Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Guest Author - Leigh Hodgkinson

This week's guest author is Leigh Hodgkinson, who is also an illustrator and animator. Boris and the Wrong Shadow, is about a cat named Boris who wakes up from his nap having Vernon's shadow! Boris finds out what it is like having a shadow of a small mouse instead of his own. Not only is the story delightful, humorous, but the illustrations ROCK! Here's what Leigh had to say...

When did you begin writing and drawing?

I have always drawn and made stuff… as long as I can remember. A drawing or a painting or a collage or whatever, was never just that, there would always be a story to go with it… even if it was only in my head!

Can you explain a little bit of the process it takes to create your images? (Do you tend to use mixed media most of the time? Why do you use the media that you do?)

I love using an assortment of bits and bobs…. Scanning in textures (from potatoes to sequins to a nice piece of lace), using photographs, doing nice scribbly drawings and using paint and glue. What ever I feel like at the time! Then I never get bored or precious about what I create and I think (hope!) this makes the artwork feel fresh and fun. Then, once I have everything in the computer I can play with colour, scale, composition, and smarten it all up untill I get the image exactly as I want it. This way of working gives me a freedom that perhaps “traditional” artwork wouldn’t give me. I always feel little scared of a very clean and white piece of paper… I feel like I might make a mistake and muck it up. So I always like to scibble or paint or stick something on it just so stop the paper being quite so new to stop me worrying, then I can get on and enjoy being creative!

When did you begin making your images into movies and can you briefly tell the process of creating them?

I first studied animation at art school. This is when I got a taste for the magic of making things move… it got me hooked! After that, I went on to study animation direction at film school before then going on to work in the animation industry.
I make my animation in much the same way as my artwork for books and animate them in a styalised cut-out way in the computer. (where all the elements on screen are cut up into pieces so have the potential to be animated) I like working in a kind of 2.5d way! The animation is flat (2d) yet placed in a 3d environment. This way I can play around with lights, shadows and camera moves to add atmosphere and drama.

Where did you come up with the idea of “Boris and the Wrong Shadow?”

I have always liked shadows, whenever I am on holiday I always take photos of peoples shadows. I like the shapes they make, how they stretch and squish around things. Also, in “Peter Pan” I loved the bit when Wendy sews Peters shadow back on him… that idea that a shadow was part of you, but could be something detachable I found really interesting.

For me, the story isn’t just about shadows, it is about feeling happy and confident and happy with who you are. Venon tries to be something he is not, and that never works out well in the end. So Boris teaches him that being a small mouse is actually fine. I used the shadows as a way of visually showing that idea.
I also wanted to do a story where a cat and a mouse were friends. Boris is such a happy-go-lucky kind of a cat that he doesn’t care if you are a mouse or an elephant. If you are nice and interesting and fun to be with… that is all that matters.

If you could trade shadows with anyone or anything, what would it be?

Probably a giraffe…. I love their necks and would be an amazing shadow to have! I am not sure a giraffe would be so impressed with my shadow though!
When I had long hair I used to like putting it up in little scrunched up bunches that always reminded me of the funny nodules giraffes have on their heads. When I wore my hair like this it always made me smile when I caught sight of my shadow.

Do you have any pets?

No I don’t…. but I do have a little baby which nearly the same!
I really wanted a cat, which is why I wrote the origional Boris story (Boris and the snoozebox) about a cat who didn’t have a home and was sent around the world in a parcel. I would love it if a cat who didn’t have a home came to stay with me.

When I was a child we had siamese cats… and for a while, stick insects and silk worms!

What are your hobbies? (Do you love a home makeover like Vernon?)

I like swimming, listening to old records in the shed, making new things out of old things, sitting in cafes with friends, having baths and sleeping!

What do you like to do with your friends? (Tea please?)

I love having tea parties and picnics. This gives me a perfect excuse to make cakes and biscuits. A few years ago I had a “Cake-off” cake baking competition. It was fun, but there were about 20 different ones to try- everyone ate too much cake and felt a little bit sick! My husbands lemon drizzle cake won the first prize (and he hasn’t stopped showing off since!)

What advice can you give to children who love to draw and create?

Just enjoy the process of drawing and being creative. Don’t worry about whether it will be any good, don’t worry that it has to be the best thing you have ever done. Even if you make a mistake or think it is rubbish, you will learn from it. Some of  the best things I have made have come out of doing something I didn’t mean to do. For me, the experimenting and the playfulness of creativity is what I find most enjoyable. So the most important thing is to have fun with it!

Also, be confident in your own ideas and ways of being creative. There is no right or wrong. That is what is so exciting about art. There is no one else like you in the world, so your way of seeing things and drawing things is unique. It is good to be inspired by others, but try not to copy. Anyone can copy, but not anyone can do what you do.

What advice can you give teachers about going that extra step to create movies of their classroom’s illustrated work?

Keep it simple. Animation is very involved and time consuming… so quite a lot of patience is needed. Perhaps start off with good old fashioned techniques that show the potential of animation to get pupils inspired….. zoetropes, flip books, then perhaps some simple under the camera cutout characters. Digital technology is making it easier for people to make their own movies which is fantastic. But it is important to be realistic about what you can achieve in the time so that pupils don’t get dissappointed. After all, one second of animation is 24 frames… which is 24 different images!

You can check out Leigh's other books and some of her animated videos at her blog, Wonky Button.

Teach Well: Have your child choose different items around the house, scan them, and create illustrations with them.


  1. WOW! Thank you so much for sharing, Leigh!

  2. Thanks for this fabulous interview with Leigh Hodgkinson. We love her books too! We have posted the interview on our facebook page. Are you a fan yet?
    Happy Reading,
    Elizabeth Bennett
    tiger tales

  3. Thanks for the link love! Became a fan!



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