Drawing mutant carnivorous plants: a chat with Sabrina Malcolm

How do you turn ordinary looking plants into walking, talking mutants? That’s what the wonderful illustrator Sabrina Malcolm has to do in The Fly Papers books. I asked her a bit more about how …

sabrinaWhen you start coming up with ideas for turning particular carnivorous plants into sentient mutants – what are some of the things you think about?

Sabrina: I always need to think about how the creature will move around, and how it will perform whatever actions are required by the story. Dion’s roots, for example, became his way of getting around; and his traps came in handy for things like opening louvre windows.

The eyes have always been particularly important, because they’re one of the most important ways of showing the creature’s thoughts and emotions. Other parts of the creature can be helpful with that, too — for example, Dross’s leaves can look bedraggled, or lively and excited; and similarly with his eye stalks.

Of course, these things are always decided in consultation with the author and designer!

dionDo you use real plants or photos for reference (or both)?

Sabrina: I use real plants when I can, but photos can be useful too, especially if I’m drawing while a plant has died down for the winter. Venus flytraps, for example, can look very poorly during the winter months.

How do you make the plants’ eyeballs express emotion?

 Sabrina: Eyelids are the crucial thing: without them, it’s much harder to show emotion. They can take on some of the job of eyebrows — pulling down for a frown, narrowing together to show suspicion, or rolling right back in fear.

The eye stalks can be helpful, too — if they’re rearing back, it can convey fear, and lunging forward can show aggression.

Okay, if you were Bette Noire – and you could create a mutant plant or animal in your lab – what might it be?

 Sabrina: A cow with cheesecake-flavoured milk. Oh, and edible brussels sprouts.

 

Sabrina is the illustrator of all The Fly Papers books, and also an author. Last year she wrote and illustrated a beautiful picture book: Blue Moon Bird.

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