Evan Turk’s The Storyteller (S&S/Atheneum, June) is the culmination of the author-illustrator’s long-held fascination both with Moroccan art and ancient modes of oral storytelling. Here, Turk shares photos from his own personal trips to Morocco, which inspired the book, as well as photos of the indigo painting process he learned while abroad.
The Storyteller began as far back as 2012, when Turk began working on the project while attending a summer workshop in DisneyWorld with Dalvero Academy, an independent school of continuing studies in art and illustration, of which Turk is a part. “Inspired by drawing and learning at Epcot Morocco [a Moroccan-themed pavilion within Walt Disney World in Orlando],” he told PW in an email, “my husband and I planned a trip to visit Morocco that fall.” Here the couple adventures through the North African dunes with two new companions.
But it wasn’t all play and adventure in Morocco. Turk spent a lot of time meeting with craftsmen and artisans from various fields to get a sense of their work and processes. Here he observes workers at a zelij mosaic workshop in Fez.
Here, some local artists join Turk in some sketching.
Turk turned his travels into sketches that would ultimately inspire the final spreads of his book. Here he depicts the mosaic workers.
Two central storylines of The Storyteller concern carpet weavers. Turk arranged to meet a community of traditional weavers in Anzal, Morocco. Here, he depicts one at her loom.
Turk’s immersion in the Moroccan landscape filled his sketchbook, and eventually found its way to the pages of his book.
Drawing from his own experience, and inspired by Richard Hamilton’s book The Last Storytellers, Turk returned home from Morocco and began sketching out thumbnails for his own book.
The early thumbnails also included the color palette Turk sought to incorporate, found in the local carpets and mosaic tiles he observed.
One locally inspired technique Turk discovered was the use of indigo and an “invisible ink” process that the artist observed. “While I was in Ait-Ben-Haddou, the UNESCO site, I met two artists who were making paintings for tourists [in this way],” Turk said.
“They painted on the paper, held it over a gas flame and the image would appear. I told [one of the painters] I was an artist, and he became excited and showed me how to do the technique and let me try.”
“The ‘ink’ was actually very sugary green tea, and the color results from the caramelizing of the sugar in the tea. After the demonstration, he shared a pot of tea (and showed me how much sugar to put in), and chatted for a while. After our tea, I went to leave, and as I had been shopping for indigo, he ran after me to give me a little ‘rock’ of indigo for good luck.”
“I had purchased some indigo powder on our first trip, which I decided to use for the water/stories in the book. I was playing around with the tea/fire technique, and decided to put some of the indigo ink on there and was surprised to see an amazing color change from the fire! The color turns from dark purplish-blue to a vibrant turquoise.”
The materials and the effect give The Storyteller its palette and style. The book opens in an ancient Morocco in which fountains and storytellers are plentiful.
But as the expanse of the Sahara grows, both water and storytelling dwindle, until one boy fights to bring them back.
The boy’s efforts are aided in listening to stories told to him by weavers, inspired by Turk’s research and travels. The finished book is due out later this month.
The Storyteller by Evan Turk. S&S/Atheneum, $18.99 June ISBN 978-1-4814-35183-3