June 4, 2020

Let's Talk Illustrators #146: Charlotte Ager

I got to chat with Charlotte Ager, debut illustrator of Child of Galaxies by Blake Nuto, and it was wonderful to gain some insight into this astounding book. Ager's thoughtful and mesmerizing illustrations encourage readers to dig deep into themselves, and I'm pleased to share our conversation here. Enjoy!

About the book: 
Your body was made from the stuff of the stars,
You're a child of galaxies dreaming.

Child of Galaxies is a thought-provoking and poignant picture book, celebrating the wonder, mystery, resilience and joy of what it means to be alive.
Let's talk Charlotte Ager!

LTPB: Congratulations on your debut book! What excited you most about Blake Nuto’s manuscript for Child of Galaxies? What were you most excited to illustrate?

CA: I loved the manuscript the moment I read it. I really struggled when I was little with the uncertainty of life and the vastness of the world. These are the words I wish I’d had as a child. The poetic nature of the words and the fact it doesn’t reference specific places gave me a lot of freedom in how to illustrate it. I was most drawn to illustrating the darker moments where there needed to be a balance of contemplation, confusion and beauty. I think it’s a real privilege to be able to talk about those sadder feelings it a children’s book, and that’s what I was most excited by. 

LTPB: What kind of research did you do to create the images? How did you mix in the realities of your research with your own unique art style? 

CA: I began just going over the words a lot, trying to think of ways to add something to the text. I liked the idea of mixing abstract places and scenes that are very much ‘in the world’ to bridge that gap between imagination and the joy in the everyday. In general, I didn’t want the scenes to be specific, the book is about universal ideas of the magic of life and it felt important to try and make the book feel like it could exist in lots of places. I liked being able to come up with spreads that were all very different from each other, that didn’t need to be held down by a certain place. Research involved more looking through books I enjoy that deal with subjects poetically, like the Starry Messenger by Peter Sís and Nobody Rides the Unicorn by Adrian Mitchell and Stephen Lambert.

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium?

CA: I used a range of processes which mostly involved hand rendered details and then compiling them digitally so that I could make changes easily and not feel too precious. As this is my first picture book I was quite nervous about making images that might need lots of changes but working like this allowed me to have more freedom to make mistakes. I think I prefer in general to work by hand completely because it’s more instantaneous and allows for happy accidents but there are parts of this book that wouldn’t have worked quite the same. It’s definitely been a big learning process and made me understand lots of different ways to create images.

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

CA: I’m working on a few different things, one of which is a collaboration on a new children’s book with Charlotte Webster, an environmental writer and campaigner. It is about the power of nature and the magic of renewable energy. It’s based in East Africa, so it’s been wonderful thinking about portraying the landscape, the lushness of the greenery. It’s nice to have a completely different challenge that with Child of Galaxies, to be able to dive into some research about a specific place and think of how to represent it. I’m also continuing to work on projects with people and doing my own work, I like an eclectic mix of jobs. It keeps me on my toes and each project can bounce oFf each other and stretch a different part of my brain. 

LTPB: If you got the chance to write your own picture book autobiography, who (dead or alive!) would you want to illustrate it, and why?

CA: That’s a great question, I think I would like Edward Bawden to illustrate it. I have a strange affiliation with him because I once had to spend a while researching him, I went to the Fry gallery In Saffron Walden where he used to live and had a really amazing experience being shown around whilst it was closed to hang a show of his work. From what I’ve read and seen he seems to have been quite a shy person who would rather observe a party than be in it which I relate to. He was also an incredibly hard worker and rarely took days off so I feel like I could trust him. His work is a lovely balance of imagination and real world observation which I think would fit well in illustrating my autobiography. I’ve seen some of the one off books he illustrated for his children and they’re full of wonder, I’d love to see how he’d think about approaching it. I also love the way he depicts the sea and I grew up on an island, going to the beach every day in the summer so I think that would be a nice fit. 

A million thanks to Charlotte for taking time to answer some questions! Child of Galaxies publishes today!

Special thanks to Charlotte for use of these images!

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