March 21, 2017

Let's Talk Illustrators #17: Emily Gravett

Of all the authors and illustrators I've followed over the years, I don't think I've amassed a larger collection of books by a single author-illustrator than Emily GravettI find her work to be magical, and there seems to be no end in sight to her creativity and innovativeness. Emily has won two Kate Greenaway Medals for best-illustrated British children's book (one of which was her debut book!), but she shows no signs of slowing down. Her new picture book Tidy continues to showcase Emily's progress as a writer and illustrator, and I'm thrilled to share our conversation.

About the book:
Pete the badger likes everything to be neat and tidy at all times, but what starts as the collecting of one fallen leaf escalates quickly and ends with the complete destruction of the forest. Will Pete realize the error of his ways and reverse his tidying habit?

And because I can't find a better video anywhere on the internet, I'm sharing this one I took last year. How incredible is that book design??

Peek underneath the dust jacket here.
Watch the official book trailer here.

Let's Talk Emily Gravett!

LTPB: Tell us a little bit about Pete from your new book Tidy! What inspired him? How did he evolve over the course of creating the book? Did you set out to create a book highlighting the environment and the way we treat it?

EG: I’m very fond of Pete. His character is somewhat inspired by a morning dog-walk friend of mine. On my way to meet her in the morning I often see her in the distance picking up rubbish on the street and re-organising people's recycling bins. 

But Pete didn’t start life as a neat freak. At the beginning Pete was part of a trio. The other two characters were a hamster and a mole, and they were supposed to be going on a treasure hunt. I often have trouble coming up with new ideas, and the treasure hunt idea was one that I couldn’t make work, but I did like the badger, so decided to keep him and come up with a story for him instead. I had no intention of making a book with an environmental theme, it felt more to me like a story about making a mistake and the consequences of that mistake. 

LTPB: Can you talk a little about how you create your illustrations? For Tidy it looks like you used all sorts of media -- how do you weave together all those layers? Do you usually create your text or images first?

EG: Tidy is a bit of a departure for me, illustration-wise. I’ve never been that confident with colour, and often don’t use backgrounds in my books (or use very simple ones), but as soon as I’d made the decision that Tidy was going to be set in a forest, I had the dilemma of how to draw it. I spent a lot of time experimenting with different media, but in the end settled on a mixture of watercolour and lino cut. I used Photoshop to fit all the (many many) layers together. 

Another departure in Tidy, is the fact it is in rhyme. I felt strongly that this should be a rhyming book, but I am not a natural at it! Me and my UK editor made a deal that I would also have a prose version prepared and if by the time the book needed to go into production my rhyme wasn’t up to scratch it would be in prose. I worked on that rhyme almost up until the last minute!

LTPB:  You’ve created over twenty books since your debut Wolves twelve years ago. How has your process changed over the years? Do you still form your narratives the same way?

EG: I’d like to say that over the years I’ve developed into a sleek smooth book producing machine, but unfortunately I still bumble through any which way I can. I constantly tell myself that I will have it sorted for the next book, but lo and behold I fall into the same negative patterns without quite refining the bits that work. It’s all a little chaotic and disorganised. There’s definitely a pattern of work, but I only see it in retrospect! I’m beginning to suspect that not knowing 100% what I’m doing may be key to the process and a necessary part of creativity. 

A small(!) sampling of Emily's published books

LTPB: As a super-fan, I have to know: what are you working on next? And is there anything you can show us?

EG: The one part of my process I can rely on is that after I finish a book is I will go through a period of creative block where no idea comes up to scratch, and I doubt my ability to ever produce anything ever again. Tidy has been published in the UK for over a year. When I finished it, there was my usual hair-tearing gap before I came up with Old Hat. I’ve included an image from it here, but I’m afraid that, too, has been finished (it publishes in the UK in May 2017), and now I am back wondering if inspiration will ever strike again . . .

LTPB: If you could have one illustrator illustrate your picture book biography, who would it be and why?

EG: I think it would have to be Raymond Briggs. He has a very honest style which I love, and I’m sure wouldn’t be prone to flattery. 

It was a pleasure getting to chat with you, Emily! Tidy publishes today from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers! 

Special thanks to Emily for use of these images!

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