There is something enjoyable about book illustration that I find somewhat unrecognized by many adults who read. The skill in creating and honing images for a publication takes an immense time and energy to which the final product is just as enlightening as words on a page. Eric Fan, who along with his brother Terry, have created some wonderful illustrations for some stunning books over the past little while and show no sign of stopping any time soon. Eric recently answered a few questions for me in which he shows us a little insight to the world of book illustration.
1) So I have been getting some multitudes of comments over my review of “The Night Gardener.” How long did it take for you and your brother to create that book. Was there any personal inspiration or ideas that aided in the creation of that book?
Since it was our first book, we had the luxury of a pretty long lead time. We worked on it for almost a year, but that included doing multiple rough dummies we did before starting the final art. By the time we got to the finals we had a pretty clear idea of how we wanted the spreads to look. Here are a couple of examples from the original dummy to give you an idea of what I mean. The dummy ultimately went through about three drafts until we were happy enough with the pacing, and the overall design.
The earliest seeds of the story can probably be traced back to our childhoods. Our dad has always had a great love of trees, nature, and bonsai, having grown up in the Taiwanese countryside. I think living in Toronto he missed that, and compensated for the cold Canadian winters by filling our house with trees and plants. We have many memories of him carefully pruning the trees, and sculpting his bonsai. He was also a parrot breeder, so there were parrots (and a hummingbird named Woodstock) flying free in the house. It was a little like growing up in an indoor jungle. When Terry and I were doing t-shirt designs many years later, we collaborated on a design for Threadless called The Night Gardener, which depicted a man sculpting a tree into an owl (our dad also loves owls). When we first got our agent, Kirsten Hall, she asked us if we had any ideas for stories, and that image came back to us, along with memories about our dad. We always felt there was a story we could build from that standalone image. So that’s basically how The Night Gardener got its start.
I actually found our original design submission for Threadless:
And here was the printed shirt:
2) How has the reaction to “The Night Gardener” been? Has there been any memorable comments or reactions to the book you care to share?
It got a wonderful reaction, which was a nice surprise for us. We really didn’t know what to expect, or how it would be received. I think the first time we were able to breath a sigh of relief was when it got a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, and then Kirkus. Some of the most memorable reactions came from book sellers who saw the book early on, sometimes only in its F&G form. We even became friends with some of them, like Sarah Ramsey, who manages one of the Book City stores in Toronto. She really loved the book from the first time she saw it, and hand-sold it to many of her customers. The other memorable reactions came from readers, and kids inspired by the book. Some of them created their own topiaries out of paper, or made video reviews on Youtube. There was even a school in the U.K. that did an entire Night Gardener student art show, which was beyond amazing.
3) What is it like to work with your brother Terry on a regular basis? Is there any sibling rivalry between the two of you while you work?
I think a little rivalry can be a good thing, since it continually pushes you to do your best work. It’s great to have a fellow collaborator, because you always have someone to bounce ideas off when you get stuck. Making a book can be a daunting project sometimes, so it’s nice to have someone to share that workload with. When one of us falls down or falters, hopefully the other one is there to save the day. That’s happened on numerous occasions.
4) You both worked and published a book with Astronaut Chris Hatfield called “The Darkest Dark.” What was like to work with him on that book?
It was incredible. How often do you get to work with an actual astronaut? The story of The Darkest Dark is semi-autobiographical – how Chris was inspired to pursue his dream of becoming an astronaut as a child. For that reason, it was important to us to remain true to that and have a degree of verisimilitude. Chris was gracious enough to invite us up to his childhood cottage on Stag Island where the story actually took place. It was an incredible inspiration, since we got to see his childhood bedroom and the neighbouring cottage where he watched the moon landing in 1969.
He also took us flying in a four-seat Cirrus, which was a thrill. I even got to pilot the airplane for ten minutes, which was both incredible and terrifying. At one point Chris looked back at Terry, who was in the back seat, and shouted “your brother’s flying the plane!” I think Terry almost had a heart attack. One of the best parts of the project was just getting to know Chris better, and his wife Helene (and their pug Albert). They’re both such wonderful, inspiring people, and we’ve remained friends with them to this day.
Since I think it’s fun for people to see the process of the book, I’ll share another dummy rough, this time from The Darkest Dark:
5) You both have a new book coming out called “The Antlered Ship.” Could you give a bit of an overview of that book?
“The Antlered Ship” is written by Dashka Slater (link to her website), and it’s a lovely, imaginative text. The first time I read it I could immediately see certain images pop into my mind, which is always a good sign when you’re illustrating a book. The story centres on a curious fox named Marco who is full of questions. He sets out to find the answers to those questions by joining the crew of the antlered ship (comprised of three deer and a flock of pigeons). On their adventures they encounter stormy seas, pirates, and a threatening maze of rocks, all in the hopes of reaching “Sweet Tree Island” where Marco thinks he might find other foxes to answer his questions. The story is ultimately about friendship, and finding what you’re looking for even if it turns out to be right under your nose. The writing is wise, gently humorous, and philosophical and we had a wonderful time living in that world for a while. (Link to Simon & Schuster Canada’s website for “The Antlered Ship)
6) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
Right now we’re just finishing up on our next book that Terry and I wrote together, which is called “Ocean Meets Sky.” The story centers on the magical spot between sky and sea, and a magical journey to reach it, but I won’t say too much more about it until it’s closer to its release date, which should be in early 2018. We also just started working on the dummy for a book called The Scarecrow, written by Beth Ferry. (Link to her website) It’s scheduled to be published by HarperCollins in 2019, so it’s a little ways down the road, but it’s a very beautiful and poignant text.
The other exciting project we’re illustrating is called “The Lifters,” written by the amazing Dave Eggers – his first foray into middle grade books. (Link to Penguin/Random House Canada’s website for “The Lifters”) I can’t really describe the book better than Dave Eggers himself, so I’ll just use his quote: “The Lifters has been on my mind for almost ten years. That’s when I had the idea that a simple cupboard handle could open a hillside to a warren of kid-sized tunnels under a town — and that it would be up these kids to keep everyone living aboveground upright and safe. My goal was to write the book I would have wanted to read when I was a middle-grader, with enough adventure and jokes and mystery to keep even an antsy reader engaged.”
Here is the cover we did, which they just released to the press:
7) You and Terry are scheduled to attending the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street festival. Do you participate in public events for your work often? If yes, do you enjoy meeting the public to discuss your work?
We really love meeting fans of the book and always appreciate meeting book sellers and librarians as well. We don’t do a huge amount of public events, or speaking engagements, partly because we’re quite busy, and partly because were both a little intimidated by public speaking. I think a lot of artists pursue art because they’re somewhat introverted, so public speaking can be a bit emotionally taxing. That said, we really loved going to the Forest of Reading festival in Toronto. There was so much positive energy, and genuine enthusiasm from the kids.
8) You seem to be an active participant on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. How do you like using those tools in relation to your work. Do your fans actively seek you out and chat with you about your books?
I’ve had a few people approach me to chat through social media. I think Facebook (Link to the Eric Fan Illustration page on Facebook), Instagram, (Link to the Eric Fan Art page on Instagram) and Twitter (Link to Eric Fan’s Twitter Account)are all great platforms to connect with readers, fans, and friends. Working from home, I have to be a little wary about how I parse out my time. It’s very easy to get sucked into Facebook or Twitter and fritter away hours that would be better spent working on art. That said, it’s a balance, and you want to be present and visible and direct a certain amount of energy towards social media and promotion.
Eric and Terry Fan will be at the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street Festival
I allowed myself to be absorbed into the magic of the world of books this past weekend, amid the hurry-burly of the modern adult world. I turned off the ringer on all the phones, I shut-down the computer. I even pull the batteries from the remote control for the television set. And I allowed myself the luxury of child-wonderment of entering the world of The Night Gardener by the Fan Brothers. And, boy was I pleasantly amused.
William looked out his window
to find a commotion on the street.
He quicly dressed, ran downstairs,
and raced out the door to discover . . .
The wise owl had appeared overnight, as if by magic.
William spent the whole day staring at it in wonder,
and he continued to stare until it
became too dark to see.
I am often asked my opinions by parents looking for items for their children to read which allows me to look at wonderful things like this book. The Fan Brothers (Eric and Terry) have carefully crafted a wonderful item here which is lyrical in both in the story and its images. Readers easily witness the main character William trying to figure out how large topairies appear in his neighbourhood every morning and gain his curiosity through the story.
The images are detailed and exciting even on their own to look at. One – no matter what age the person may be – can almost spend hours alone admiring the small elements of shading, the use of lines and the sparing use of colour on each page.
The Night Gardener by Terry and Eric Fan was certainly a wonderfully crafted book to escape the hurry-burly of the modern world for a while. The words and images come together to tell a lyrical story which would enlighten and engage any reader of any age.
Kelly Mellings and Corey Lansdell of Pulp Studios in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, have been busy. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t been dreaming. Their social-media feeds have been filled the last few months with illustrations for their work: Hairoes of Haarwurzel: Braues Quest.Now, that their ‘project of love’ is almost at completion, they answered a few questions for me about what they plan and hope for it.
1) First off, could your give a bit of an outline of Hairoes of Haarwurzel: Braues Quest.
On a medievalish island, that prides itself on it’s hair, a magical curse has stripped it’s residents of their locks and given them to the hairless. Humans, mammals, and birds are all left bare, and the cold blooded reptiles, goblins and fish have become wooly versions of themselves. It’s up to the one armed knight Eine Braue and Jagetta the Huntress to solve the mystery and restore Haarwurzel’s former glory while discovering the root of heroism.
Hairoes of Haarwurzel: Braues Quest is an absurd, exciting, fantasy, comedy adventure for all ages. It is is the first in a series of three all ages graphic novels, each focusing on a different Hairoe of Haarwurzel.
2) Is there anything you are hoping for the book to accomplish? What inspired you to create the book? (Kelly mentioned in a Q&A with me that this book is like “Adventure Time and The Legend of Zelda had a baby that was raised by Monty Python.” Is that still the vision of the book?)
That is still the version of the book, in tone at least. We are hoping to create something that packages all of the things we loved as kids. High adventure, fantastical creatures and situations, Heroes that grow and change, and irreverent comedy. We were inspired to create Hairoes because we have been creating properties and characters for clients and wanted something that was 100% ours. The idea grew from a strange dream that Corey had into the many armed beast that it is now through much collaboration and brainstorming.
3) It looks like there have been test images of the book posted on social media sites for people to comment on and suggest changes too. How has that been working out?
We wanted to commit to creating some artwork for Inktober (A challenge for artists all over the world to draw one illustration a day for the month of October, linkhere) and thought it would be a great opportunity to create concept art for the book. It’s grown and has taken up November as well. We’ve been so pleased with the positive response. The feedback has been in line with what we were hoping. People are finding humour and joy in the same aspects that we had when we conceived of the characters.
4) Kelly mentioned to me that the book is 90 per cent finished. Do you have a publisher lined up? If yes, is there a publication date for it?
The manuscript is 90% finished but the art (the longer part) has not yet begun. We will have 22 pages by end of February that we can share with publishers as a proof of concept. We initially started the manuscript after a meeting with one of Canada’s best children’s book publishers, and they expressed a passing interest in the initial nugget of an idea. We’ve yet to share anything with any other publishers, and won’t until we have the finished sample pages and the polished manuscript. We’d love to have it in publishers hands early 2017, and then publication would depend on the publisher. We’ve had such positive feedback, we aren’t worried about it finding a home, we just have to figure out where would be the best for it.
5) How much time have the two of you put into Hairoes of Haarwurzel?” Is it a labour of love for the two of you?
YES it is defiantly a labour of love…if it wasn’t it would not be made. Over the last two years we’ve spent several months writing the manuscript, about 100 hrs in concept art, dozens of hours researching the market and the production side of things. It will be the equivalent of about 6 months work full time for both of us to get the art done, the first graphic novel is looking to be around 220 pages.
6) So when this project is finished, do you two have any idea of what you will be doing next? If yes, are there details you care to share?
If this is successful then the next two books would be a dream to work on,
We originally thought of this as an idea for a 2d platform game, so a game or animated version would be fun to work on and it would translate so nicely.
We just finished the script for a graphic novel biography of Wilfrid Laurier that Kyle Charles and K Michael Russel are illustrating for us (it will be published by Teach magazine).
We have a non-haireo related young adult graphic novel script in production that we would would work with another artist to draw.
Corey and I both want to branch out to the children’s book market Corey has a finished manuscript done with art and he is working on another). We also both have graphic novel Ideas, Kelly has a literary graphic novel planned that focuses on a main character who has Narcolepsy.
Sydney Smith is a very busy illustrator and a very dedicated one. Since the release of “Sidewalk Flowers” a few years ago, he has enchanted book-fans young and young-at-heart with his work. Now in 2017, he has a couple of new releases coming out and he took a few moments to answer a few questions for me about those works.
1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline for “Town Is by the Sea?”
“Town Is by the Sea” is a picture book written by Joanne Schwartz, published by Groundwood Books and illustrated by me! The story is a day in the life of a boy who lives in a mining town by the sea. As he describes his day he reflects on the sea and his father who is working below it in the mine. There is a beautiful rhythm to Joanne’s text and there is plenty of room for the illustrations to play.
2) Am I right in assuming that you hailing from Nova Scotia that working on this book would have a special meaning for you?
Both Joanne and I come from Nova Scotia. I have been wanting to work on something about home for a while, especially since moving to Toronto. I miss so much about the east coast and this book gave me the opportunity go back and bask in all of the things that make my home so unique and special.
3) How long did it take you to create the illustrations for “Town Is by the Sea?” How did you get involved in illustrating it?
Sheila Barry, the wonderful editor from Groundwood Books brought the story to my attention two years ago. I had a lot on my plate at the time but I was so excited about the project that I started thinking about it far in advance of working on it. My process is never efficient and I can get lost down rabbit holes so I ended up with a lot of versions of each image. If I felt like something wasn’t working so I wouldn’t sleep until I took another swing at it.
4) I know many people living here in Ontario who have originated from Atlantic Canada are always eager to explain to their children what life is like on the eastern region of the country. Is that something you are hoping this book will aid in doing?
What I like about this story is that you could say it’s about growing up in the late ’50’s in a mining town in Cape Breton but you could also say its just about being young. The writing captures this and I wanted the illustrations to do the same thing. Relatively few people know what its like to grow up in a mining town but if you can show personal and human moments that we all share than it doesn’t matter where or when the story takes place. Everyone shares the same type of moments through time. Looking at your own reflection in a puddle, looking at dust in a beam of sunlight, hearing the wind in the trees. Putting poetic details of personal yet universal moments in a story makes it relatable no matter how foreign the setting is. Boiled down it is a story about a human, beautiful and complicated.
5) “Sidewalk Flowers” was a very popular book in my circle of readers. Are there any noticeable similarities/differences you found on working on the two books?
I think there are a lot of similarities. There is a depth to the main character. A quietness and a seriousness. This book is kind of heavier than “Sidewalk Flowers.” I showed the story to a group at a workshop recently and when I finished there was a moment of silence. I hope just meant that there was a lot to take in.
6) I know it is a bit of time before the release of “Town Is by the Sea” but is there a book tour being planned for it?
There is a book launch planned for mid-March in Halifax and there will also be a release in Toronto around the same time. I’d be happy to go anywhere people are interested with this book. I’m really excited to share it.
I’m still useless at social media. That hasn’t changed. I’m always happy to hear from any fans out there. It makes me feel good and lifts me up when people tell me they like my work. I think one of the hazards of working by yourself is that you can lose sight of whether the work is reaching people or if its any good at all. On the really dark days I just go for a walk to the (Art Gallery of Ontario) or to Allen Gardens. Try to surround myself with beauty. Sometimes it takes some time for me get back to people and sometimes i don’t see their messages because Facebook hides them on me. Oops. Sorry about that.
8) You have been busy with a few items since our last conversation. Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
I am finishing up illustrating my last book before I take some time to focus on some of my own projects that have been waiting patiently for the past few years. I can’t really say too much about those personal projects because they are still being chiseled and shaped. But I am excited. I love collaborating with other people, and I’m sure I will work with other writers again soon but i need to see this through right now.
The book I am finishing up is called “Smoot,” written by Michelle Cuervas, published by Dial Books and its a very fun story about a boy and his shadow, Smoot, who decides to separate and have an adventure of his own. I really like this story and working with Lauri Hornik and Lily Malcolm from Dial is such a pleasure. (Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s website for “Smoot”)
The beauty of a well-crafted book is in the detail that goes into the enlightenment that a reader receives into an element about the human condition. The right combination of words plus the perfect shades of light and dark colours of an illustration can bring light an injustice that occurred in the world. Readers can ponder carefully over those details of that book and slowly become aware of the injustice and – in turn – start dialogs with other individuals about that sad element. And that complex process is what Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire have done with their graphic novel Secret Path.
The Stranger (Excerpt)
I am the Stranger
You can’t see me
I am the Stranger
Do you know what I mean?
I navigate the mud
I walk above the path
Jumping to the right
And I jump to the left
On the Secret Path
The one that nobody knows
And I’m moving fast
On the path that nobody knows
And what I’m feeling
Is anyone’s guess
What is in my head
And what’s in my chest
I’m not gonna stop
I’m just catching my breath
They’re not gonna stop
Please, just let me catch my breath
I am the Stranger
You can’t see me
I am the Stranger
Do you know what I mean?
Downie and Lemire have done something brilliant here by bringing the story of Chanie Wenjack and the residential school system to light for the reading public. Wenjack died a young man trying to get back to his First-Nations community after experiencing brutal institutional care at a residential school. He attempted a 400-mile trek along a railway line to get home, yet the journey proved to be too much for him.
Lemire has described Wenjack’s story with his illustrations in a bold fashion. The frames that show Wenjack’s memories of his home have a warm rose feeling to them while the cells that show his experiences at the residential school and on his attempted journey home at cold, dark with a tinge of blue. A reader clearly senses the range of emotions that Wenjack felt as they follow the story of his trek home.
Gord Downie has not only proven himself here as a classic wordsmith but also a great storyteller. While many of his fans know him as the front man for the musical group The Tragically Hip, it is bringing this story of Wenjack to life for us readers that shows his consciousness and the depth of his soul. He has carefully crafted a few brilliant phrases into our memories about Wenjack, breeding empathy in our minds for the tragic wanderer and causing us to discuss him to our peers and our leaders.
This book does exactly what great literature does. It brings to light an important element of the human condition that may of been overlooked through other means and creates thought, discussion and discourse among readers. It is a brilliant book and one that should be pondered over.
Quote from the back cover of Secret Path:
Chanie Wenjack haunts us. His story is Canada’s story. We are not the country we think we are. History will be re-written. All of the Residential Schools will be pulled apart and studied. The next hundred years are going to be painful and unsettling as we meet Chanie Wenjack and thousands like him – as we find out about ourselves, about all of us – and when we do, we can truly call ourselves “Canada.”
Secret Path by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire is a brilliant book which should be held in prominence on any bookshelf. It breeds empathy and creates thought and discuss which, no doubt, will lead to action on improving an injustice to the human condition.
It seems odd to use this space to proclaim the meditative capabilities of the printed page. Cyberspace is where many of us find ourselves this days. We need to be here for; our jobs, to communicate with family and friends, and even to inform and educate ourselves. But for those of us who still pull ourselves out from the collected ramblings and sighs found on electronic means to reflect on the human spirit via print, we know a certain quiet pleasure. Teva Harrison knows that pleasure well and she has created a colouring book that enables people to share that joy her illustrating on paper brings her. And The Joyful Living Colouring Book does in its own quiet way help in bring an ease to busy and noisy world.
Introduction – The Joyful Living Colouring Book by Teva Harrison
For me, drawing is magical. It’s cathartic and transformative. It lifts me up when I am low. It fills me up when I am empty. It calms my nerves when I have anxiety. And when I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, drawing pulled me out of the deepest depression I’ve ever experienced.
Now I have to admit I am not the best colourer. (And the paint job I did on a garage wall last summer bears a collection of empty spaces and crooked lines in my attempt to be artistic.) But I know many people who do colour. They are well-grounded and professional adults who are dedicated not only in their careers but in their everyday actions. And one such person is Sara, who agreed to check out the book for me and let me know her thoughts about it
I’ve always loved to color, but I’ve become more fascinated by it in the last couple years. I think it’s great that you can go to Chapters, or even Wal-Mart, and find all of these great adult coloring books.
-Sara Owanis from a personal conversation with me via Facebook.
Sara is a regular fixture at her local library. Her smile brightens the place up for both staff and patrons as she works as a “page” sorting books and setting up rooms during her shift. But one has to wonder how a young person in their twenties can manage to be upbeat as she struggles with electrical cables, chairs, heavy volumes and even the remainders of moldy fruit stuck in sink drains. But she does it. And it is even more amazing to find out that she is eagerly working on a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing when not at the library.
After I made arrangements to receive a copy of this book, I contacted Sara to ask her for her assistance in reviewing it. She eagerly agreed and we set a time to meet at the community centre at the university she attends. It was a deary Tuesday in November. The sky was about to rain, which is to cause everybody to become cold and wet on their way home. The room is filled with loud people and litter fills the few empty tables available. Sara meets me after writing an exam. Her usual smile is drained a touch after a long day. But when I pulled out the book, she brightened immediately.
Thank you so much! I can’t wait to color!
-Sara Owanis from a personal conversation with me via Facebook.
There is something about the printed page that when we look at it, feels empowering and personal at the same time. The idea of meditation over something we create – no matter how small it is – uplifts the psyche. That is, no doubt, what happens to Sara when she colours. And in turn helps her in her busy and plentiful lifestyle.
I went to a wellness workshop once and I learned that the time spent coloring puts your mind in a similar state to meditating. That’s probably why it feels so peaceful
-Sara Owanis from a personal conversation with me via Facebook.
And this is exactly what Harrison wanted to do with creating this colouring book. As an illustrator, she was able to use her skills in uplifting her mood as she dealt with her cancer. Those drawings became her best-selling memoir In-Between Days (Link to my Q&A with Harrison) and now Harrison has created this colouring book in order to share with us the joy she has found in drawing. And it seems that, according to Sara, has worked.
Introduction – The Joyful Living Colouring Book by Teva Harrison
Here is my challenge to you: Carve out some space in your day. Breathe into it and feel it expand. Open yourself up to the delight and the possibility of this moment. Keep breathing. Reach for a colour that makes you happy. Bring the light, the brightness, and the levity of the colour to the paper. Get lost in the act of colouring by focusing on this moment. That’s where you find the magic.
And while Sara may have been aware of the “magic” of colouring before she came across a copy of The Joyful Living Colouring Book by Teva Harrison, no doubt the few moments lost in colouring in this book will aid her in keeping those smiles up in her job at the public library this week and in a successful career in the health-care sector later on in her life. Kudos to Harrison for uplifting the human condition in her own way through this book.
I will be adding photos from Sara’s colouring here as they come available. Teva Harrison will be speaking at Wordfest at Museum London (Ontario, Canada) on Sunday November 6. (Link)
There was a kind of synergy created when we were younger and learning to read. Teachers, TV hosts and even our parents somehow combined creating arts and crafts with reading. But then we grew up and somehow art and reading became separate items. Yet there is a joy to be had in a young-at-heart souls when we discover a book that combines the two items again for us. And while Skunk On A String may be a book for the younger set, the collages Thao Lam has created to illustrate this book, should appeal to anybody.
The book has a certain type of whimsy to it but it is a well-crafted form of whimsy. There is a story about a skunk who is trapped by a string on a balloon. And yes, we follow that skunk past all sorts of surprised beings who are too surprised and scared to help that poor skunk out. Yet it is when we look at Thao Lam’s biography we can truly appreciate the skill that went into this book.
Excerpt from the description on the back flap
Thao Lam fled from Vietnam to Canada with her family as a child. Learning English was difficult, and it was picture books that helped her understand this new world and ignited her passion for visual storytelling. She has an insatiable love for colored and textured papers, which she uses to create her exuberant collages.
Skunk On A String by Thao Lam may be a picture book created for the young but it also has appeal for us that are young at heart. Lam’s collages made of different types of paper bring a well-crafted zeal to the book that anybody can appreciate.
I am constantly asked by people for my opinions on books for the younger set. The question usually brings a sense of dread to me. Not that there isn’t a shortage of books I think younger readers would enjoy, but the opposite is the case. There is such great collection of books out there that have such great details that mentioning why every young reader should be encouraged to read them would be quite a chore. So as the Autumn 2016 literary festivals begin to gear up, I plan to explore some of the participants online, check out there works that are accessible to me via my local library and mention the books here I like. Hopefully I will be able to network with writers, artists, illustrators and publishers further by discussing their works here.
One such way to grab the attention of any reader – let alone a younger reader – is to have great artwork to help a reader better understand a complex issue. While the words to a story may be important, art helps to move the narrative to build a better understanding of an issue in the mind’s eye. The more detailed and realistic the artwork, the better the story flows. And that is what Wallace Edwards has done with his artwork in You Are The Earth.
As one can see by the image of the cover of the book, Edwards has a realistic style to his work. It is almost like the beings that he draws are about to bounce off the page. Every line is fine and precise, giving detail to the image. No doubt readers of all ages will be engaged by Edwards’ artwork alone.
This is a unique book. The thoughts in it are profound and enlightening yet written in a simple style for young readers to grasp. But the images really punch the narrative through, giving the book that edge that makes the work come alive.
You Are The Earth is a great book for enlightening young minds about ecology. The artwork by Wallace Edwards is detailed and realistic which draws readers of any age into the book. This is a read well worth pondering over.
Wallace Edwards will be participating at the 2016 Toronto Word on the Street Festival (Link)
Illustrations in a book are somewhat important but when a book is created without words, then the illustrations take on a whole new role in a book. Illustrator Sydney Smith found himself in that situation when he drew the artwork for JonArno Lawson’s Sidewalk Flowers. (Link to my review) Smith recently answered a few questions about his experiences.
1) How are you finding the reaction to “Sidewalk Flowers” so far? Has there been any memorable responses to it?
A: The response to Sidewalk Flowers has surpassed all of my expectations. There were moments when I was working on the book that i thought either this could do well or this is total garbage. I think if you have that thought it’s a good sign. It means the work is probably good and that you are taking a risk.
There have been lots of reviews from around the world, some that i have had to Google translate. Its pretty exciting for me. People are seeing my drawings from China to Mexico.
2) How did you like creating the illustrations for “Sidewalk Flowers?” Was bringing JonArno Lawson’s (and his daughter’s) vision to light an easy thing to do? How long did it take for you to create all the illustrations?
A: I loved working on JonArno’s beautiful and poetic story. I moved to Toronto from Halifax when i first started working on the project and that bit of culture shock informed the drawings. It took about six months from the sketches to the finals.
3) Are you working on anything new right now? If so, are there details you care to share?
A: I’m working on a picture book called “The White Cat and the Monk” by Jo Ellen Bogart, I’m illustrating a historical picture book covering the 150 years of Canada, I’ve starting working on a chapter book written by Esta Spalding and I’m working on drawings that will be on the walls of a children’s ward of a Toronto Hospital. I’m busy but really excited about everything I’m doing.
4) How did you get involved in illustrating? Are there illustrators that you admire? If yes, who are they and why do you like their work?
A: I think my early love of books and comics led me to illustrating. I drew a lot when i was younger and when i went to Nova Scotia College of Art and Design I pushed against it at first but I had some great teachers. I remember Dan O’Neill, my printmaking teacher, handing me a pamphlet with the Governor General shortlist of Children’s Illustrators. He said, this could be you. I never forgot that.
I admire lots of illustrators. It’s hard to narrow it down but lately its been the weirder the better. The books I currently have signed out from the library are illustrated by Charles Keeping and John Burmingham. I’m trying to push myself to take more risks but its hard. My hand doesn’t want to obey and in the end we just compromise.
5) Your work has illustrated books, magazines and various forms of musical recordings. Is there a preferred area of work that you enjoy illustrating for? If yes, why?
A: Children’s books are where I feel most comfortable. For the most part i am left to myself, and there are few limitations other than my own criticizing. With other kinds of illustrations like Music and Editorial you are always representing someone else. And that makes people nervous and the risk of being micromanaged is greater. I don’t respond well to that.
6) Your bio page on your website states that you studied in Nova Scotia but now live in Toronto. How do you – as an illustrator – enjoy living in Toronto? Does that city’s cultural life provide you with any inspiration for your work?
A: Toronto is a completely different pace for me. In Halifax I balanced work out with other activities. Coffee dates, sandwich meetings, beer rendezvous’. But since moving here its more intense. There are long days that sometimes stretch into the next day, and 7 day work weeks.
I love working on Spadina because i have the Lillian Smith library and its children’s books and the Art Gallery on Ontario so close to me. Also China Town is so busy, on nice days, i sit on a bench and draw the traffic during my coffee break.
7) You seem to have an active role on both Facebook and Twitter. How do you like using social media for your work?
A: I don’t know if i have that figured out yet. Tumblr, and Twitter seems to only work if you are consistent and I’m not. I don’t think i will fail in life if i never figure out how to tweet but i can understand how its a good method of reaching an audience. I have a hard time believing anyone wants to hear me talking about my brunch. Maybe i should stop tweeting about my brunch.
8) I know most writers get to go out on book tours for their works, but do you get to attend functions for any of the books that you have published? If yes, what was that experience like for you? If no, is it something that you would like to do?
A: Oh yes. Book tours are fun but they don’t happen for every book. I had the privilege of touring with Sheree Fitch when i illustrated her books. I learned a lot from her. Like don’t sign your name on a child’s forehead even if they ask.
Sidewalk Flowers was launched in Halifax which meant so much to me. There were a lot of people there including my family and friends; some of whom i haven’t seen in years. I teared up when i gave my speech.
The illustrators of children’s books get more attention than illustrators of other media. I’m just starting to realize how vast the children’s book universe is. There are a lot of people in it that just want beautiful books for everyone. There are no agendas, no scams, just a lot of people making beautiful books that inspire, move, excite, humor, and offer escape.
We all remember storytellers from when we were learning to read pronouncing who had written the book they were going to read from. But adding to the lecture to build our love of reading was usually a name of somebody who had illustrated the book. As we grew up, we may have forgotten that books are still being illustrated. Sarah Clement who recently illustrated the book Half For You and Half For Me, (Written by Katherine Govier) answered a few questions about her illustrations and gave some insight to the craft.
Q: How have the reactions been to your illustrations in “Half for You and Half for me?” Is there one favourite illustration that fans prefer in the book? Do you have a favourite there? (and if yes, why?)
I’ve had really positive feedback for the book so far. People appreciate the detail and comment on the unique style. I’d say the most popular image is for ‘Red Sky at Night’. (The rhyme: ‘Red Sky in the morning,/Sailor take warning./Red sky at night,/Sailor’s delight.’) It’s a picture of a rather handsome man with a sailboat tangled in his crazy long beard, with a sun glowing at the end of his smoking pipe. People often joke that they feel like they’ve seen this hipster somewhere before!
I’d have to say that ‘Red Sky’ is one of my favourites, along with ‘Winken, Blinken & Nod’. These little guys (pictured as a bird, fox and turtle) “sailed off in a wooden shoe/Sailed off on a river of crystal light/Into a sea of dew.” Before working on this book, I would often leave my backgrounds white, so it was quite the challenge to really fill and activate the space around the characters. I was really happy with how the golden waves and starry night sky brought this rhyme to life.
Q: How did you get involved in “Half for you?” How long did it take you to complete all the illustrations?
I was very lucky to have Whitecap books email me. Basically, the message was this: ‘Hi Sarah, would you like to illustrate a children’s book?’ I only had to think about it for half a millisecond,…yes! But it wasn’t just that, a couple years earlier, I was in a directory of illustrators called ‘Work/Life’ published by Uppercase Magazine. The art director from Whitecap found me through the directory, so it was definitely worthwhile being in it.
This project was the biggest and most demanding project I’ve done. It probably took 8 months all together, with some very intense last months working on it every day. I feel I grew a lot as an illustrator through the project.
Q: Have you given any lectures or any tours because of “Half for You?” If yes, what were those experiences like?
No, I haven’t.
Q: How long have you been illustrating? How did you get involved in it? Have you done any other interesting illustrative works?
Well, I’ve been drawing for my whole life! I graduated with from Emily Carr University of Art & Design in 2010, but feel that I really started to develop and hone in on my ‘style’ just after that. So, I’d say for about the last 4 years. ‘Make, make, make’, has kinda been my mantra since graduation. Always fine-tuning my drawing skills, growing a portfolio and feeding my creative soul.
I’ve worked on several album covers for bands, my artwork has been turned into temporary tattoos for a Berlin-based company ‘Tattster’ and I’m currently developing a line of greeting cards. I’ve also done a bit of editorial illustration and look forward to delving into that some more.
I just launched my online shop www.lightandlinesstudio.com, where I’m selling art prints and greeting cards. It was a dream of mine for a couple years, so I’m really excited to have it out there in the world!
Q: Are you based out of British Columbia? If yes, how do you like living there?
I’m based in Vancouver, B.C. where I was born. I lived in Berlin for a year and about a year on the Sunshine Coast, but really feel that Vancouver is home. The Westcoast is so much a part of me. The thing I missed the most when I lived in Germany was the ocean…I would dream about that beautiful, open expanse, the salty air and the towering trees. I also feel like I’m part of a creative community here in Vancouver, one that is definitely growing.
Q: Who are some of your favourite artists/illustrators? Is there one illustration that someone has done that you absolutely love? If yes, why?
Some of my favourites include: Penelope Dullaghan, Lisa Congdon, Jon Klassen and Nigel Peake. I love the elegant, old-world style of Charles Van Sandwyk and the playful whimsy of Dallas Clayton. The list could go on and on.
Q: What are your plans for the future? Are you involved with any other illustration work?
My plans for 2015 are to focus on www.lightandlinesstudio.com, further developing a line of greeting cards & prints. I also want to do more editorial work, teach drawing classes and explore textile design. I’m currently working on a whole new series of drawings for a solo show in Vancouver. (at Kafka’s Coffee Feb 28th-Mar 30th). There’s so many things I want to do, and hey, maybe I’ll illustrate another book sometime in the near future!