The beauty of the wilderness has been often described as wonderful and lyrical. And while a many a book has been written about the wilderness, it takes a gifted team to bring the magic truly together. So it is truly wonderful to flip through Me and You and the Red Canoe, written by Jean E. Pendziwol with pictures by Phil.
After savouring this book for a little while, it is obvious that these duo not only have spent time in the outdoors but enjoy doing so. Their combination of words and images create a texture of what spending length of time out relaxing out near a lake. This book may appear to be a simple read at first, but for anyone – young or old – who takes the time to look carefully at the detail of both the words and the artwork here, gains a great appreciation of a simple canoe trip.
drifting in our red canoe,
and watching a moose
on long gangly legs
pluck cattails from the shallows
for his breakfast.
I dropped my line
into the blue-green depths,
Pendziwol told me in a Q&A (link here) that place is important in her writing. And readers certainly get that feeling with this book. Readers easily gain empathy with the protagonist of this story who is out enjoying a day in a canoe. She shares the tranquility and relaxation that comes with someone out in nature, away from the hurly-burly of the modern electronic world we encase ourselves in.
There is a certain mystic about “Phil” who is listed as having done the ‘pictures’ for this book. The images are detailed and vibrant which adds to the enjoyment of the book. We learn about “Phil’s” educational background and where he lives now from his blurb on the back of the book but not more. A small website on the publisher’s page (Link here) lists a bit more of his background and tells us the ‘pictures’ are rendered on wood panels, which give the images a classic and time-honoured feel to them. But nothing more. The mystic about this talented artist certainly gives the book a bit more pleasure to it.
Me and You and the Red Canoe, written by Jean E. Pendziwol and “pictures” by Phil, is certainly a charming and tranquil read to be savoured. The duo certainly breed empathy for the outdoors through their well-crafted work.
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.
Since I have been asked to give my opinion about childrens’ books, I have been impressed with the details, the planning and the design that goes into what appears at first a simple item. And that is what I found interesting about Paul Covello’s Canada ABC book too. But as I flipped through the book, I found myself thinking that there may be another use for his book as Canada prepares to celebrate it’s 150th year since Confederation in 2017.
Covello has a great book here. He documents every letter from A to ‘Zed’ with unique Canadian concepts and icons. The images at first appear to be simple. (For example – A setting with three or four animals). But then one looks at the pictures and realized there is a bit of hidden detail here. (A collection of leaves, a grove of trees which use geometric shapes, colours that compliment each other and so forth.) The joy of this book is not just looking at the definitions and the images that are here, but to look at the details and – if one is sharing with others – discuss the details of each of the images.
While this may be a book for little minds, I believe that I will be giving copies of this book out to visitors to Canada who come to see me during the celebrations of our country next year. The simple concept would help people whose English skills may be limited still understand the concepts of what makes up Canada today. And the brightly illustrated pages are more unique than any tacky souvenir that is available for purchase.
Paul Covello’s Canada ABC may appear to be a simple book, but it is a unique discussion piece when one gives a few careful moments to look it over. It is a perfect gift for so many people as Canada prepares to celebrate it’s 150 anniversary since Confederation.
For many of us, (And especially for those of us who must engage the world in a digital manner) illustrations are something we glance over and pass by. But in many cases, illustrators are people whose skill and craft adds a complex dimension to a book for readers to enjoy. Thao Lam is a illustrator whose ideas come through in careful planning and detail. She recently answered a few questions for me about her work.
1) How long did it take you to create “Skunk On A String?” Was there anything specific that inspired you to create the book?
It took me one year to complete Skunk On A String. This includes storyboarding and illustration. But it took me nearly a decade to figure out how to get the skunk down from the balloon. Many years ago while I was in the shower, an image of a skunk tied to a balloon popped in my head. I never proceeded with the story because I couldn’t figure out how to get the skunk down from the balloon. Over the years I thought of many scenarios, like having the skunk rescued by an astronaut because he made it to the moon via balloon, but all those scenarios were too far fetch.
2) Where did you find your materials to create ‘Skunk On A String?’ Any idea on how many pieces of paper it took to create the complete book?
I lost track of how many pieces of paper were used in the making of Skunk On A String – too many to count! The assortments of paper came from papers I collected over the years; The Paper Place in Toronto; art stores around the city, and I order a lot of stuff from www.scrapbook.com
3) How has been the reaction to ‘Skunk On A String?’ Has there been any memorable experiences you care to share because of the book?
So far the reaction to the book has been really positive. The trailer for book has hit an all time high for Owlkids Books https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S781wbPaQ_k. It’s received great reviews and even a star from Kirkus. Since Skunk On A String is my first book, every moment has been memorable. I think my favorite moment was spotting copies of Skunk On A String at my favorite children’s book store, Mabel’s Fables. I have been going to this book store for years and would spend hours at the store browsing for inspiration and discovering amazing books, authors, and illustrators. It blew my mind to see my book in print along with those I admire.
4) What inspired you to go into illustration? Who are some of your fellow illustrators that you admire?
As a kid I would spend hours in the children’s section of the library pouring over books — something I still do as an adult. The idea that you get to spend your day drawing and being creative was mind blowing so there was never any doubt in what I wanted to do when I grew up.
Illustrators I admire: Jon Klassen, David Wiesner, and Isabelle Arsenault are my top picks if I were to get stranded on a desert island.
5) Do you do many public events in relation to your work? If yes, is that something you enjoy doing?
I totally enjoy doing public events (though I still get stage fright each time). Skunk On A String has opened many opportunities and has introduced me to many folks in the industry as well as book fans. For example I got the opportunity to talk to some librarians and teachers at the Ontario Library Association Super Conference (OLA), which was great because I learned a lot about reading a wordless picture book to an audience. I am a big wordless picture book fan and have quite a collection of them but I have never shared one with an audience before so the advice I got from the OLA came in handy when I did my first reading. I especially like doing school visits, seeing kids get excited over books makes me smile!
6) You seem to be active on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter? How do you like using those apps. in relation to your work?
I am not really good at posting and tweeting, I have to keep reminding myself to be social. I find it especially hard to do while I am working but I guess posting and tweeting is working, just the marketing side of work (I prefer the creative side of work).
7) You talk on your website about your love of children’s books. What are some of your favourite books?
Oh, that would be a long list! Currently “Dear Mr. Blueberry” written and illustrated by Simon James, the “Gerald and Piggie” series written and illustrated by Mo Willems, “The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend” written and illustrated by Dan Santat, and “The Day the Crayons Quit” written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers are read on a continues loop in our household.
8) Have you given any thought into creating another book? If yes, are there details you care to share about it?
I am working on a second book with Owlkids Books. It is about making friends something I had a really hard time doing when I was a kid because I was shy and didn’t have confidence. The launch date is set for Spring 2018.
9) Your biographies list you as living in Toronto? How do you like living there? Are there items in Toronto that inspire you as an illustrator?
Toronto is so vibrant! There is so much diversity, culture, arts that something is always happening all year long. It is hard not to be inspired when there is so much going on. For inspiration I usually head to my favorite bookstores like Mabel’s Fables, Little Island Comics, or I just visit my local library. There are also great book festivals throughout the year, my favorite is the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. The organizers do an amazing job every year, it just gets bigger and bigger and the list of featured guests is stellar, so much inspiration under one roof and it is free to attend.
I purchased a copy of Maya at the 2016 Toronto Word on the Street festival
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For those of us in today’s era who still admire book, we truly love the detail, the time and the craft of the printed page. And that admiration counts for both writers and illustrators. Alec Dempster has created a series of woodcuts to illustrate JonArno Lawson’s newest collection of poetry – called The Hobo’s Crowbar – and agreed to answer a few questions for me. The Hobo’s Crowbar will be released by The Porcupine’s Quill in October, 2016.
1) How long did it take you to do the woodcuts for The Hobo’s Crowbar? JonArno Lawson stated in a Q&A for me he was amazed by your work for the book. Was it an easy task to create images for his poems?
I spent several months creating the images. Because I was working on another illustration project at the same time, working on music for Palo Dado my new band (Link to their Facebook page here), as well as my work for Lula Music and Arts Centre (Link here) it is hard to say exactly how long it took . I spend about two of three days on each image. Some time is also spent preparing the woodblocks. In this case a friend of mine who is a luthier had some spare offcuts of veneer from another project and he helped me glue them to particle board. It wasn’t the ideal material but I managed to make it work for me and the result is a series of images that are unlike any other I have made. The fact that I was free to choose which poems to illustrate from a large selection made it easier. I found the poems that evoked an image in me and that I could connect to personally in some way. I wouldn’t say that is was easy but I had a lot of freedom to create which made a big difference.
2) According to your website, this will be your sixth book that you have been involved with. (Including another book with JonArno Lawson.) Is publishing and illustrating something you enjoy doing?
Each book project I have worked on has been thoroughly enjoyable and very different. The book form is well suited to the black and white images I create whether it be linoleum prints, woodblock prints or paper cuts. As opposed to showing the work in a gallery for a month or so, the images in the book continue to circulate for much longer.
3) Will you be exhibiting the works from The Hobo’s Crowbar in any way? Will copies from the cuts be available for purchasing?
The prints are being shown till the end of August in Mandrágora Galería y Taller in Metepec, Mexico. (Link to their Facebook page) They are for sale and I am looking for somewhere to show the work in Toronto. Other venues are most welcome.
4) Are there artists that you admire for their technique? If yes, who are they and why?
The artists that I admire are good technicians but for me technique is a given. I am more interested in what an artist has to communicate. A few of the fellow printmakers I admire are Sergio Sánchez Santamaria, Daniel González, Mazatl, Joel Rendón and Demian Flores. Except for Mazatl, I know them all and that makes a difference to my appreciation of the work because I understand something about where they are from and where they create. There are many more artists I admire.
5) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
I am working on a new series of illustrations for a book by Hubert Malina for Pluralia Ediciones in Mexico. (Link to their website (in Spanish)) Hubert writes in Mè’ phàà a language spoken in the mountains of the state of Guerrero and in Nicaragua. The book is part of a series of Mexican indigenous poets writing in different languages. It is an honour to be part of the series.
6) You seem to have an active online presence on the social-media platforms life Facebook and Twitter? How do you you like using these applications in relation to your work?
Facebook is useful for promoting events although it hasn’t been very useful in terms of selling my work. I haven’t understood the usefulness of Twitter so you could say I have given up on it. Instagram seems to be used a lot by visual artists and I am giving it a try. (Link to Alec Dempster’s Instagram page)
7) You have been travelling quite a bit for your work but where is your studio located right now? Is it in a city or region that inspires you for your work?
My provisional studio is located in Toronto. I wouldn’t say that Toronto inspires my artwork but living here has given me a form of stability that allows me to focus on my artwork when I have time to allot to sitting down to create. When I lived in Mexico I was able to dedicate longer periods to work on art projects exclusively. Here I am constantly juggling time and occupations. Toronto is an inspiring place musically and my musical projects have fed on the diversity of excellent musicians that live here.
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!