12 January 2017
Sav Akyuz's I AM BEAR
Interview with Sav Akyuz
Illustrator of I AM BEAR
e: Hi Sav! What is your creative process, can you walk us through it?
Sav: I spend a lot of time thinking about the look and feel of the characters and the world they live in. I try not to force the process and, usually, ideas come to me at the most peculiar and unexpected times, such as when I’m mowing the lawn or having lunch - actually, I do find that I work better on a full stomach, like the old adage goes. I don’t always think or solve problems with a pencil and a sketchbook; I like to visualise things in my head (a large cavernous thing on top of my shoulders which occasionally churns out good ideas) as that’s a place where I can create at lightning speed. It’s only after I’ve imagined a few cool things that I start the process of trying out different styles but typically end up right back where I started. It’s a painstaking process I have to go through to see if I can come up with something different to what I had initially imagined. Once I’ve got a look I’m happy with, I storyboard the book. I am a storyboard artist by day and it’s this experience which really helps to get the visual storytelling right - or, at least, to a place which I think is good storytelling. I find that once the storyboard is in place, the rest happens quite quickly.
e: What is your medium?
Sav: I work digitally using a digital pen and tablet with various software. This is mainly because I was set up like this as storyboard artist and sort of fell into illustration. I wasn’t geared up with, nor did I have the space for, traditional media; in fact, apart from a pencil, I hadn’t touched traditional media for many years. After some initial thought (more thinking) and with a deadline looming for my first book, I had to just get on with it. Working digitally is quite a natural process for me but, for some of my upcoming books, I have managed to complement it with some traditional methods - like spray paint and stencils. At the beginning, I thought ‘digital’ was a bit of a dirty word in the world of children’s book illustration, sometimes hesitating when people asked me how I worked… but I soon got over it.
e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
Sav: This is a really tough question but I’ll give it my best shot, whilst being slightly vague and open-ended so that it could be interpreted as really cool and I know what I’m talking about. If I were saying it out loud, it would be one of those statements with the intonation of a question because, really, I have no idea what I’m talking about. However, I think the answer could well be in your definition ‘Heart Art’. For an illustration to be magical it has to come from the heart and appeal to the heart. That could be through beauty, comedy, simplicity or even tragedy, and I think that the appeal comes from the idea behind what you are trying to say in that moment. For me, the idea is the most important thing in creativity. It could be as simple as a single dot on a page or even a completely blank page which, in the wider context, could be precisely what is needed and provides that moment of magic.
e: What is your favourite or most challenging part of being a creator?
Sav: To answer both questions… it’s coming up with good ideas. I’ve already mentioned that ideas are magic but they are also the backbone of anything creative and there’s nothing better than coming up with a really cool idea and, these days, there are no barriers to being able to share your cool ideas with the world in some form. I get so excited when I’ve had a cool idea. I remember so vividly the moment I came up with the idea for ‘I am Bear’ and was so excited about it even though I was certain that nobody else would find it remotely interesting or funny. I still find it hard to believe that it’s become so popular but I do believe that’s because there are good ideas on every page. Other challenging things for me are; people not liking my amazing ideas and, my enemy, colour. I’m pretty much self taught as I have had no formal painting training or education, so I really struggle with colour.
e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
Sav: I’m working on the hilarious sequel to ‘I am Bear’ with my good friend, Ben Bailey Smith. The idea behind the book took a while to get right. We went through a variety of ideas and scribbles but, eventually, had to take a step back and not think about it too much. Several months later it came to us in a flash, much like the first book, and everyone is super excited about it. I’m thankful to already be living a dream by having my books published but if I really had to put it out there, I’d say having Bear come to life on the big (or small) screen would pretty much be my dream project.
e: Thanks Sav!
Text ©2016 Ben Bailey Smith
Illustrations ©2016 Sav Akyuz
From "I Am Bear" by Ben Bailey Smith and Sav Akyuz, reproduced with kind permission of Walker Books Ltd, London SE11 5HJ