September 20, 2016

Let's Talk Illustrators #4: Janet Hill

Back in January at the American Library Association's Midwinter Conference, I saw Janet Hill's Miss Moon: Wise Words From a Dog Governess for the first time. I remember walking past the book, picking up a poster (finally framed it last week!!), and then eyeing the book for the rest of the day as I walked back and forth across the display floor.

I think you know where this is going...

Even though I've now had the book for months and months I haven't stopped thinking about it, and I'm so excited to finally share my interview with Janet. Although I don't have any process photos to show you--when she painted the images, she never knew they would become a picture book!--The Globe and Mail recently produced a two-minute time-lapsed video of Janet recreating the cover of Miss Moon. It's a wonderful window into her process as an artist and a great way to kick off the interview!

About the book:
Miss Wilhelmina Moon is a dog governess to sixty-seven dogs of all shapes, sizes and colors. But armed with patience and a passion for teaching Miss Moon soon imparts twenty important lessons to her furry brood. Some are practical, some are playful, one or two are a little unusual, but all are necessary for the raising of happy, healthy and well-mannered dogs (and humans).

Let's talk Janet Hill!

LTPB: Let's dive right in. You’ve said before that Miss Moon didn’t start off as a children’s book but evolved into one. How did you go from paintings to picture book?

JH: I was contacted by the editor of Marchand de feuilles (a French Canadian publisher) who had been on my website and discovered my Miss Moon paintings and felt that they would make a good children’s book. The series was set up as an assortment of lesson paintings, which is why the book doesn’t have a narrative. I added an introduction and there are also repeat characters that help give it a little more depth.

LTPB: Miss Moon is a dog governess, an archer, a baker, a teacher, swim instructor, and more, and still manages to look impeccable in every image. What can you tell us about Miss Moon herself? How did she come about? And where did she get a monkey??

JH: The character of Miss Moon was actually inspired by Moira Shearer from the 1948 film, The Red Shoes. I loved her victory rolls and felt that it would make a practical but eccentric hairstyle for a governess. Subconsciously, I think I also drew upon Mary Poppins with her tidy appearance. The monkey appeared from the very beginning because I had intended the setting to be someplace very tropical then it somehow turned into the Channel Islands, which has some sub-tropical vegetation.

LTPB: You worked pretty hard to keep the time period book of this book ambiguous. The animals are dressed in fashions ranging across many years, and Miss Moon even holds up a sign in the last spread where the year is covered obstructed by a howling dog. Why was keeping the year open-ended important to you?

JH: I never like to commit entirely to a specific time period because I find it can stunt my creativity. I really like mixing elements from different time periods which is one of the luxuries that creating a fictional world allows.

LTPB: In the last spread we see all 67 dogs at once, each with a special name and a standout personality. How did you make each dog feel like a unique individual?

JH: While I was working on the book, several of the dogs started to develop obvious personalities, such as Nelligan the naughty Pomeranian, and the love pugs Bernie and Queenie. There were also some more subtle personalities like the gossipy Borzoi sisters, and Finnegan the foodie (who is actually my own King Charles Cavalier). There wasn’t too much thought given to the various characters, they just developed over the course of creating the paintings.

LTPB: Will you continue to write and illustrate children’s books?

JH: I have plans to do another children’s book for cat lovers, as well as a young adult novel that I’ve been writing and illustrating for several years called Lucy Crisp and the Vanishing House.


LTPB: Your choice of illustrator for your picture book biography, Júlia Sardà, is hilarious and timely--she's my next Let's Talk Illustrators interview! 

JH: I really enjoy Júlia's work. Her illustrations have a lot of energy, and she’s brilliant at painting dark and magical imagery.

A million thanks to Janet for taking time to explain her process! Miss Moon: Wise Words From a Dog Governess published from Tundra Books earlier this year, so check your local bookstore.

Special thanks to Tundra Books for use of these images!

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