"Seals on Land" Illustration

Luísa Freitas

Overview

Around January 2020 I was approached by the company Auris Tech for a commissioned illustration of the ebook “Seals on Land” by Karolina Ros Olafsdottir. Auris Tech is a company that specialises in voice recognition softwares, in the development and deployment of ASR (Adaptative Spectral Reconnaissance) and offer mass-market solutions applicable in various sectors across education, health, language and entertainment. Recently they have created a program in partnership with the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics, that recognises children’s read speech. This program was turned into the app Fonetti that serves the purpose of aiding children with literacy issues, focused on improving reading, enunciation and spelling.  

I was immediately captivated by this fascinating project, not only because I was curious as to how the software functions, in terms of the visual work in conjunction with voice activation, but mainly due to the company’s aims and aspirations that consist in improving people’s lives, while also using Art as an essential part of the process. The app features a vast collection of ebooks created specially for different age groups, and therefore easily accessible to different audiences.

 

Scientific Look

Since the ebook is telling us the adventures and misadventures of baby Harp Seals I was concerned with scientific accuracy, so as to inform and educate the reader visually on these characters and the place hey live in. In the tale the seals reside near a vague human inhabited island resembling Greenland, and with that I started my work by doing research on this species of seals as well on the geography and landscape of places such as Greenland, Eastern Canada and North Coast of Russia, where these seals are known to frequent. My computer was soon packed with hundreds of photograhps of cute baby and adult Harp Seals (which I don’t mind at all) and after a few weeks of sketching I decided upon the design of a more “teenage seal” that can present the dexterity and boldness depicted in the tale. 

Another key component to this story was the ocean environment, where the reader spends the highest amount of time in, so upon my research on underwater seascapes I compiled and mixed various elements from different photographs into each composition. The result is a dream like sequence of an underwater world that leans heavily on the fantasy side, taking the reader into an alternate fantastic location while still holding on to familiar sights and organisms.

 

Life of a Harp Seal

“Seals on Land” is a short tale about a curious, adventurous and brave young Harp Seal who drags her friends into her numerous pranks and across the ocean to visit the strange multicoloured “seals” who live on a island nearby. One of her friends is not a typical seal, and has a fin much shorter than the other, however that doesn’t stop him from joining his friends and taking part of the fun. This heartwarming tale of friendship and family warns about the dangers of going into strange places alone but in a lovely manner, getting the message across without being too scary or harsh. I particularly support the message of people with physical disabilities being able to do as much as everyone else, and was pleased to find that the new generations will grow reading about respect and treating everyone equally in spite of differences. 

Naturally, being a short story for children between the ages of 8 to 11, I adapted the designs from overly realistic into a friendly stylised drawing, accompanied by bright colours that are appealing to young audiences though maintaining the ocean’s chromatic scheme. I had the most fun in depicting the description the seals gave of their idea of a human being, that is in their minds a monstrous, funny looking creature. That chapter really helped putting me into the shoes of the young readers and focus on the lighthearted essence of this tale.

 

This project was extremely fun and made me realise just how helpful and instrumental Art can be in helping the audience in a practical way, that isn’t limited to emotional and psychological forms of expression.    

Thank you for taking a look,

Luisa

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