August 15, 2017

Let's Talk Illustrators #36: Jonathan Bentley

In my email to famed Australian illustrator and part-time author Jonathan Bentley, I told him that I got three pages into his new book Blue Sky Yellow Kite, written by Janet A Holmes, before I set it down and hunted for his email address. Really, I didn't even need three spreads to know that I wanted to interview him, but it was hard to look away. And then once I'd sent him a request, I sat down and studied the book for an hour. Jonathan's illustrations are incredibly moving, and I know you'll find yourself equally swept up in them. Have a read about Jonathan's process below. 

About the book:
Daisy sees a yellow kite flying in the sky and is immediately taken with it. It leads her to a young boy, William, who lives on the other side of the hill. William shares the kite with Daisy and shows her how to fly it. But before she knows it, Daisy is running away, back to her home — with William's kite!

Later, Daisy's elation over the kite turns to guilt, a feeling that keeps her awake all night. Now having the treasured kite just doesn't seem as important. But will Daisy be able to right her wrong?

Watch the official book trailer here.

Let's talk Jonathan Bentley!

LTPB: I have to admit, Jonathan, I was only three pages into this book before I set it down to ask you for an interview. I was just blown away by the illustrations! 

JB: Thank you, that is very kind of you. I had a lot of fun illustrating Blue Sky Yellow Kite and usually when I am having fun I think it shows in my work.

LPTB: What drew you to this book? How did you create the illustrations?

JB: One of things I loved about this book when I first read the story was that it gave me the opportunity to draw and paint so many outside scenes. In a way, the landscapes act as an extra layer of narrative, setting the mood for the text. To illustrate these landscapes I worked in a way that allowed me to paint with a lot of looseness and freedom, that is to say I painted them separately from the line work and then put them together using Photoshop. So, in a way I work traditionally with water colour paint and pencil, but I just scan all the parts in and put them together digitally.

LTPB: Tell me about how Daisy became the Daisy we see in this book. How many incarnations did she go through? How did her visual story — the world she lives in, the characters she interacts with, the plot lines she encounters — evolve as you got to know her better?

JB: I came to Daisy quite quickly. I knew I wanted her to have long black hair to contrast with the backgrounds. Giving her long hair also allowed me to emphasize the windy weather, which is obviously very important when trying to fly a kite. I also liked the idea of Daisy being close to nature, a bit wild, if you like, hence why she doesn’t wear shoes.

It was important to me that as Daisy learns about herself through this story, as she realizes the error of her ways, she was not totally alone. So, I added the cat as an extra friend. 

Another idea I had was to use colour to match Daisies’ mood. You can see this clearest in the spread when Daisy is in bed contemplating what she has done.

LTPB: You’ve illustrated over twenty picture books. How has your creative process changed since you illustrated your first book? How do you approach each new book with a fresh take? What types of stories are you naturally drawn to?

JB: Well I learn something from every book I do, whether as an illustrator or an author. Each one has challenges that push me to explore new ways of working. It is important for me to keep learning and to try new things, whether that is in terms of the subject matter in the story or the technique I use to illustrate it. 

But on a general level I do really enjoy picture books that are quirky and allow me to play with scale like in my first book as an author/illustrator Little Big. I also like books that have an interactive nature, where the reader feels like the story is going one way, and then I throw in a twist or a surprise like in Where Is Bear?


LTPB: What are you working on now? Anything you can show us?

JB: I have just finished illustrating a couple of books:


The Second Sky, written by the fabulous Patrick Guest, is due out in September and is about a little penguin who wants to fly. It’s a journey of discovery, and, similarly to BSYK, it allowed me to explore landscapes, but also underwater scenes which were a real challenge.

Tales From a Tall Forest, written by the equally fabulous Shaun Micallef, is due out in October and is a riotously funny retelling of old fairytales. It's also the first YA book I have illustrated. And that leads nicely into your last question about what illustrators I would choose to illustrate my picture book biography!

LTPB: Hahaha and who would they be?? Based on your image from Tales From a Tall Forest, I think I might know!

JB: I would choose either Arthur Rackham or W Heath Robinson just because of the quirkiness and amazing drawing skills.

A huge thanks to Jonathan for chatting with me! Blue Sky Yellow Kite published from Peter Pauper Press earlier this year!

Special thanks to Jonathan and Peter Pauper Press for use of these images!

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