Olly Blake is a Storyboard Revisionist at Brown Bag Dublin working on multiple award winning shows. But that's not all! In his spare time he's also been working on his very own passion project - and we are delighted to share the great news that Olly has written and illustrated his first-ever children's story, and it's AWESOME!
We caught up with Olly to chat about the whole experience producing his storybook and to take a deeper dive into 'There's Mud Puddles Everywhere!'.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Olly Blake and I am an animator and storyteller. I live in Dublin working in the field of animation, doing storyboarding for Brown Bag Films here in Dublin. My main passion is storytelling through drawing.
Was writing and illustrating a book a lifetime goal of yours? And which is your first love writing or illustrating?
I learned how to draw first. I was always holding a pencil in my hand since I was a kid, I remember drawing a lot with friends who did art also. I was big into reading stories but never really did much creative writing, it’s only later in life that I have delved deeper into the written word.
When I started working on ‘There’s Mud Puddles Everywhere’, it was early in my career as an illustrator. I would work on it in between freelance jobs. The name for the book and my brand back then was ‘Mud Puddles’ and this was a joke about how all the watercolour paintings would turn out looking like! I got better with time though.
What kind of books do you read?
Ordinarily, I will read many types of literature to keep my mind fresh with ideas for a story, I will read novels about fictional stories or graphic novels and children's book.
I love the work of Tomi Ungerer, who was a very courageous children's book illustrator/writer. He grew up during world war two and knew what it was like being on the wrong side of history. He did children's books that would often challenge people's views, making unlikely creatures the main protagonist, like a snake or a crocodile or a pig.
I also read the book: ‘The Hat Hunt’ by Sven Nordqvist, who put so much detail in his story that I still find new things every time I read it. I'm interested in a lot of Japanese writing and culture as well.
Tell us a little bit about 'There's Mud Puddles Everywhere'...
The book tells the story of an Irish boy named Simon, who loves puddles and splashing in them. But when his house sinks into a giant mud puddle Simon must go on a journey that will excite young and old readers alike.
The main tone of the book is fun. It is not an educational book but more of a fun adventure story that will, hopefully, encourage rereading. I added little things in the backgrounds, fun side stories for the more observant reader to notice, inspired by Sven Nordqvist.
What are some of the obstacles you faced during the process?
I have had many obstacles in creating this book. Mostly it was hard overcoming my desire to make every part of the book perfect. Nothing seemed good enough, which caused me to delay finishing the book and made me do rewrites. I managed to create 3 versions of the book.
The first one I made quickly, which was a good decision in retrospect. The first version I printed was a hard copy book and it looked like a finished children’s book. I brought this with me to conventions and showed it to real professionals and some gave some harsh truths about it, which I definitely needed. Later, I completely rewrote everything and lost the core of the idea that had made the book interesting. I had to return to the first book and start again on my third attempt. I was very fortunate to have close friends and family that saw something there that was worth pursuing and they told me to get it finished.
How long did the book take to complete?
It took about 3-4 years to make, however I must point out that I did this in my spare time and there were gaps where I put it aside and did nothing with it.
Who is your book aimed at?
The book is aimed at children 4-8 and it’s intended for adults to read to their kids. I hope that the children who read this book get to look at the images and try to figure out the subtle background stories as they progress. The book is inspired by books that I loved reading again and again because they had these little background stories that evolved over the course of the book.
What advice do you have for someone looking to produce their own book?
Stay with the first idea that sparked your interest. For me, it was having fun splashing in mud puddles and imagining a world that was just mud.
It doesn’t take much to come up with ideas but some are distractions when all you need is one good one. Also, get it finished and show it to as many people as you can and see what they react to. I did this early on and it helped my book get better. There is no point in keeping a story to yourself because you’re shy about showing it to others. Just get out of your comfort zone as soon as possible. If people don’t like it, then you need to go back and find out how to make people like it. That is your responsibility!
How do you develop your work and skill set and what motivates you?
I try out a lot of new techniques and art mediums. I enjoy buying new art materials and exploring the direction they take me in. I really like to be traditional and get away from the computer. It’s not work for me when I do personal illustrations, they are my hobby. I draw the people and places around me at home and when I travel. I recently went on a trip to Japan which I found to be very inspiring. And got me in the mood to draw even more!
What tools do you use in your work and what is your favourite?
My preferred tools are ink pens and watercolour. I love to go out and do street sketching in Dublin, where I live, with my small set of colours and black ink fountain pen. I also like to add shadows using a water brush with a bit of Indian ink inside, which adds a grey.
What are some of your other creative outlets?
I play guitars—acoustic guitar, bass guitar, and ukulele.
What are your aspirations for the future… will there be a sequel?
Who knows. If this book does well then I might consider doing a sequel. I have another story I half started. But for me, I have achieved my goal of making a book about mud puddles and I think that it might be time now to develop other worlds.