Help me de­sign and paint a crea­ture that’s suit­able for the younger viewer

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Francesca Pink­ley, Eng­land

Nick replies

Aliens and mon­sters are al­ways fun to do be­cause you can let your imag­i­na­tion fly. How­ever, cer­tain mar­kets de­mand that you pull your wings in a bit. Chil­dren’s pub­lish­ing can be like that, in my ex­pe­ri­ence.

While many 12-year-olds and above may not be eas­ily shocked, younger minds aren’t usu­ally ready for im­ages such as slaver­ing, fanged ter­rors. Most pub­lish­ing houses I’ve worked with im­pose guide­lines to pro­tect chil­dren from such things. Pre­sen­ta­tion and ap­proach are key. Look at the char­ac­ters from multi-mil­lion block­busters such as Mon­sters Inc. Their car­toon styling and hu­mour trans­forms them to child-friendly fare – de­spite the pres­ence of fangs, claws, ten­ta­cles or any­thing else.

Mak­ing a char­ac­ter look funny is a tried-andtested method, but even with this you need to mod­er­ate con­tent to avoid any­thing that’s too adult in na­ture. Ac­cepted prac­tice is that the younger the au­di­ence, the less threat­en­ing con­tent needs to be.

This makes it a fun chal­lenge, though. Your alien can still have claws, fangs and ten­ta­cles. You must present them in a way that’s un­likely to trau­ma­tise. Look at real-life crea­tures. Con­sider tex­tures. Would a snake be less fright­en­ing, if in­stead of scales it was furry and soft? More like a draft ex­cluder with teeth. Con­sider colour. Is a pink croc­o­dile less scary than a dark green one? While slimy isn’t nec­es­sar­ily scary – just look at B.O.B., the sen­tient jelly from Mon­sters vs Aliens.

I try out bright colours and a wall­pa­per-like pat­tern on the body. A younger au­di­ence would en­joy see­ing this. A crea­ture loosely based on some­thing be­tween a slug and an anemone is my start­ing point. Ver­sion two is more threat­en­ing, and three more threat­en­ing still. Colours mat­ter.

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