Dinara Mirtalipova on illustrating her 'Etch Art' book Hidden Forest

Is 'Etch Art' the next colouring-in book craze?

You may know of Etch Art from your childhood (where you etch off the surface of the book to reveal an illustration underneath), so you’ll be pleased to know the artform has returned to the shelves in the form of a wonderful children’s book by self-described folklorist Dinara Mirtalipova. We’ve covered a lot of beautiful colouring in books and children’s picture books, but this is the first time we’ve been given an Etch Art children’s book – this one titled Hidden Forest.

Filled with hidden illustrations (that can only be seen once etched) and bright colours, the book follows different animals and plants found in the forest. Etch Art aims to relax, develop finger muscles and encourage abstract thinking. Hidden Forest is part of a series by AJ Wood and Mike Polley, and illustrated by Dinara. She tells us about her creative process for the book, and how her own daughter growing up surrounded by technology inspired her. Ohio-based Dinara works mostly with gouache and acrylics, but also experiments with screen printing, lino carving and ceramics.

Obtaining no official education or training in art (she has a degree in computer science and cybernetics), Dinara says everything she creates is "very intuitive". Growing up in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Soviet Uzbek culture still influences her style. She draws inspiration from nature – creatures, plants and "the shades of changing seasons".

"Everything that surrounds us creates a kaleidoscope of patterns," she says.

Dinara loved to draw but never considered it a profession until her mid twenties. She started a blog and began receiving requests for occasional commission work. After a few years, Dinara decided to take it more seriously and when her daughter Sabrina was born, left her full-time job to become a freelance illustrator. She now works from her home studio, where she created Hidden Forest and is currently working on two more titles.

You can buy Hidden Forest by Wide Eyed from October 5 for £9.99, which includes a stylus.

Miriam Harris: Why did you decide to create Hidden Forest?

Dinara Mirtalipova: "Being a fan of the etching technique while growing up, I was so excited when the opportunity came from the publishing house. We discussed the technique and the idea behind scratching off to reveal a hidden imagery and decided to start the series, celebrating all the beauty that one can find while strolling through a forest. It includes animals, like deer, foxes, owls and insects like butterflies and beetles. I felt like I was re-living my childhood all over and I couldn't wait to share this experience with my daughter and the generation of kids who are now being raised in this modern world driven by technology."

MH: Did you have your daughter, Sabrina, in mind?

DM: "Oh yes. While designing and illustrating Hidden Forest and the following titles, I was anticipating and excited about all the fun my six-year-old daughter would have, and all the kids around her age and their mums. My prognoses were proved right when I received my first copy and Sabrina spent her evenings working on creating her designs, making decisions on which parts she wanted to scratch off and which parts she wanted to leave black."

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MH: What is appealing about Etch Art?

DM: "It's relaxing and it's comforting. It helps promote the coordination movements and development of small muscles in fingers. It also provokes abstract thinking. While working with the etching technique, you begin thinking about the negative space and compose your design by taking the ink off."

MH: Do you think this will be next relaxation craze following colouring-in books?

DM: "Absolutely. It's just as enjoyable and relaxing as colouring books. Plus, it's super easy to take it to places with you. You do not need to worry about broken or unsharpened pencils, all you need is a pointed wooden stick that also comes with the book."

MH: Talk me through the creative process behind the book.

DM: "It was a collaboration with my publishing team. We discussed some rough sketches, thinking of all the creatures and plants that inhabit a forest. The idea was that the illustrations were to be presented in a decorated folky-pattern style and not necessary as anatomically accurate. The book begins with a deer surrounded by tall plants and oversized folk birds, there's a hidden butterfly sitting on the deer that wants to be revealed. By scratching off the background, the user has the freedom to create his or hers own plant designs or the pattern on deer's body.

"As you walk through a forest, you might stumble upon a small pond where you can spot a cute froggy on a lily pad, surrounded by lilies, dragonflies and fishes. I encourage users to have fun with the water waves and create a funky texture on the frog's body. Spread four is my most favourite. It's a spread dedicated to magical birds, resting on a tree with their detailed wings spread out. By scratching off the background, you can create additional leaves and flowers and add to the wing designs on the birds.

"Spread eight is a fox jumping over a mushroom, along with a tiny mouse nearby. We intentionally covered the vast portion in black ink, leaving the job to the users to unveil details and create patterns."

MH: How did you decide on your colour palette?

DM: "The colour palette was decided intuitively and inspired by nature, so I used a lot shades like emerald green, forest green, bright red and yellow. In Hidden Forest we celebrate warm and bright colours brought to us by butterflies and beetles, trees and grass. I wanted the book to be a mood booster, so I'm hoping the colour palette only compliments it."

MH: What factors were important to consider with the book?

DM: "There were many factors. Easy, recognisable shapes are certainly one of the most important. By following and tracing the shape, kids gain understanding of how to draw a bird or a frog, for example. The balance of positive and negative space was another important factor. I was trying to stay away from overlapping shapes, making sure there's enough negative space to work with in the final version. Contrasting bright colours was another factor; I wanted each spread to celebrate its unique colour palette and colour theme. And most importantly, while illustrating the book, I wanted each spread to contain a surprise factor."

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MH: Is illustrating for Etch Art different to your normal projects?

DM: "Yes, it is. In these books the focus is shifted from my illustrations to what the users can do with them, it almost feels like collaboration with everybody who decides to use the book. So while working on the Etch Art series, I kept that in mind to give enough freedom to practice creativity for those who have the ability, like the older kids or their parents, and to provide many intricate jewels to uncover for those who are just building their finger strength, like the pre-schoolers who are still learning how to master penmanship."

MH: What’s next on the horizon for you?

DM: "I'm excited about a few other children's books that I illustrated, like Beauty and the Beast published by Templar Publishing, The Princess and the Pea published by Little Simon."

Here are some more spreads from Dinara's Hidden Forest book. Keep in mind this is what the page would look like after it has been etched. 

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