Rhi Sanderson

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Ada Bell the Curious Explorer

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A little while back I had the wonderful opportunity to work with One Third Stories on one of their brilliant subscription boxes collaborating with Anna Roberts' story Ada Bell the Curious Explorer.

I've never worked on such a big project in such a short amount of time, it was a challenge but I had a blast and refined my process to work quicker!

The collaboration was such an organic collaborative experience that started from the seed of an idea: a curious explorer girl. I researched female explorers, imagining that this character had probably read all about them in books and wanted to be just like them - after researching I couldn't help being inspired by their stories and wanted to be just like them too! 

Early brainstorming

Early brainstorming

Ada Bell rough character design

Ada Bell rough character design

Early character concept

Early character concept

With a better idea of what it would mean to be an explorer, I made a list of all the things that would be needed for an explorer's kit (or rather, wanted in an explorer's kit!) I got a bit carried away thinking about jars for interesting finds and books that an explorer would have on hand. It all seemed quite an extensive kit to haul on expeditions around the world. So when it came to designing the character, I imagined that they too would have been excited about putting together an explorer's kit and include everything but the kitchen's sink - a stupidly big backpack was a must! Classic yellow explorer attire was also a must. 

The character herself needed to reflect the adventurous, bold, nature-loving explorer that was set in my mind. I thought more about when I was little with dirty grazed knees from climbing trees, unruly hair I didn't care for - up and out of the way or cut short to the chin ready for adventures. Then I thought back to when I worked at Waterstones when an interracial couple came in one day with their 5yo daughter looking for books that had strong girl protagonists that looked like their daughter. (Not many books by the way *cough* publishers take note and correct this *cough*) This girl wasn't overly keen on girly things, loved reading and being outdoors so she fit the explorer character perfectly!

As you can see above, I mish-mashed a bunch of famous female inspirations together and voila, that was how Ada Bell came to be! Doesn't it roll of the tongue and have a good ring to it? Ding dong, pardon the pun...

With the character design and sample spread approved, they were sent to Anna to weave a wonderful explorer story and when it came back to me that Ada lived on a Welsh island (like me!) and would have a hot air balloon to travel across the world in search for dodo's - I knew it was going to be special!

Ada Bell and her puffin on Skomer Island.  Process from rough, colour script, to final illustration.

Ada Bell and her puffin on Skomer Island.  Process from rough, colour script, to final illustration.

This is the first double page spread of the book and happened to be the first page I finished, it was important to set the tone and get a sense of place straight away as Ada was going to be visiting a lot of unique places in the following pages. It wouldn't be Wales without the stunning views of hilly terrain with daffodils, bluebells, and deep blue sea.

I was so thrilled to be illustrating this inquisitive character that was curious about the world around her, it brought me back to when I was about 8 when I'd be out everyday looking for new bugs for my ice cream box "zoo" I had in corner of the garden so I could watch and draw them (I remember insisting it was a zoo of freewill with no lids and inevitably all the bugs I brought back to the "luxury" new homes of dying leaves and dry sticks would, understandably, make their escape by the next day) and because of that connection, Ada Bell will always have special place in my heart - I hope Anna and I can dream up some more adventures for Ada soon!

Pen and watercolour rough of Ada flying over Amsterdam.

Pen and watercolour rough of Ada flying over Amsterdam.

Crop of the final illustration of Ada in her balloon.

Crop of the final illustration of Ada in her balloon.

You can subscribe to One Third Stories language learning subscription boxes on their website: https://onethirdstories.com/ 

Ada Bell the Curious Explorer is book nine of the course!

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