Lauren O’Hara on Madame Badobedah

h1 March 26th, 2020 by jules



I don’t know about you all, but I’m in the mood today for a light-hearted, free-spirited kind of tale, and you can find that in Sophie Dahl’s Madame Badobedah, coming to shelves in early April from Walker Books and illustrated by Lauren O’Hara. Lauren visits today to talk about illustrating this story, and she shares some process images and art.

This is the story in three parts of young Mabel, who “lives somewhere curious.” And that place is the Mermaid Hotel, which is really a bed-and-breakfast and which her father manages (though her “mom is the boss“). The hotel is adjacent to the sea, and Mabel enjoys her often-shoeless adventures “by the wind and salt.” The hotel has many a guest, but in this story we get to hear about the person Mabel considers the most interesting guest — Madame Badobedah. She is demanding and imperious, and Mabel considers her an “awful stranger” at first and, in her own mind, names her Madame Badobedah. She considers this a “good name for the growly-voiced, suitcase-heavy, feather-clad guest who I was one hundred and ten percent sure was a villain.” Mabel decides to to spy on this new guest, who opts for Room 32 of the Mermaid Hotel. She studies her for days and is convinced: Madame Badobedah is, indeed, a supervillain and a “high priestess of crime” on the run and “most probably a very dangerous criminal” — and, most definitely, a “shady lady.”

But in getting to know the guest (and her real name) and through learning about her past, Mabel discovers that things aren’t always what they seem. There’s a poignancy here, a nice touch in a story that also involves sailing the high seas on the Not-So-Jolly-Roger, international jewel-thieving, and actual mermaids. If you are wondering if Sophie is from that Dahl family, you’d be right. She is the granddaughter of Roald Dahl, and though she has published books for adults (including cookbooks), this is her first children’s book. And I hope she writes more.

I thank Lauren for visiting today to talk about creating the illustrations for this book. (Here is her website. Also, one of my favorite stops on Instagram is the one she shares with her sister, Natalia. That is @oharasisters.)


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Lauren (pictured above): Madame Badobedah was a delight of a book to illustrate. Sophie created a world so full of joy, humour, and tenderness that I was hooked from the first page. I was itching to bring her world into full and colourful life.


Click cover to enlarge


The world of the book is gorgeous. I had great chats with Sophie about her vision for the book, which was set on the east coast of England where she’d spent much of her childhood summers.


The book’s first full spread, sans text: “I live somewhere curious. It’s called
the Mermaid Hotel. … Our back door leads to the sea, along a path of old-men trees,
battered and bent by the wind and salt.”

(Click to enlarge)


My first stop in a project is always visual research to build up the world of the book. This book felt like it had a bit of a mid-century feel, so I pulled a lot of reference from illustrators and artists, such as Edward Ardizzone, Eric Ravilious, and John Piper.

I enjoyed switching between Mabel’s home in a little English bed-and-breakfast by the sea and Madame Badobedah’s past as an émigré and, later, a young ballerina in New York. I used two colour palettes to show these worlds: buttercup yellow, cadmium blue, and peppermint green for Mabel’s world, and a darker, more subdued palette of maroon, navy, and gold for Madame B.


Color reference
(Click to enlarge)


The next step is to develop the characters using very rough sketches. Mabel seemed to spring to life fully formed from the very first rough drawings. Her grumpy little face and suspicious glances often made me laugh as I sketched.


(Click to enlarge)




Madame B was more challenging. After a lot of attempts, she ended up looking rather like my grandmother, who was an elegant and formidable redhead with a passion for antique jewelry and bichons. Sophie described Madame Badobedah’s flamboyance, and I had great fun designing costumes by watching old Marlene Dietrich and Gloria Swanson movies and sketching feather boas and gold leggings.


(Click to enlarge)


Next is time for the dummy book. This is where I’ll sketch out my ideas for each page in rough thumbnails. It’s a chance for me to block out the book, check the flow from page to page, and develop the characters and action. I always try to be as loose as possible at this stage which helps keep a freshness later on.


Dummy image
(Click to enlarge)


After the dummy had been checked over by the editor, art director, and author — and everyone is happy — I start to paint! This is where the real hard work starts.


(Click to enlarge)


It takes around 4-5 months to paint up an entire book. Needless to say, it’s also the really fun bit, too!


One of the book’s final paintings
(Click to enlarge)


After everything is painted, my art director Ben pulls everything together along with the text and gets it ready for printing. Ben is a wizard when it comes to making things look glorious in print, and he was incredibly patient with all the changes I wanted after we’d done the proofs.

One of my favourite bits of Madame Badobedah was designing the endpapers and the hardback cover, using the wallpaper from the hotel in the story, which reoccurs throughout the book.


(Case cover)


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Thanks again to Lauren for sharing. Here are some final spreads from the book ….


“I was sitting under the front desk, minding my own business, when the bell rang. RIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIING!”
(Click spread to enlarge and read text in its entirety)


“… I know all the rooms at the Mermaid Hotel, along with their secrets. I don’t have brothers and sisters; I have rooms. A room can be a lot like a person: it sees stories and parties and lazy days and birthday cakes. And sometimes it sees sad things, too.”
(Click spread to enlarge and read text in its entirety)


“‘Aye aye!’ I said. I heard the seagulls cry,
and somewhere in the distance a sea shanty echoed through the mist.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


“Madame Badobedah crossed the sea on a big ship, because there was a war.”
(Click image, which is sans text, to enlarge)


“What I do know is this: Madame Badobedah sleeps under the same roof as me. We dream at the same time. Her real name is Irena. She told me as I said good night. …”
(Click image, which is sans text, to enlarge)


* * * * * * *

MADAME BADOBEDAH. Text copyright © 2019 by Sophie Dahl. Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Lauren O’Hara. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA, on behalf of Walker Books, London. All other images used by permission of Lauren O’Hara.

Photo of Lauren O’Hara © copyright Charlotte Knee Photography.

One comment to “Lauren O’Hara on Madame Badobedah

  1. I’m so happy to see you featuring Lauren’s work, Jules. This is such a glorious confection of a book!

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