October 3, 2017

Let's Talk Illustrators #43: Bethan Woollvin

I've talked about Bethan Woollvin's debut Little Red many, many times. I included it in my list of Best Picture Books of 2016, I analyzed it over at All the Wonders, and, of course, it's listed on my Best Little Red Riding Hood Picture Books round-up. Needless to say, I've been tapping my foot waiting for Bethan's next project, and I'm excited to share her process with you for creating my new favorite fractured fairy tale Rapunzel!  

About the book:
The wicked witch has Rapunzel trapped…but not for long!

Rapunzel lives all alone in a tall, dark tower. Under the threat of a witch's fearsome curse, the poor girl seems doomed to a life in captivity. But is Rapunzel frightened? Oh no, not she!

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

Let's talk Bethan Woollvin!

LTPB: Tell us about your newest book Rapunzel. You’ve already explored the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, so what was it about Rapunzel that drew you in? What research did you do on other retellings of the story? How did you work to make yours a unique retelling? 

BW: So Rapunzel was published over here in the UK in June, which is really exciting and I’m so lucky to have already received some great reviews. I had actually been playing around with Rapunzel being the follow up to Little Red for quite a while before I really did any work on it. Initially I was drawn to Rapunzel because it’s another Brother’s Grimm tale which made it feel more natural as a second book, after Little Red. It also fit in so perfectly with the world that I had already created for Little Red, even featuring another damsel in distress who’s just waiting to be saved...

When I was writing Rapunzel I did do some research into the current versions of the tale, but I’m often more drawn to the traditional tales –– they’re always a lot darker. I enjoy researching these, in case I find any gruesome details or endings that have been edited out over time that I could bring back in my own retelling.

I mainly worked to make Rapunzel a unique retelling by putting myself in her shoes. With the Brothers Grimm tale in mind, I start to think –– what would I have done? And after scribbling down hundreds of twists and endings I finally created my own version of Rapunzel, and she gets her own back!

LTPB: What tools do you use to create your illustrations? Why do you stick with the 4-color palette (white, gray, black, and yellow/red)? 

BW: When creating my book artwork, I usually start by sketching out my composition on large A2 cartridge paper. I then paint my illustrations in gouache paint, all in one layer instead of separate layers. I love the hand-made, painterly aspects you get from painting large scale. To avoid losing any of these I only use photoshop right at the last minute to clean up and enhance.

As for my limited colour pallette, I use this because I love the bold, retro-printed look it gives my illustrations. I’m really inspired by printmaking, especially woodblock and screen printing, and I think that’s quite visible in my work. I also enjoy the challenge of using a limited colour palette ––like a really difficult painting-by-numbers. It forces me out of my comfort zone, and quite often I make something quite different to how I initially pictured it looking. 

LTPB: How involved are you in the design of your books, specifically your case covers, dust jackets, and endpapers? You did it for Little Red as well, so why did you choose to have half of the girls’ faces on the cover with their eyes so focusedly central? 

BW: Luckily, I have a very collaborative relationship with Two Hoots, and I’m very involved in the design of my books. Usually the case covers, dust jackets and end papers come last, but we often have a bit of a brainstorm once I’ve completed all the inside illustrations and think of ideas on how to make the book feel seamlessly designed.

I think we chose to have Rapunzel illustrated on the cover in the same way as Little Red because they look hilarious on a bookshelf together. I designed Little Red’s cover this way because it made her look shifty, like she’s hiding behind the bookshelf. Fortuitously the design also works really well with #bookfacefriday has been a lot of fun getting readers involved in!

LTPB: What are you working on now? I hope it’s Beauty and the Beast and that her eyes are looking up on the cover! 

BW: I can confirm that I am working on another book with Two Hoots, but can’t reveal anything yet. I’m sworn to secrecy…

LTPB: The last question I’m asking all illustrators who participate in the series is, if you could have one illustrator, dead or alive, illustrate your picture book biography, who would it be and why? 

BW: Ah, I would have to choose Tove Jansson. She has always been one of my biggest inspirations! When I was little I had a few Moomin books which I loved, particularly the amazing worlds she created for her Moomin folk. 

It was such a treat getting to talk to Bethan about her process! Rapunzel publishes TODAY from Peachtree Publishers!

Special thanks to Bethan and Peachtree Publishers for use of these images!

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