“Secret Dog” – A fascinating adventure by Olga Demidova

“Secret Dog” is a book by Russian author Stanislav Vostokov telling incredible adventures of a talking dog and his friends crossing many sides of life in Russia. The one who brought all these characters to life and constructed such a delightful world for “Secret Dog” is the talented illustrator Olga Demidova.

Born and raised in the same world with “Secret Dog” – Russia – Olga first studied at the Moscow Art Institute of Applied Arts. Later she worked as an animator, but changed shortly back to illustration due to her enormous passion for this medium. Most of her work is children’s books published in Russia, Belarus, and the US. Olga’s style differs from one work to another, not significantly, but more adaptably. With “Secret Dog”, she went full force with texture-brushing and character designing.

Olga has a special way to make all her characters have an undeniable charm. Yep, even the bad guys. For the ‘good guy’, or our hero – the ‘secret dog’ – here, he looks all mysterious and goofy with that one black eye, yet he has a clever egde to him in the way his body moves and the manner in which his four legs work flawlessly as a human’s limbs. It’s a nice, subtle way of conveying the fact that he, after all, is a talking dog!

The world of “Secret Dog” is extraordinarily beautiful, thanks to Olga’s adept manoeuvre of textures. There is some amazing touch: the rough walls, the diffusing light, the faint smoke, the scattering clouds, all become so tangible and cordial that you feel like you can almost touch them. What’s more, the variety of thick and thin lines and many muted tones of colours create a deep and rich atmosphere all around.

Scroll down to see some of Olga’s great artwork for “Secret Dog”. You can also see more on her website, blog, Facebook, Instagram, Behance.

This blog was first published on Kuvva blog.

“Secret Dog” – A fascinating adventure by Olga Demidova

“Bear With Me” – The adventures of a travelling sketchbook

“Bear With Me” is a charity collaboration with the best illustrators in the UK, initiated by author and illustrator Jason Ruddy. All proceeds go to the charity Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Between October 2012 and November 2013, the hardback sketchbook travelled over 1000 miles across the British Isles to visit 30 illustrators. Each of them continued the story about the adventures of a red bear in their own way. The result was a unique picture book where you can find the work of most of the biggest names in the UK’s illustration world. See the pages and sketches of “Bear With Me” below!

First of all, the book’s foreword was written by Sir Quentin Blake, together with his interpretation of the bear:



Catherine Rayner – week 1

First stop was Edinburgh. There the talented illustrator Catherine Rayner made the first visualization of the red bear, who she also named Lawrence. It’s a fantastic piece to begin with. The whole focus is on the bear, and you can only catch a glimpse of what’s going to happen to him.

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Emma Chichester Clark – week 2

Second stop was London. Emma Chichester Clark continued the journey of Lawrence the red bear beautifully. You can feel the wind breezing by and the bear’s itch for an adventure. An awesome adventure.


Sarah Warburton – week 3

In Bristol, Lawrence the red bear fell indeed in an adventure under the brush of Sarah Warburton. This spread page is amazing with a mix of materials from pencil to watercolour. Sarah’s main interest is in the character, movement and expression.

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Leigh Hodgkinson – week 4

This spread done by Leigh Hodgkinson shines vibrantly. Her signature collage with fabric stitched to the page is hard to miss. This crafty creation elevates Lawrence’s journey to a totally different level.


Chris Haughton – week 5

It thrilled me to see Chris Haughton’s take on the adventure of the red bear. His paper-cut-style illustration is as brilliant as ever. The twist he brought to the story is so classic. How many times would you suddenly remind yourself “I left the cooker on!” while going on a grand adventure like Lawrence?


Alex T Smith – week 6

The book stayed with Alex T Smith in Coventry in the 6th week. His take on Lawrence’s adventure is adorable beyond words. He’s also the first to break the spread page into two separate pages. More momentum on the way!


Sam Usher – week 7

Below is just one from the pile of sketches and colour tests Sam Usher had done for his spread page. No kidding. He painted and painted everything again to perfection.


Christine Pym – week 8

This week the book took a trip to Derbyshire to meet Christine Pym. Her way of illustrating Lawrence is so precious. I absolutely love the minimal edge of this page.


Matt Robertson – week 9

Love the twist Matt Robertson took on the black birds from Christine Pym here. From tea time to top hats, the Norwich-based illustrator added a bunch of endearing details to the story. Not to mention those lovely shades of red…


Gemma Correll – week 10

For the first time since its journey, the book got delivered by hand from Matt Robertson to Gemma Correll. Being neighbours is great, isn’t it? Lawrence the red bear’s journey wasn’t easy, but it’s all for the excitement! Gemma featured an encounter between Lawrence and the bees, then he ended up like this.


Neal Layton – week 11

An amazing thing about “Bear With Me” is that each spread page looks totally different from the rest. This week is no exception. Neal Layton in Portsmouth turned the spread page’s orientation from landscape to portrait, made Lawrence much much smaller, and added a bunch of exciting characters (including a QR code).


Kate Hindley – week 12

Then the book travelled to Birmingham and met the talented illustrator Kate Hindley. This spread page from her is particularly endearing thanks to the beautiful coloured pencil work. Even the monster looks so amiable.


Clive McFarland – week 13

“Bear With Me” travelled overseas to join the paper cutting master Clive McFarland in Omagh, Northen Ireland. It’s refreshing to see how Lawrence the red bear looks in paper pieces full of coloured texture.

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Catherine McDaid – week 14

Back to Buckinghamshire, Lawrence went to the beach with Catherine McDaid. The watercolour work is so vivid and lovely here. The red bear must have had a very good time!


Mike Byrne – week 15

It’s half way! Let’s celebrate by cheering for the 15th artist – Mike Byrne. His take on the red bear is, well, much less red than any of the previous versions, but with no less charm or vibrancy.


Ben Mantle – week 16

The Brighton-based illustrator Ben Mantle took Lawrence to a completely different place this week. The cave was not half as scary as it would be, thanks to Ben’s lovely, soft brushstrokes.


Holly Surplice – week 17

The book kept going south till Henley-on-Thames and met Holly Surplice. There are so many wonderful details in Holly’s visualization of the red bear. The colours are super rich, the characters are captivating, and who doesn’t like a Merbear?

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Steven Lenton – week 18

Steven Lenton went on full force with the Merbear and made a delightful spread page here. It’s fun to see how big the Sea King is, and how the seahorses are taking care of his beard, scales, and manicure.

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Jim Field – week 19

The book stayed in London for another week to visit Jim Field. The talented illustrator produced two super inspiring pages about Lawrence. The way he used dip pen to draw the bear’s fur is extraordinary. Don’t think I’ll ever get enough of it.

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David Roberts – week 20

Still hanging out in London, “Bear With Me” knocked on the door of great illustrator David Roberts. David gave Lawrence’s adventure another twist. A divine twist. Really love how he used various shades of red on different characters while keeping them distinctively apart.

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Sam McCullen – week 21

Goodbye London, the book went to Camberley, Surrey. The pastel master Sam McCullen living there drew an all-fluffy-adorable Lawrence on his way to stardom. It’s fantastic to see the reappearance of earlier characters like the octopus and the black bird.


Benji Davies – week 22

The book travelled to London again for the next three illustrators. This week it stayed with the director turned illustrator, Benji Davies. What a coincidence, as Lawrence was finding his limelight. Benji showed him how quickly the showbiz could turn awkward.


Sarah Horne – week 23

Lawrence’s acting career took an unexpected turn with Sarah Horne’s illustration of his scene. There was much suspense going on here. Cliffhanger!

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Kimberley Scott – week 24

Next stop is Kimberley Scott. She gave Lawrence a makeover with amazing ink line-work and radiant colours. Although the red bear was in trouble here, it’s a delight to see him cope with it.

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Katharine McEwen – week 25

The red bear had lots of fun with Katharine McEwen. The same went for her, since she finds bears very enjoyable to draw. Just look at those colours and shades. Mesmerizing, isn’t it?


Mark Chambers – week 26

Mark Chambers’ first self-authored picture book was “Brian the Smelly Bear”. He must have known one or two things about bears now. His chapter of Lawrence’s adventure depicted a wet end for the Rat Run ride.


Jason Ruddy – week 27

The red bear seemed to come back to his forest in Jason Ruddy’s illustration. What a great place with many great friends waiting for him.

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Lydia Monks – week 28

Lawrence really wanted to go home. And Lydia Monks visualized it charmingly. The Sheffield-based illustrator did a wonderful combination of various textures and simple shapes. The mood is incredible.

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Chris Riddell – week 29

The book went to Brighton again to pay the legendary Chris Riddell a visit. The talented illustrator made such a brilliant artwork for “Bear With Me”. Lawrence was there being all big and afraid, while the little girl was small and brave.

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Ed Vere – week 30

To tie ‘porridge’ back to the beginning of the story and make it all a full circle is a great feat done by Ed Vere. The look on Lawrence’s face and Rabbit’s are priceless.

That’s all. Pat yourself on the back for bearing with Lawrence all the way here. 30 illustrators have created this extraordinary series, but the journey isn’t over yet. Follow Lawrence’s next step on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, & Pinterest!


This blog was first published on Kuvva blog.

“Bear With Me” – The adventures of a travelling sketchbook

5 reasons why Room to Read can change the world with picture books

At least 300 million children out there don’t have the opportunity to learn to read and write, let alone further education. Bringing literacy to this group means changing their lives, and the future of the world. Back in 1999, John Wood founded the nonprofit organisation called Room to Read to help children in developing countries acquire literacy. Room to Read’s two cogent programmes to realise this vision include Girls’ Education Program and Literacy Program. The later entails School Libraries, Quality Reading Materials (formerly known as Book Publishing), School Infrastructure, and Reading and Writing Instruction.

I’ve collaborated as a writer in the Quality Reading Materials programme of Room to Read Vietnam since 2013. I can’t tell or write enough about the wonderful things this programme has done, not only to the local children but also to everyone who is involved. Earlier I had an in-depth conversation about this with Phong Le, country director of Room to Read Vietnam. Today I want to present the five reasons why Room to Read’s Quality Reading Materials programme works out so well, with excerpts from Phong Le’s part of the conversation.

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A creative writing workshop session for Vietnamese writers and illustrators.

1. The books are written by local writers and illustrated by local artists. They bring their knowledge of the native language and visual cues to the game.

“By the time we started the book publishing programme, we saw that the translated books available in the market weren’t suitable for our goal – assisting children in learning their native language. So we work with Vietnamese writers and illustrators through creative writing workshops and conferences to build capacity for writing and illustrating children’s books. The writers and illustrators also benefit from that, and it’s long-term. It would be a shame if we didn’t have our own team making stories for the children of our own country.”

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Students eagerly read a new book published by Room to Read Vietnam.

2. By providing books relevant to the local children’s reading level, Room to Read encourages their interest in reading. The more they read, the more they learn, the more their future changes (Dr. Seuss agreed).

“Our programme’s target is early readers. We have to make our books engaging and suitable for children at that age, in order for them to develop an interest in reading. As long as they like the books, their reading skills will improve.”

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Trang Hoang from Room to Read Vietnam read a book draft to a student.

3. Room to Read’s quality control is top-notch. They field test all their stories before printing to gauge the children’s reaction to the text as well as the illustration.

“We have a selection committee (with members from the local book publishing, reading and writing, and library programme) to select the best stories. After that, illustrators will make a rough draft of the books and we take those to do field test. We went to the schools, read the stories to the students and asked for their opinions. Do they like the story? Are there any words hard to read? Do they like the illustration? We also asked the teachers and even the parents of the students. Then we adjusted the books according to those feedback. After delivering the books to the schools, we would research whether the students often read the books.”

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Students read books during recess.

4. Room to Read surpasses local publishers at delivering beautiful, high-quality books to rural schools’ libraries.

“We clearly see that children are always happy to receive books, especially beautiful and interesting books like ours. We put lots of effort and time in them. The local publishers appreciate and support Room to Read’s ideas, for they can’t do the same. From a business perspective, high quality of papers and printing with illustration in every page (like what we do) means that the price of each book would be too expensive for most parents to afford.”

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A student reads a new book published by Room to Read Vietnam.

5. Cultural relevancy is important, but the most crucial thing is the quality of the story & the illustration.

“At the beginning, we prioritized stories telling about Vietnamese customs and culture. Because we wanted the books to be relevant to Vietnamese kids. We still support these themes, but the most important thing is that the stories have to be interesting. For Room to Read, children have to have interest in the stories. We can’t make a boring book about all there is to know about our traditions but no kid wants to read it.”

Curious about the books Room to Read Vietnam has published? Below are all the published titles in 2014. And 9 out of these 10 talented Vietnamese artists are the ones making all those beautiful illustrations for Vietnamese children, and of course, realising the mission of Room to Read: world change starts with educated children.


This blog was first published on Kuvva blog.

5 reasons why Room to Read can change the world with picture books

“Mad About Monkeys” – An incredibly pretty book by Owen Davey

I’ve always loved the top-notch, gorgeous books published by Flying Eye Books. This time is no exception. “Mad About Monkeys” stole my heart right at first sight with splendid illustrations by Owen Davey.

Being a successful illustrator, Davey has illustrated 3 outstanding picture books with Templar, plus the beautiful puzzle game “TwoDots”. Not sure if he had much practice with monkeys before, but Davey has done a bunch of them justice in “Mad About Monkeys”. They’re lively, funny, and full of characters. Very engaging.

For this book, Davey used subdued colour palettes that are very pleasing to the eyes. They illustrate perfectly the various tones from more to less vivid monkeys, from the smallest Pygmy Marmoset to the largest Mandrill. His brilliant combination of shading and texture that is just enough to show the identifiable features of each monkey, while retaining the simplicity of the shapes. Got to love those shapes. They’re so minimal, yet tell so much about the signature pose and habits of each monkey.

The overall aesthetic is very elegant and modern, yet stays true to the genuine nature. Hats off, “Mad About Monkeys” is a stunning artwork to behold. Besides, it’s full of interesting facts and information about different monkeys’ behaviours, habitats and adaptations. Double win! I’m now mad about both monkeys and Davey.

Let’s buy the book here.

“Monkeys, monkeys, monkeys! Ever wondered about our simian friends and what makes them so special? With over 250 species inhabiting our planet, this book explores the many different types of monkeys and provides all the facts you wanted to know and more. Discover where monkeys come from, how they swing from tree to tree, and why they fight and play with each other. After reading this beautifully illustrated book, you’ll soon be raving mad about monkeys!”

This blog was first published on Kuvva blog.

“Mad About Monkeys” – An incredibly pretty book by Owen Davey

“The Middle Of Nowhere” hand-drawn comic by Alex Griffiths

This hand-drawn, self-published comic is Alex Griffiths‘ first attempt at making narrative-illustration book. It tells an adventure of a fox following a call from an anonymous letter. It’s a melancholy experience to witness and to behold.

“My work is strongly influenced by traditional children’s book hand-drawn and whimsical illustration. I particularly love the work of E.H Shepard, his drawing style was so natural.” – Alex shared.

Alex made all the artwork in the book just by pen on paper – a classic of all classics. The monochrome tone and rough rendering create a distinct texture for the book. You perceive the toughness of life there, as well as a touch of tenderness in the design of the characters. As Alex did shading entirely by hand, every scene is filled with contingency and tactility.

This isn’t the first time the London-based illustrator starring animals in his artwork. He just loves drawing them, especially a suit-clad fox smoking a pipe and a long-limbed, somber monkey. They lend themselves well to anthropomorphism, and especially the style Alex works. Around them, Alex creates an incredibly detailed world that crosses between fairy tales and fables. It can be very simple, natural, and raw as the style suggests. It can be dark and melancholy as the expressions and body language as the characters show. There is absolute no text besides the pictures. We readers are trusted to imagine the rest of the narrative. So you have your very own version, a unique connection to the book that nobody has.

You can buy “The Middle Of Nowhere” book on Alex’s webshop. Here is a walkthrough.

The cabin in the wood is my favourite piece. The perspective is just so great. You get that lonely and isolated feeling in the middle of nowhere. The sky is barely visible, which emphasizes the vastness and endlessness of the forest.

Although the fox met many animals on its way, there was an unshakable mood of loneliness around it. On a positive note: the book ends with the scene of the fox being together with a friend.

This blog was first published on Kuvva blog.

“The Middle Of Nowhere” hand-drawn comic by Alex Griffiths