Behind the Book

Behind the Design: And the Ocean Was Our Sky


Behind the Design: And the Ocean Was Our Sky

Can we talk about the inimitable Patrick Ness for a sec? Okay, so who else was completely wrecked by A Monster Calls? And how relatable was The Rest of Us Just Live Here? And man, don’t get us started on Release (if you haven’t read this one yet, here’s why you absolutely need to)! What we’re trying to say is that you can always count on Patrick Ness to deliver a unique and amazing story with every book he writes—including his latest.
AND THE OCEAN WAS OUR SKY is a retelling of Moby Dick but with a twist. Things get crazy and weird (in the best possible way) because Patrick Ness reimagines the tale literally upside down from the whale’s point of view! And the best part is that it’s a beautifully illustrated novel…which means we get to visually see how things get topsy-turvy!
We knew we had to find out more about the process of putting this book together so we reached out to Rovina Cai, the award-winning illustrator who brought this tale to life, to get the scoop on her process and what were her favorite scenes to illustrate.

Behind the Design: And the Ocean Was Our Sky


How long was your process for creating the artwork in ATOWOS?

It was about 6 months of work all up. I started with rough sketches, and then moved onto creating finals as each sketch was approved. The process was quite intensive, and involved a lot of revisions to get the images looking just right.


Had you read Hermann Melville’s classic Moby Dick, and did it inspire any of your illustrations?

I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that I have not! I did plan to have the audiobook running in the background as I worked on the illustrations, but never quite got around to it. It is on my to-read list though.


ATOWOS’s central character is a whale. How did you get into the mind of the whale to bring Bathsheba to life? Do you enjoy drawing animals?

The whales always felt very human when I read the story, so a lot of emphasis was placed on making sure they were depicted in a way that suggested intellect and emotion. This includes using a lot of close-up shots, focusing on their eyes, and conveying mood and atmosphere. It can be easy to assume that a book involving animal characters is a cute children’s story, but ATOWOS is nothing like that. It is quite dark at times, and touches on a lot of philosophical topics, so the illustrations had to reflect that.

Was there any scene from the book that was your particular favorite to bring to life, or that you’re most proud of?

There is a sequence of images in the middle of the book that lasts several pages, where you see a swarm of sharks slowly come across a pod of whales. It was actually the first sequence of images I created, but remains my favourite, for the eerie atmosphere and slow realisation of what is going on. Getting that right really helped set the tone for the rest of the illustrations.


Who are some of the children’s authors or illustrators that you loved growing up, or that inspire you now?

One of my current favourites is Jim Kay, who illustrated Patrick Ness’ previous novel, ‘A Monster Calls’. I’m also a huge Harry Potter fan, and his work on the illustrated editions of the Harry Potter books is incredible.
Often, illustrations are either full page, as in a picture book, or separate from the text, like chapter spots in a middle grade novel. But illustrated novels seem to be emerging as a new middle ground, where the images and text are woven together. I think Jim Kay does this particularly well, and he was definitely an inspiration while I was making the illustrations for ATOWOS.

Thanks so much to Rovina for answering our questions and giving us a peek behind the process of AND THE OCEAN WAS OUR SKY. Be sure to follow Rovina on Instagram @rovinacai to see more of her work!

About And the Ocean Was Our Sky

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Monster Calls comes a richly illustrated and lyrical tale, one that asks harrowing questions about power, loyalty, obsession, and the monsters we make of others.
With harpoons strapped to their backs, the proud whales of Bathsheba’s pod live for the hunt, fighting in the ongoing war against the world of men. When they attack a ship bobbing on the surface of the Abyss, they expect to find easy prey. Instead, they find the trail of a myth, a monster, perhaps the devil himself…
As their relentless Captain leads the chase, they embark on a final, vengeful hunt, one that will forever change the worlds of both whales and men.
With the lush, atmospheric art of Rovina Cai woven in throughout, this remarkable work by Patrick Ness turns the familiar tale of Moby Dick upside down and tells a story all its own with epic triumph and devastating fate.


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