I illustrate this in a way that I can depict the textures and the different things we find in our world, and I just thought of plasticine. So I bought my first brick and started molding my first piece,” said vanDokkumburg. “It was difficult at first but I kept working with it and as the story progressed I just got more and more interested in it as it is such a great medium to represent textures, shapes and you can blend it to create all kinds of colours.”
It took her 12 weeks to finish the Christmas quilt, one week for each panel.
“As I was working on one panel physically my mind was already going ahead to the next trying to work out all the details for that one,” she said.
The most challenging illustration for the artist was the first, a partridge in a pear tree, as it would set the tone for the books other illustrations.
“I knew that my methods would change as I proceeded and I would figure things out, but they all had to be tied in, to have a connection stylistically. I had to be careful,” she said. “I ended up re-doing the first illustration a number of times before I was finally satisfied.”
When she began to first conceive the idea of the quilt and book she knew she wanted to tie them into the proper historical context, so began by researching the story and background of the Christmas carol.
“A lot of information of the origins of the song is missing; we have to sometimes just make an informed guess as there was not a lot of documentation on stuff in the middle ages, but we do know that this is a song that dates back a few hundred years.”
In her research she found that birds were the main part of people’s diet and since the story is about feasting, she wanted to include as many birds as she could in the book.
“Food and people are the things that make a party. Along with the birds I wanted to include all the activities that would happen at a party back then and that is how I set up the book,” she said.
Portions of the sale of the book are being donated to the Waterloo Region Food Bank.
“I hope people enjoy the book, it has been a really great project and I love building bridges in the community. Since the book has art maybe it will attract kids to art and they will become interested in exploring their artistic side.”