Making Pilu of the Woods
My stories often ripple out from a single visual that I can’t get out of my mind.
The same was for Pilu. Some time in 2012, as I was doodling in my sketchbook, I had a very specific scene play in my head: someone runs away into a quiet forest (sunbeams streaming through the trees), to find a lost girl blending perfectly into the foliage. Of course, this girl would have leaves for hair, and through those leaves, you would see her wide, tearful eyes.
These visuals run through my mind almost like a movie, and I’m always eager to unravel the rest of the story. From this one little scene, I began building the story that eventually became Pilu of the Woods.
Initially, my story was meant to be much shorter, and it was more of a vignette than the middle-grade story it’s become. I was looking for a short 30-40 page project to focus on and help me out of a year long art slump. All I wanted to do was draw two girls bonding, the shifting light in a forest, the babbling of a creek, the crunch of leaves under bare feet. I just wanted to draw a little world with a quiet, steady rhythm to it.
As time went on though, Willow and Pilu’s world just ballooned a bit too much to be contained within a 30 page zine. I started drawing the 2nd version in 2014— it’s when I felt the most down and needed a creative project to keep me afloat. The final push came in 2015, when my sister urged me to send a pitch to Oni Press. At this point, I knew I had a lot of things to clean up to make my story presentable to an actual publisher!
Since finishing my book, I wanted to take some time to reflect on how Willow and Pilu have grown in the past few years. I’ve collected a bunch of doodles and sketches to share their little journey thus far.
These are, I think, the very first sketches of Willow and Pilu, when the story was more of a coming-of-age one shot. Both girls were older, around 15.
Around 2013, I changed Willow to an actual boy, thinking that her problems would be more compelling through the perspective of a boy. I quickly realized how dumb that sounded, and switched her back to her tomboy self, but just a little younger. I think this is when I started to flesh the story out much more and started thinking about why Willow ran away from home. I was also watching a lot of Gravity Falls then, and I started giving Pilu much fluffier hair a la Mabel Pines.
I’ve always enjoyed contrasting Willow’s frumpy, clumsy outfits with Pilu’s simpler and softer design. I noticed that that’s something I held onto through out the years.
As you can see, very little has changed for Pilu. She’s always been a slightly enigmatic, moody girl with leaves for hair. I borrowed Pilu’s name from Pilumnus, a roman nature diety who help children grow properly and stay healthy.
Some more sketches of the girls, plus Linnea! Though I don’t reveal much about Willow’s sister she’s a character that I spent a lot of time thinking about. She’s 19 and attends the local community college, all while serving as a parent figure to Willow. Because I grew up with two older sisters, I think developing Willow and Linnea’s relationship came really naturally to me.
These were my final character reference drawings I did in 2016. I ended up changing a few details last minute— the biggest one is that Chicory is now a white-ish dog! I changed his design a bit so he resembled my dog, Shiro, who passed away in 2017.
And some different attempts at kicking off the comic:
On the left is my first attempt at starting the comic in 2013, when Willow was a boy. The middle is from 2014/2015, right before I sent the pitch to OniPress. The right is a lil’ sneak peek from my actual book!
Speaking of my actual book…Pilu of the Woods is coming out on April 16! I’ve been chipping away at this project for so long, that it really does feel unreal. I’m still waiting for it to hit me 😭 In the meantime, if you could pre-order it, it would mean the world to me!
🌿Barnes & Noble: bit.ly/2v8pp0V
🌿Simon & Schuster:bit.ly/2u4BrXX
It’s a simple and short story, but I worked so dang hard on it, so I hope you enjoy it!
Anyway, that’s it for sketches! Next up, I hope to share my process of making a graphic novel. I went in knowing literally nothing (like, embarrassingly so), so I’d love to share what I learned and the workflow that fit my style!