Can you recall the first picture you did that you were really
In my dreams!
2. What were your formative
influences as a maker of children's books? Were there any
images or illustrations which marked your own childhood that
you'd like to talk about?
I used to draw and paint in my dad's studio and pour over
his collection of illustrated books: Edmond Dulac, W. Heath
Robinson, Rackham and others. After our trip to the States,
I treasured a collection called "Storyland, 48 best loved
stories for the very young" published by the Golden Press
Inc. from 1942 to 1960. I remember reading aloud for the first
time from Ruth Krauss's "I can fly" - it was Mary
Blair's decorative illustrations that attracted me to the
words. There were more realistic illustrations in it too;
the paintings of Eloise Wilkin had details in them that I'd
want to pick up and hold, or live inside. There was Garth
Williams and Rojanovsky (whose endpapers are a visual patchwork
résumé of all the stories). The images set my
imagination going; postman sorting mail on a night train,
a house being built, a merry-go-round with 'real' animals
on it, a New York traffic jam, a toy boat sailing out to sea,
a pillow fight, a wooden doll on a south sea island... As
for English illustrators - aside from the old Rupert Bear
Annuals, I liked E.H. Shepard's line drawings so much I copied
them in the book themselves. Ardizzone irritated me (I liked
him much later) because I didn't like 'fuzzy' lines when I
was young. The Puffin club magazine with Fritz Wegner's illustrations
was an inspiration for every lucky child who discovered it
in the UK in the 1960s – ‘70s.
3. How did you get started illustrating children's books?
When I was small I told everyone that I wanted to write and
illustrate children's books when I grew up. It took a very
long time to find my way back where I had started from. At
Cambridge I drew caricatures for the student press, and even
illustrated the first issue of the later famous Granta magazine
with some weird abstracts late one night. I also illustrated
slim volumes of poetry. Then for years, I did all kinds of
other jobs to earn a living in particular translating art
history books into English. After my son was born I began
to focus on what I really enjoyed doing. I came up with 'Toto
in Paris' about a small boy sharing an adventure with a French
friend and a runaway dog. When I'd travelled to other countries
as a child, I'd remembered the strangeness of small things
- peculiar breakfasts, odd coins, different sweets - and I
wanted to include these things in the story. It was beginners'
luck, finding a publisher so quickly that first time round.
My editor encouraged me to expand this idea into adventure
stories set in different countries - Toto in Paris, Italy
and Spain were published.
4. How would you describe
your current illustration style? How has it changed since
you first began working?
I've always liked experimenting with styles but have only
had the courage to admit it as my ‘voice’ has
got stronger. I now work in flat simplified colours or in
more textured painterly mode, depending on the purpose of
the illustrations. When I started, I worked in what I took
to be the standard illustration technique - pen & ink
with watercolour washes. French publishers told me later they
saw this spontaneous linear technique as an 'English' style.
It worked well for movement and descriptive detail. I like
line drawing but when the subject demands it, I love painting
directly in colour with broad brushes, getting the colour
planned out first, within the composition and gradually refining
shapes by painting into them and 'finding' the contour between
two forms rather than using outline. I can do this in oil
or gouache but nowadays, my stylus pen provides many brushes
to splash about with, despite the 'hard' material of the computer.
I also use an eraser on overlays to reveal underlying colours
as in scraperboard, and I can paint with textures too. I never
use computer filters or 'effects' - I like being responsible
for everything, including colour calibration and I check and
print out a lot
5. What do have up on the walls
of your studio?
One wall is papered with a
series of monochrome posters I did for Popi magazine, to remind
me to bold – there are some unusual colour combinations
I refer to. Small dummies for concept book ideas, a few drawings
by my children and photos of them too. Postcards of a Matisse
interior, a Braque & an Ardizzone, some patterned Japanese
paper, a calendar by Kamegata and some work by illustrator
6. Which of your most recent
projects presented the biggest challenge to you and why?
Risking a cliché but
the book I'm working on is the biggest challenge. It has to
be better than anything I've done before and different!
7. Are there any characters
you've created that won't leave you alone? Who are they, how
do they come back and why?
I have a pig family who nearly
got into print but didn't so they keep haranguing me! Also
there are two good names that may end up animals or human
characters. In their own good time!
8. Do you specialize in working
for children's books, or do you also work for other markets,
children's magazines, and adult magazines. Why?
Monthly French children’s' magazines take up half my
time. Turnover is fast and it's heartening to have regular
feedback - as long as you don't mind working within constraints.
I approached Bayard Presse after more than 2 years of work
on a novelty book series which I wrote and illustrated for
another big French kid's book publisher. For packaging reasons
the books weren't published. I needed to appear somewhere
in print fast! As David McKee says, working for magazines
is great for developing a repertoire.
However I also enjoy the slower development of characters
in a book and inventing a world to go with them. It's the
difference between whistling a new tune and composing a whole
9. How easy is it to find work in the country you currently
live in? How easy is it to find work in other countries? Do
you have any tactics you'd like to share?
I doubt if I'd be working for kid’s magazines so much
- certainly not in the UK where the few magazines there are,
seem to be dominated by TV and merchandizing. I guess I'd
do more editorial work or more books if I found the right
publisher. But the quality and range of illustrators in French
kid's press, is remarkable - they use a lot of illustrators
from Britain and Spain in particular and are always looking
for new talent.
The Paris book fairs (Salnd du Livre de Jeunesse at Montreuil
in early December and the Salon du Livre in March) showcase
an incredible variety of French kid’s books, some of
which are so experimental (visually, at least) that they'd
be unlikely to sell in more market-driven economies. I'd recommend
a visit to anyone interested in daring formats and experimentation.
One reason why French publishers can afford to produce costly
books is that public libraries have a decent budget.
10. How, if at all,
has your relationship with the publishers you've worked with
influenced your work over the years?
Everyone dreams of an encouraging
but exacting publisher who senses what you're capable of.
In the past, I sometimes felt that turnover and meeting a
Bologna or Frankfurt deadline took priority over quality.
My current editor gives me the time and feedback I need to
push my work to its best. We have an excellent, trusting email
relationship – until this Bologna we've never met in
person! I try not to bother him too much but he's always quick
to respond and happy to be a 'fresh eye' when needed. Despite
working in committees I've found French magazine editors and
art directors to be clear and efficient - more so perhaps
than some book publishers. They've encouraged me to be bold
when necessary. Paradoxically, because of the constraints
we work within, I’ve experimented and tried things I
wouldn't have tackled on my own.
11. In your experience, how
does the relationship between the publisher and the illustrator
change in different countries?
I wonder if the size of the
publishing house doesn't affect relationships much more than
nationality these days. An editor with the power to make things
happen, wherever they are, is all that’s needed!
12. Can I add an " I wish I'd written" outburst
One hundred and five people get dressed and go to work. What
a refreshing subject for a picture book! That's the basic
theme of Karla Kuskin and Marc Simont's 'The Philharmonic
gets dressed'. The ending says it all: "...their work
is to play. Beautifully."