September 15, 2020

Let's Talk Illustrators #155: Christian Borstlap

It's not every day that you come across a book that takes your breath away. I was fascinated with This Thing Called Life from the moment I saw the cover, and I was thrilled to get a chance to talk its debut creator Christian Borstlap. I hope you enjoy the conversation!

About the book: 
What is life? It's constantly moving, growing, reproducing, and dying. It's happening now, all the time, and it's everywhere around us. From little helicopter seed pods that float through the air to blue whales in the ocean, the world is filled with all different types of odd and familiar kinds of life. This whimsical picture book helps young readers see the connections between all living things.

Let's talk Christian Borstlap!

LTPB: I think the first question has to be, where did the idea for This Thing Called Life come from? And how long did the book take to create from inception to final printing?

CB: Originally, the idea for the book comes from a communication campaign my studio created for the Amsterdam Zoo, ARTIS. The film I wrote and directed had lots of exposure on the internet and animation festivals, and that's how it was picked up by Nadine Robert, director of publishing house Comme de Géants in Quebec, Canada. She was the one who came up with the idea to transform the film into a book. Now it's published in over 20 countries. 

LTPB: This Thing Called Life tackles a pretty tough subject for kids, the concept and finality of life. What conscious efforts did you make to ensure this was a book aimed at children?

CB: I'm not sure life is a tough subject. What I try to accomplish with this book is to simplify big things so they get lighter and not so tough. Anyway, it's better to laugh about serious matters. Children -- all of us -- have to deal with life every day. Life is fun, weird, terrible, exciting, daunting, hilarious, boring and many other things at the same time.

Besides that, I believe children are often underestimated in the way they are approached by adults. Every page of the book could be applied to something someone experiences at nursery school. Take the advice, like "sometimes you got to stay low, and sometimes you got to make noise." It works for children at school, and at the same time it still goes for adults who need to survive their colleagues at work. And it even goes for your cat, if there's a dog nearby. 

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium? How does your process change from book to book?

CB: Perhaps I'm not the quintessential children book maker. Being a designer originally, I love to use all kinds of techniques form analogue painting and drawing to collage techniques, photography and film and more digital ones. A technique, or style, is just a way of getting your idea across. It's fun and exciting to explore different possibilities.

The illustrations of this book turned out like this because it is some kind of ' Lesson in Life'. Therefore I thought it would be relevant to use more detailed and hatched illustrations, referring to the scientific illustrations that were made before the invention of photography.

LTPB: You have another pretty sizable side gig! Can you talk about your work and role at Part of a Bigger Plan?

CB: I founded the Part of a Bigger design studio 10 years ago. We're small in number of people, but we do large and ambitious projects worldwide. Our work is shown in the NY MET museum, the Louvre in Paris, and often in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. We work for brands such as Tiffany NY, Louis Vuitton and Herman Miller. But I'm the most proud of the diversity in projects: we do graphic design, communication campaigns, websites, exhibition design, identities, films, products, and recently also children books.

LTPB: What are you working on now? Can you show us anything from Is There Life on Your Nose?

CB: Right now we're working on a 30-minute 360 dome projection show for children about the universe. There's also a new book publishing next year called Is There Life on Your Nose? about the invisible life of microbes. It will be published in Canada (french) and later in South Korea. It has a similar story as the This Thing Called Life, as it started as a communication campaign we developed for Micropia, the only Microbe museum in the world.

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?

CB: Children book illustrators always have been a great source of inspiration:t he Dutch Fiep westendorp, Carl Hollander, Dick Bruna are brilliant. So are Richard Scarry, Annette Tison Talus Taylor (barbapappa) and Maurice Sendak.

A million thanks to Christian for taking time to answer questions about his debut children's bookThis Thing Called Life is available for pre-order here and publishes three weeks from today from Prestel Junior.

Special thanks to Christian and Prestel for use of these images!

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