“I grew up in an old church and the windows in my room were green bubble glass. The light would change so dramatically throughout the day. I loved that. I guess that is why I work with light.” | Q&A with Illustrator Elly MacKay

I purchased a copy of Maya at the 2016 Toronto Word on the Street festival

maya

We tend to think of illustration as something involving lines drawn on a piece of paper. But in the case of Elly MacKay’s work, there is something a lot more. She works with light, paper and photography, which creates images that draws anyone in. MacKay recently illustrated the book Maya (which just has become one of a favourite item of people who visit my library) and answered a few questions for me – ‘illustrating’ how she creates her works.

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1) How long did it to create the images in “Maya?” How did you get involved with the book?

 

This book took a little longer than usual. I give myself 4 months for each book I work on. This one was a new way of working. I had to consider how to show 3 different worlds. There is the real world (rooftop with Mama), the story world (stories Mama tells), and the dream world where the two come together. Within the dream world, there are many animals… tigers, elephants, peacocks and monkeys. This was the trickiest of the worlds to create. It starts out scary but through reframing her thoughts, the world becomes peaceful and playful.
I met Karen Boserma at the American Library Association. Along with publishing books for kids, Owlkids publishes Chirp, Chickadee and Owl magazine. I was telling her that my brother was on the cover of Owl back in the 80s. We had a nice chat and when a book came up that needed shadows, Karen and her team thought of my work.

2) How did you get started in illustration?

I took a couple of illustration classes in university. My professor would sometimes give me his overflow work. It was great experience. I did some logo work, editorial illustrations and made an activity book for Nova Scotian kids. I also had a neat job going through the Nova Scotia Archives, picking old lithos that would become covers for historical romance novels.
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Sample page from Maya

3) Are there any illustrators that you admire? If yes, who are they and why do you admire them?

One of my favourites is Stéphane Jorisch . His use of line is so beautiful. Eunsil Chun is another favourite. Her work is at once delicate but also strong.  Her use of
negative space is really what I love, along with her characters. (Link to her website) Julie Morestad for her whimsy and wistfulness. (Link) Isabelle Arsenault for her unique compositions and I’m just in awe of the range she has. (Link) Jon Klassen for his subtle sense of humour and gorgeous, sparse landscapes. (Link) Sydney Smith for his loose linework and muted colours. (Link) Qin Leng for the complexity of her images. Also for her joyfulness. (Link)
Gosh, I could just go on and one with 20 or more names but since I have pretty much named all Canadians here with the exception of Ensil Chun, I’ll leave it.

4) You seem to have a complex technique to the creation of your images – starting with the use of paper to the lighting right up to the photography of the whole illustration. Did it take you long to learn all those skills and bring them all together? Do you have an all-time favourite illustration that you created?

I grew up in an old church and the windows in my room were green bubble glass. The light
would change so dramatically throughout the day. I loved that. I guess that is why I work with light. I’ve always been fascinated with how light changes atmosphere. I guess we are products of our environment… I came to work with paper because my Mom, Joan Irvine wrote books on how to make pop-ups. I was always working away with paper with her or making sculptures in the basement with my potter Dad, Steve Irvine. He is also a photographer. It seems like a strange job I guess, making little things out of light, paper and photographing them but it is just the result of growing up in that home I think. I’ve been making things this way since I was 14 or so.
A favourite one? I suppose From Shore to Shore. You know those places that exist in your dreams that you return to again and again. This, and Between Tides were both created based on a dreamscape of sorts.
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From shore to shore by Elly MacKay. Illustration is a diptych (Two images that work side by side.) Images are linked from Etsy.com

5) How does the public react to your illustrations? Is there any memorable reaction to something you have created you care to share?

I always love showing the process I use to children. We make a little world together and turn out the lights. When I light the theatre, they all get so excited. I love that.

6) Do you get a chance to travel and speak about your work? If yes, is it something you enjoy doing?

Yes, I really love doing school visits and writers festivals. I have a bachelor of education that I don’t get to use, so getting a chance to work with kids is always something I really enjoy.

thebuilders_ellymackay2
The Builders by Elly MacKay. Image linked from her website

7) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

I am working on a book called Waltz of the Snowflakes for Running Press right now. It is a wordless picture book that celebrates the colour and life that music and dance can bring to a dreary day. It will be out in Fall 2017. (Link to Running Press’ webpage for Waltz of the Snowflakes) I am also working on one for Tundra that is built from old weather sayings. It is called Red Sky at Night.

8) You seem to have an avid presence on both Facebook and Twitter. How do you like being on those platforms in relation to you work?

I like seeing what others are working on through Twitter and Facebook. Facebook has been great for sharing and getting some feedback too.

9) Your online biography has you listed as living in Owen Sound, Ontario. How do you like living there? Are there any aspects to the Owen Sound region that particularly inspire you in your work?

It is a great place to live. We have rocky beaches, sandy beaches, hiking trails/ski trails, and waterfalls all nearby and a great community of like-minded people here. It has a concert hall that brings in bands, an art gallery, wonderful library, artist co-op and a forest school that just opened. It is also affordable to buy a home here. I feel like the spokesperson for this town… But I really do love it. And yes… This place, especially the land half an hour north of Owen Sound, where I grew up is my constant source of inspiration.

fallleaves_hmh_ellymackay_picturebook09
Leaves Leave by Elly MacKay. Image linked from her website

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Link to Elly MacKay’s WordPress blog

Link to Elly MacKay’s website

Link to OwlKids’ webpage for “Maya”

Link to my Q&A with Maya’s author Mahak Jain -“I wanted to write about a world where animals as different as the peacock, monkey, elephant, tiger, and snake would find themselves gathered around a banyan tree. Maya’s story emerged from that dream.”

One thought on ““I grew up in an old church and the windows in my room were green bubble glass. The light would change so dramatically throughout the day. I loved that. I guess that is why I work with light.” | Q&A with Illustrator Elly MacKay

  1. Wow, astonishing! Her work is really really beautiful. 🙂
    And about these green bubble glass windows. Near to my granny’s home there was one public sauna house and there were also green windows. How I loved these windows! They were so thick and the light came through them so differently from ordinary windows. But recently some young lad bought the house and he is turning it something new. I was so sad when hearing this. 😦

    Like

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