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Printmaking at Blue Apple, and In Your Home: With Nicky O'Byrne

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How do you make animals swim and fly on a page?

Artist Nicola O'Byrne's new releases with Blue Apple Books do just that. Swim and Fly use printmaking to bring the animals of the sea and the sky to vibrant life.

Nicky flew in from London to spend a week with us at Blue Apple developing new projects and offering our readers a peek into her creative process. She says she hopes these books will encourage young print-makers to grab a spoon in their kitchen and try out her favorite craft.

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“People have the perception that print-making is expensive and requires all these sophisticated materials," she says. "But that's simply not true. Anyone can do it at the kitchen counter with a wooden spoon. It's fun and accessible and every family can give it a go at home.”

With Swim and Fly, publisher Harriet Ziefert wanted to create books which invited children to scribble on them. “Books can be intimidating to draw on,” she says. “We wanted ours to have a sense of play that invites kids to doodle and daydream on these pages.”

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To achieve this friendly effect, Nicky knew she had to make the animals look inviting. As a lifelong traveller, she has seen animals all across the globe. She was born in Swaziland, grew up in Singapore, studied in Scotland, lives in London, and developed these books with Blue Apple in America. Nicky has been to nature reserves in all these countries and more, which has given her a deep expertise and appreciation for animals.

“If it's in a zoo, I've probably seen it,” she says.

Her first step when drawing an animal is to try to see it in person. O'Byrne always strives to have a 360 degree sense of her subject. “I need to get to know them," she says. "Animals tend to repeat their movements, just like we humans have our routines."

If she can't get face to face with the animal, she watches nature videos to learn how it looks and the way it moves. “The hours I've spent on the Discovery Channel!” she laughs.

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Then the printmaking process begins. Printmaking requires both a keen eye and a steady hand. O'Byrne's smallest tool is the size of the dot on an "i." She also favors a bamboo stick, which she dips in ink to create a thick line. "It loses some detail, so the tool itself is a reminder that I need to keep things simple and friendly," she says. The most important tool for print-making? “Patience!” she laughs.

Printmaking is a static medium, so Nicky's challenge is to give her animals fluidity and a sense of motion. "Circles are the most challenging when you're working with a blade," she says. "The curve of a dolphin's back or a fish's eye -- those took real resilience!"

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Art Director Elliot explains his approach to presenting Nicky's work on the page. "The soft color palette was suggested by the color in Nicky's artwork," he says. "which in Swim reflects the color and light of the underwater world. In Fly, the colors are bolder and brighter reflecting the the light in a sunny sky."

"I wanted a font that had beautiful numbers since they were going to be quite large on the page, and also had a classic feel, since the wood block style of the art suggested an older kind of printing technique. For both reasons, Clarendon fit the bill."

Nicky and Elliot also wanted to make the animals as kid-friendly as possible. "That required making my sharks appear less ferocious," Nicky adds. "No Jaws here. In the end I think we achieved animals that you would want to swim or fly with."

Nicky hopes her books will inspire families to try printmaking together at home. So grab a wooden spoon, a lemon, and dive in. Here is Nicky's step-by-step guide for getting started (click to view):

Fly Print

Swim  Print