The Characters of Tamaishi : The Three

The Three is one of those “they came to me in a dream” stories. I woke up with  a vague memory of long, spiny creatures and I scribbled down the idea:

I simply wrote “the prickle grass”. They were reminiscent of the long, twisted horned grasses the were often on the edge of the beaches up north.

The Three went through a lot of transformation.  I deviated away from the initial sketch, thinking perhaps they would be friendly and helpful. As their conversation with Tama panned out, I realized their intentions are far more self-motivated. It’s lonely out on the edge of the Great Sea, and they wouldn’t want anyone to else to get away.

I went back to the drawing board, looking at more creepy eyes. Other characters have deliberately big, human-like eyes to make them friendly. The Three needed more animal eyes that were more disturbing. I studied the eyes of insects, birds and fish, which look fra more alient and menacing when you look at them closely .

The final results are one of my favorite characters in the book — with their ubiquitous thorns, beady eyes, and enormous size — they tower over Tama. My kids both get creeped out by the final image, and now there are four images that include them.


The Characters of Tamaishi : Tayoki


Early Storyboard for Tayoki

Tayoki and the Niwaki were an early addition to the story. I suppose the idea of a “wise old tree” trope is fairly hackneyed at this point, but I didn’t mind. I needed something that would make sense existing as ubiquitous as the grass, but older and much larger. It just made sense that on the edge of the valley lay a grand old forest.

The trees are the elders, and though they can’t move from where they stand, they are strong and can talk. So all the creatures of the valley come to them for advice. I pointed out quickly that they listen. I get down to the ground and look my boys in the eyes whenever I can. The trees instead use their branches to lift their visitors up right to where they can see them. That was always the point in time I wanted to illustrate, though I went through various iterations of showing either just Tayoki or other trees as well.

Before I got the suggestion to name the characters, Tayoki was simple the “Great Old Tree”. I had come up with many other names, like Ganshiki (insight + tree), Mitouki, (“unobstructed perspective + tree), Dosatsuki, (wise + tree), — all were a little too hard to pronounce. Oki (big tree) was easier but  this tree was more than just “big”.

The name Tayoki is a mash up of two kanji: “” tayoru (trust), and “木” ki, (tree). The meaning fits well. He is the tree that everyone trusts with their stories.


The Characters of Tamaishi : the Dandelions

The dandelions were an idea early on in the book. Right from the start I knew that Tama was run into them, but it wasn’t until much later that I started to craft their personalities better. It also took me some study to really incorporate a more realistic lion face onto a flower. But at some point I found it — bushy manes, long hippie beards and more human eyes again for a more friendly appearance. Their leaves didn’t just sit near the ground, but instead formed arms. And there are three different “hairstyles” — the male bushy mane, the shorter hair for the females, and the younger ones with their more puffy look.

These were some of the more time-intensive to draw, with their many many petals. The final drawing had over twenty of them, but it  was worth it — the field of dandelions is one my favorites.

The Characters of Tamaishi : Naio

Naio ended up being one of my favorite characters in the book. She is eccentric, endlessly optimistic, and enthusiastically caring about her friends.

I didn’t originally set out to make this framed around the Japanese language at all. Originally she was a he — and he was just called feather. The book was simply called Pebble. 

But even from the beginning, I knew this character was going to be one of Tama’s best friends. She has an entire chapter to herself and a reappearance later in the book.

In my original designs she was mistaken for a leaf. So… after some additional references, I added some of her more distinct characteristics: her fuzzies (a much more approachable word than barbules), her fluffy “dress” (technically the the after feather), and her striped head. Her lavish, extended eyelashes accentuate her eccentricity as she delicately balances on the calamus (seriously, I didn’t know all these parts had such dry names).

She’s been one of the most expressive characters to draw, and so much fun. I suspect that many of the MAKE/100 sketches I hope to make will be of her.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember where the name came from, but that was the point where I decided it would be female character (and perfect for my wife to play). I was searching on for meaningful words, and ended up with Na+i+o — It’s some kind of English portmanteau of Japanese kanji that I’ll probably never recall.

The Characters of Tamaishi : Kani

For the longest time, Kani had no name at all. He was someone that Tama met on the beach, but we never saw him again. Then my editor suggested that I name as many of the characters that Tama interacted with. I agreed that it would give them more presence, more relevance.

At that point I had already firmly settled on the name Tamaishi, so I started looking at for names. Sometimes, the names just work out. Kani (蟹) literally means “crab”.

Kani is a long time resident of the Great Sea. He doesn’t enjoy the task of coming to the beach to find a new home, but he doesn’t have much choice — the one he has is constantly becoming too small!  He makes fast friends with Tama when he gets a little help searching.

Originally, Kani was just too realistic, too crab like — and as such, he was too alien, too unapproachable. I gave him some large, friendly eyes and that pretty much did it.