April 20, 2021

Let's Talk Illustrators #174: Rosie Haine

It was so exciting to talk to debut author-illustrator Rosie Haine about It Isn't Rude to Be Nude! This book has been on my radar since it came out in the UK last year because it's absolutely brilliant, beautiful, and inclusive, and I know you're going to love it as much as I do! So without any further ado, here is my conversation with Rosie about this remarkable book!

About the book:
This beautiful and brilliant debut picture book from Rosie Haine celebrates all bodies in every color, shape, and size you can imagine! All bodies are brilliant bodies, no matter what they look like. They will change as you get older, some things will change quicker than others, some might not change at all! Everyone has a bum. Nipples are normal. It isn't rude to be nude!

Let's talk Rosie Haine!

LTPB: Congratulations on your debut picture book! Why did you create It Isn’t Rude to Be Nude?

RH: Thank you! There’s not really one reason, it was a combination of a few things coming together.

I’d always liked drawing nude figures as I’d done figure drawing since I was a teenager. I’d go to classes with my mum when I was 14 or 15, and when I was studying art in school between the ages of 16 and 19 I did a lot more, and was producing big oil paintings of nudes inspired by the Bloomsbury Group and Picasso. I then went to university and studied English Literature and left art behind till I was 33, when I started an MA in Children's Book Illustration.

During my time away from art I had kept doodling nudes, often drawing swimwear on top afterwards, in case anyone saw them! I was doing so much drawing then during the MA that it was inevitable that I would come back to nude people.

I’d also got myself some new inks—Diamine fountain pen inks (although I used them to paint), which are very bright and mix beautifully, and I became quite obsessed with mixing interesting and exaggerated skin tones. The pigments would separate as they dried, so there was always an element of surprise, and there was something alive about the colours and textures.

Around this time my MA year group decided to do a collaborative alphabet book to raise money for our final show. We came up with the concept of an alphabet book, with all of us randomly picking a letter. I got ‘N’, and immediately knew I would do N for Naked. I spent an afternoon drawing happy nude children for my page, and after the book was printed and sold I got very positive feedback from people, saying their children had loved it, so I realised I was onto something. I then wrote and illustrated the first iteration of the book which I showed in our final exhibition, and at Bologna Book Fair in 2019. It’s funny, I didn’t consciously try to do something controversial or political, in fact it surprised me when people told me the book was ‘brave’. It just felt very natural and common-sense.

LTPB: There are a wide variety of body types represented in It Isn’t Rude to Be Nude! What kind of research did you do to be as inclusive as possible in your illustrations?

RH: It was really important to me that as many people as possible would feel represented, so my aim was to be as inclusive as possible.

Everyone in the book is drawn from my imagination. I’ve done so much observational drawing— in parks, cafes, the beach, or surreptitiously when travelling on the tube to work in London—anywhere where I see people. I find humans endlessly fascinating and beautiful, and when I’m not drawing, I’m always looking. This I think informed the drawings, but I rarely knew what any of the characters in the book looked like till I drew them! They just sort of created themselves out the end of my paintbrush.

When you’re an illustrator it can be easy to have a formula for drawing people, so all your characters will have a similar body type, and you might have one way of drawing noses and eyes etc. I tried hard to overcome this, and to treat each person as an individual.

If I could go back, at the research stage I would have liked to have drawn a wide variety of bodies from life. Doing the book made me realise just how one-dimensional the bodies we are exposed to in the media are. Normal bodies are rarely shown, let alone older or disabled bodies. I found myself downloading catalogues of prosthetics, carefully studying photographs from recent Paralympic Games, and googling mastectomies.

I added a few of my own bodily hang ups to the book, I relate to the mole-y arm with the rash on the skin colours and markings page! Rebranding them as markings was therapeutic.

LTPB: What challenges did you encounter when creating this book, given the topic and the intended audience? How did you work around these challenges, and did you receive any pushback?

RH: I was lucky. As it started as a student project, I had autonomy and the encouragement of my tutors, who told me the book could push the boundaries of children’s book publishing.

It was then shown at Bologna Book Fair, where my university has a stand. Lots of international publishers and agents saw it, and it got enthusiastic feedback, and interestingly a lot of “I love it, but my boss would never publish this!”, “We couldn’t sell this in my country”, “Only two people in Israel would buy this”, “America is not ready for this book”. I did have meetings with publishers who were interested. One wanted to make a lot of changes, which I was not keen on.

I met with Tate Publishing, who loved it and had no qualms whatsoever. My editor there at the time (Fay Evans) was initially worried that her team would not approve it, and she said had a raft of counter arguments prepared when she presented the idea, but none were needed! They’re an arts establishment with a collection full of nudity, so they could hardly blush at the contents of my book.

Fay was brilliant and gave me loads of freedom. We agreed that we should not have nude adults and children on the same page, that there should be as much diversity as possible, and we extended the scope to cover aging, made it even more body positive, and added a subtle message about consent as well.

The only major change was removing nudity from the cover. I love the graphic simplicity of the cover. I also noticed when I showed the book to older children that they were a bit afraid to open it, they thought it was a naughty adult book. So Fay and I came up with the sticker for the cover to reassure people, which I love: “Contains nakedness—and that’s OK!”

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book?

RH: I used the Diamine inks and quite a bit of Parker Quink ink in black, which is actually very dark navy blue and mixes well with brighter colours. I would paint ink quickly onto the smooth side of nice quality cartridge paper, and then work over the top with Faber Castel Polychromos colouring pencils while the ink was still wet. I love this technique. The ink makes the shape of the body, and then the pencil picks out the detail. I found that I could get away with very little line, the brain naturally reads the ink shapes and recognises body parts. Also, the ink dries to make such great edges and skin-like textures.

I would draw freely on bits of paper, often repeating the same thing until I arrived at the best version, and then I composed elements in Photoshop. This way of working kept the drawings fresh and impulsive. I didn’t have to get hung up about drawing something great, then ruining it by drawing the next figure badly. It’s a good technique for a book without backgrounds!

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

RH: I just finished my next book Hooves or Hands?, also published by Tate, and out in September 2021 in the UK. It’s about whether it’s better to be a horse or a human, or perhaps a bit of both. The message is that you can be yourself and not have to choose one rigid identity or another. It’s quite surreal and funny, and I created all the original artwork with offset lithography, which is a very satisfying, tactile and traditional method of printing children’s book illustrations.

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?

RH: I’m very interested in an artist called Tirzah Garwood. She was such an overlooked talent, and married to the British war artist Eric Ravilious, who as a man got most of the attention. They both died tragically young (he in a flying accident in WWII, her a decade later of cancer). Her work is now being rediscovered, and she wrote her own wonderful autobiography called Long Live Great Bardfield. She had so much wit, ingenuity and intelligence in her writing and art, I’d love to see how she’d tackle an autobiography illustration commission! And I’d like to have long chats with her about her life and work.

Thank you so much to Rosie for sharing her process with me! It Isn't Rude to Be Nude published last month from Tate Publishing!

Special thanks to Rosie and Tate for use of these images!

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