July 18, 2017

Let's Talk Illustrators #32: Ingrid Chabbert and Guridi

In my mind, there is no finer author-illustrator partnership than Ingrid Chabbert and Raúl Nieto Guridi (who pens his picture books with just his surname). The pair has created a handful of books now, including one of my favorite books of all time, The Day I Became a Bird, and their newest collaboration to be published in English, The Last Tree, further solidifies them as one of the most creative picture book teams. Truthfully, interviewing one without the other felt silly to me, so I reached out and managed to get both Ingrid and Raúl in one interview! I hope you enjoy -- this was a blast to put together!

About the book:
A small boy longs to roll and play in the grass like his father did when he was a child, but the boy lives in a concrete city without any grass or trees. Instead, they have roads, walls, and lots of other ugly things. Then one day the boy and his friend discover a sapling hiding behind a low wall. When they hear that a condominium is being built right on the spot where their tree is growing, the friends know they have to dig it up and replant it in a safe place. They have to make sure the last tree survives. 

Let's talk Ingrid Chabbert and Guridi!

LTPB: Where did the story idea and illustration style come from for The Last Tree?

IC: I am, as many are, very sensitive to the respect we give to our planet, and to the alert signals it sends us. I wanted to speak about it with children, and I chose to imagine what a child could do to save the very last tree.

RNG: I was impressed by the force of history in the text that Ingrid sent me, the communicative power, the ecological message that was behind it, the struggle of life, and, of course, the power of new generations to change everything that we have done wrong. The characters should be universal, valid for any race and village of the world, so I decided that they would be faceless silhouettes. That way the space -- the landscape -- was the protagonist. I believe that it is a necessary book to understand what can happen if we do not change our habits.

LTPB: Where do your story ideas come from? Why do you choose to create advanced stories for children around complex issues like love, existentialism and environmentalism? How do you work to frame your stories for a child audience?

IC: So many things can make a new idea spring... something that I hear, that I smell, that I remember,  that I see. I always have my senses on alert. Daily life is a big source of inspiration. I see people evolving, thinking, laughing. I also like centering on myself, even, and asking myself, "Well, what do you really want to talk about?"

RNG: I think a child's vision is something that is forgotten with age and provides solutions to many of the problems of today's world. Through a child's eyes, an adult can rediscover a connection to humanity, protection, common good, ideals that are lost in the evolution of getting older. On the other hand, I think that children have to get used to learning and talking about adult themes. It is necessary.

To frame stories for a child audience, there a fantastic resource in universal humor, and then I try to use graphics that they can understand, ones that are familiar to them.

LTPB: Raúl, you've worked in advertising, decorating, ephemeral architecture, and graphic design. How did you come to illustrate books for children?

RNG: In all the visual areas I worked, they lacked a narrative concept: design, billboards, and audiovisuals are all very static, and I wanted to tell stories with pictures. Illustration was perfect for this.

LTPB: Raúl, what tools did you use to illustrate The Last TreeHow does your illustration process change depending on the text that you're illustrating? 

RNG: For The Last Tree I used urban textures drawn from concrete and asphalt, and then I proceed to scan the rest, created with dry marker and gouache brushes. Each text requires a different treatment, and I let myself go by what I feel. I choose music for the process and a chromatic range, and the rest comes with a lot of hard work. It takes a long time to research soil.


LTPB: What are you both working on now?

IC: At the moment, I'm working on several volumes for different comic strips. And a publisher requested a text on love (yes, again!).

RNG: I'm releasing a book in France soon that I worked on with Ingrid called A bout de mer (At the Seaside) with the publisher Frimousse. And I'm releasing another book with Ingrid in Spain and Les Editions TTT, as well as three more with other publishers that I cannot talk about yet. I also have a couple of projects for Australia and Argentina.

LTPB: Who would you choose to illustrate your picture book biography, and why?

IC: Ohh, what a question! Maybe Raúl? ;)

RNG: I am fascinated by many illustrators, so I don't know. Chiara Carrer, Catarina Sobral, Isidro Ferrer, etc. But I think that I would say Alejandro Magallanes for his ability to express so much with the stroke of a brush and the typography and his incredible inventiveness.

Thank you so much to both Ingrid and Raúl for taking time to answer some of my questions (in French, Spanish, AND English!!). The Last Tree published from Kids Can Press earlier this year.

Special thanks to Ingrid, Raúl, and Kids Can Press for use of these images!

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