Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle

This is my third in a recent series of illustrations based on classic children's lit. This is done with ink, scanned watercolor textures and digital media.

Hugh Lofting's The Voyages Of Doctor Dolittle is probably the best of the Dolittle books, but was racially insensitive in a way that was typical at the time, which is unfortunate, because otherwise it's a fun and imaginative book that deserves its classic status. The problematic character is Bumpo, The African prince.

There's a very even-handed summation of the book and it's controversial content:


There have been attempts to revise the text to make it more sensitive for contemporary audiences. Some comparisons between the original text and an updated version can be found:


I've included Bumpo, but have tried to portray him without the stereotypes in the original illustrations. He's pictured here with his trademark green umbrella:

And here's a detail with Dolittle, Polynesia the parrot, Bumpo, Jip the dog and Tommy Stubbins:

And another detail of a sailer arriving in a rowboat with Chee Chee the monkey and Dab Dab the duck.

And here are some of the inked drawings of the figures drawn separately from the background and later composited into the drawing:


  1. Thanks so much for commenting on my Dolittle entry and linking to my post :-) You've done some really beautiful work here! I'm itching to explore your blog further!

  2. Hi Chandra!

    Chandra is the author of the above linked very thoughtful review of The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. I was going to write a few words of my own about the book, but found Chandra's blog entry and Chandra said it much better than I could.

    I have more work on, my website if you want to see some of my other Kid's lit stuff, Chandra!

  3. Jed - I love this drawing. I like the way it works as sort of flattened areas of color. Also the texture of the water.

  4. Thanks Ethan!

    That's something I was thinking about--originally I had modeled some things out a little more, particularly the purple reflection of the figures in the water, and then gradually started flattening them out into more graphic shapes. I probably could have done this even more with some of the background stuff. It's tricky to dance around the edge of what nature actually does and what looks aesthetically good. Photography can flatten out shapes sometimes, but then pumping up the contrast in the color can add depth too. I've never seen a saturated purple shadow in a green pool of water, but it seemed to work.

    One of my regrets here is that the color is looking more computer generated than earlier pieces. I'm going to have to keep an eye on that.

  5. Great website! I love love love Spongebob Ozpants!

  6. Thanks! I had fun with that one. Probably my favorite actual paid gig (the original Oz one was a freebee). That one ended up being the back cover to the program for the "Winkies" convention.

  7. Love the two details even more than the whole, and the fact that they, too, are so finely composed says something for your overall eye for harmony.

  8. Thanks Rick!

    It is too bad that at such a small size the figures don't read as well, but I think it will look better in print.

    Speaking of print: I've had to change a few things since this post, losing and gaining in the detail department. Up close the highlight on the boat was looking VERY computery, so I had to fudge with it to give it a more natural texture. So this one looks a little better in some ways than the one that ultimately ended up on my website. I struggle with the how computery is too computery issue sometimes, and have been leaning too far into the computery column of late.

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  10. Anonymous9:56 PM

    I am read few of them and finds out that its really wonderful !

    Surely ,others will enchant me LOlzzz