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


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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.



Last recording session, I got some feedback from Jon, who’s playing my main character. He was the little elephant Zōchi in my first book, and he was excited to come back to be Tama.

He’s such a talent! Not only does he take direction extremely well, once he gets going he really gets into it! And along the way he gave me one really fantastic suggestion that I’m going to make a part of the story!


A picture is worth…

… all 14,000 words of Tamaishi.

While this isn’t my final design, it really helps me to see it in this form. It’s not quite this thick — only 72 pages! — but still, bigger than Zōsan was. I’ll be able to bright on some AstroBright paper (possiblyTerra Green 100C 14.8pt). The book will also come with a embossed dust jacket using the same paper.

Why not digital printing?

Why print this way?

The answer is twofold:

    1. Digital printing has its advantages, but it’s always going to be toner fused to the surface of the paper, rather than ink within the paper… and that just doesn’t look or feel as good. It’s not as archival. So sure, it may be cheaper, but it can sometimes stick the pages together over time! I’m not knocking digital, it has it’s place, and it’s just not what I want.
    2. While there are cheaper offset printing options than I’ve ever seen before out there, they get those costs by outsourcing them overseas. That has its advantages, but I prefer to work with the people directly. I met the artists who run the presses for Zōsan, and they put their hearts and souls into every proof and print. And they’re here in the US. That means something to me. The quality of their work is impeccable.


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.