The Artifacts: a Great Story App for Everyone (plus Interview with Author-Illustrator Lynley Stace)

Screen shot of The Artifacts app for iPad
Screenshot from The Artifacts
Who hasn't felt alone and unmoored, and taken solace in the imagination?

Created by Australian wife and husband team Lynley Stace (author-illustrator) and Dan Hare (software coder), The Artifacts tells the story of Asaf, a 13-year old boy who loves to collect things, from fine art to "bagatelles, baubles, gewgaws and gimmicks." One day, his parents inform him they are moving and have thrown out his treasures, and he is not allowed to collect anything else in his new home. After a period of despair, Asaf discovers his inner resources and begins to collect thoughts, ideas, stories, and more.

The art is beautiful and moody, and the interactive elements on every page are clever and invite exploration. Some pages take advantage of gravity, and others reward the persistent and inquisitive reader. This picture book app is among the best I've seen, and
 will appeal to all ages, including middle school kids and teens. 

Interview with Lynley Stace

I met Lynley Stace through the #storyappchat 
Twitter chat, and she answered some of my questions:

Q. How did The Artifacts come about? What inspired you?

Screenshot of page 1 of The Artifact apps for iPad
Page 1 before interaction
After we got our first iPad we wanted to create our own app for iOS. Dan was interested in learning Objective C and when I realised that digital storybooks were a thing, I knew I really wanted to make one of those! Fortunately, Dan agreed. Each page would offer him a new set of programming challenges--more than enough to keep him entertained.

So I sort of did PiBoIdMo (Picturebook Idea Month, but in the wrong month). After amassing about 30 ideas, The Artifacts was the story that lent itself best to interactivity. I could see exactly what the interactivity would be, even before the story was written.

Regarding inspiration for the story itself, I was an avid collector of rubbish as a kid: cardboard tubes from toilet rolls, promotional stickers, stamps, coins, ice-block sticks, you name it. I had big plans for these things - craft projects, mainly, which rarely materialized. My parents also moved us around a lot, and the memory of arriving home from school one day to find my collections had been thrown out remains vivid. My mother assured me that I could start another toilet roll collection in the new house, but I never bothered again.

Screenshot of page 1 after interaction, of The Artifact apps for iPad
Page 1 after touching screen to add items one at a time
Q. How was it working with Dan on the app? Will you do it again?

I don't know why we didn't think of doing it before. I enjoy writing and Dan loves coding. I have no interest in gaming and programming, and Dan has no interest in short stories. This works really well. I get final say on the arty stuff while Dan gets final say on the programming stuff.

We're definitely doing it again - this time Dan's job will be a lot less time consuming because he's familiar with Obj-C now, and he can reuse a lot of the code he wrote for The Artifacts. Each page has an average of 1000 lines of code - he'll definitely want to recycle! But my job isn't proving to be any faster. If anything, I've only gotten slower, as I aim to improve. So while Dan's waiting on me to send him artwork, he's working on his own project. Something about bugs for kids.

Q. What is your background in art?

Not much! I took a lot of art through high school and I did get my best marks in art, but I couldn't see a way to make a living out of it. And the fine arts candidates seemed way too cool for me. So I spent my twenties doing other stuff, dabbling in art only in my spare time. Until recently, painting and drawing felt like a gratuitous waste of time. I felt the same way about reading novels in my twenties, and I regret that now. I should not have felt guilty about "wasting time" doing the things I love, because every single thing I did, from dabbling in digital scrapbooking to participating in Illustration Friday to writing short stories to reading great books has helped me to create The Artifacts.

Q. What software did you use to make The Artifacts?

I used Artrage Studio Pro. I watched tutorials online, read the Artrage forum for tips, and most embarrassingly, I even read the user manual from start to finish. It was a surprisingly good read.

In addition, I used GIMP to achieve a few things that can't be done easily in Artrage: gradients, resizing, white to alpha, that sort of thing. If money were no object I'd be using Photoshop and Corel Painter, but to be honest, I've kind of fallen in love with Artrage now. It's an impressively powerful piece of software for its price. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if only your tools were better then you'd be creating better art. Naturally, this isn't the case.

Screenshot of fireflies page of the Artifact app for iPad
The fireflies follow your fingers as you move them
around the screen.
Q. I love the painterly effects of your illustrations. Is this a style that is similar to your nondigital works?

Thanks. I definitely wanted to make the most of the beautiful iPad display. I am a very fiddly painter. One of my high school art teachers was the opposite - creating artworks in those thick brushes used for painting walls. There I'd be with a number 000 brush, painting some detail that no one'd even see, and she'd flounce around in her colorful garb, saying, "For goodness' sake girl, paint free! Paint free! Use a bigger brush!" As it turns out, I'm very well suited to working digitally. Zoom is my friend.

As for my favourite media, I love the smell of oil painting paraphernalia and could wear it as cologne. But this isn't what you're asking. I'm far too impatient for oils. I prefer acrylics because you don't have to wait long for one layer to dry before applying another. But then I discovered the ultimate medium for impatient artists - gouache. I love that you can paint over stuff you don't like. Also, the colors of gouache are beautiful.

The truth is, I haven't picked up a paintbrush in over a year. I'd miss the Control-Z and the instant drying effect of creating a new layer. But this is something I'll need to go back to, because I suspect the best way to get better and better at this craft is to continue to do both.

Q. What kind of feedback have you gotten from readers?

Feedback has been very positive so far. This came as a complete surprise, because I'd never been told before that something I created has emotional resonance. After spending the majority of last year working on this story, I was heartily sick of looking at it. I deliberately didn't open our app for a couple of months. When I did go back to it, I got to the last page and suddenly felt something for the character, a sort of "lump in the heart" that I hadn't felt before.

Q. What are 2 pieces of advice you would give someone planning to make a picture book app?

Only two. . . .hmmmm.

First, go to the library and read pretty much every picture book they have. If you have a kid, you may have done that already. But don't just read those books; study them.

Next, consider which of those stories would lend themselves well to interactivity and which ones wouldn't. Then, read lots of storybook apps and get it straight in your mind which ones you like and which ones you don't. Once you have that sorted, you are good to go.

You can find The Artifacts at Apple's App Store, or find Lynley online at her blog, Lynley Stace bloggity blog blog, he & Dan's company website, Slap Happy Larry, or on Twitter.