CreativeReview

Smart About Sharks: a great new children’s book from illustrator Owen Davey

Smart About Sharks is Owen Davey’s second book devoted to a single animal – last year, he released Mad About Monkeys, an illustrated guide to the world’s 250 species of monkey.

His latest offering is a beautifully illustrated compendium of facts about sharks, from what they eat and how they hunt to the number killed by humans each year. It also provides a look at more unusual species such as the carpet shark, which is covered in small tassels.

Each page is packed with detailed and engaging artwork helping younger readers make sense of facts and figures. A scaled diagram compares the sizes of different shark species while an annotated illustration of a reef shark highlights the physical features that make it such an efficient predator:

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Smart About Sharks by Owen Davey, published by Flying Eye Books
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Smart About Sharks by Owen Davey, published by Flying Eye Books

Davey spent several months researching the book – “It proved to be just as challenging as Mad About Monkeys,” he says. “Although I had learned lots of strategies for finding out what I wanted to know, and had a rough approach to the book laid out by the stylings of Mad About Monkeys, it turns out there is a lot less information that we seem to know about sharks. Because we are land-dwelling creatures, they’re just further out of reach and it’s very common for sharks to appear and disappear while icthyologists (fish scientists) are attempting to study them,” he adds.

Davey also spent a great deal of time researching the appearance of various sharks, scouring the web, watching documentaries and visiting a couple of Sea Life centres to study them. “Most sharks aren’t great for drawing from life though – they’re not great at staying still,” he adds. While illustrations are fairly accurate, he says there are not designed to be “completely anatomically correct”.

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Smart About Sharks by Owen Davey, published by Flying Eye Books
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Smart About Sharks by Owen Davey, published by Flying Eye Books
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Smart About Sharks by Owen Davey, published by Flying Eye Books

“I’m trying to get people interested and excited about these animals. Nobody will read my books and be an expert. I mean, I’m nowhere near and animal expert…. I’m hoping these books will ignite a curiosity in people so that they find out more on their own; watch documentaries for themselves, or read books, or visit the animals, or even try and help with some conservation of them,” he adds.

In between illustrating children’s books (he says he has a whole series planned with Flying Eye), Davey has also been busy creating artwork for award-winning apps Two Dots and Robot Factory.

For Robot Factory, he illustrated a vast catalogue of robot parts which children can mix and match to design their own robot. Puzzle game Two Dots is an ongoing project – Davey has been creating landscapes, maps and postcards for it for two years, illustrating arctic tundras, fiery landscapes and woodland scenes.

“It’s really different working on apps than it is for print,” he says. “When you work on a book for example, stuff like the gutter and the page turn become hugely important. Everything is static and fixed, and usually printed in CMYK so has a limit to what colours can be achieved. Apps on the other hand have the ability to have everything moving, and you can kind of do whatever you like with them.”

“I love both. I like the restrictions imposed by books because it makes me have to problem solve,” he adds. “Having something physical and tangible at the end is hugely satisfying. But it’s awesome how in apps, the finished product can look very close to what you have on your screen in the first place.”

Davey admits working on apps takes some getting used to – “It’s not a case of ‘bam, this is the final product. Print it’. I have to send them stuff which they manipulate and fiddle with and animate etc. Some bits don’t turn out quite how I envisaged, while other bits are way better than I ever imagined. It’s a strange skill to learn, letting go of your artwork,” he explains. Offering some advice for illustrators looking to work on apps, he says – “just have fun with it. And if you’re collaborating, try not to get too attached to your original artwork, because it will inevitably change so that it’s fit for purpose.”

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Spread from Mad About Monkeys by Owen Davey, published by Flying Eye Books
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Character illustrations by Davey for Mad About Monkeys

Smart About Sharks is published by Flying Eye and costs £12.95. More info about Robot Factory here and Two Dots here.

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