Images: @gemmola www.gemmola.com
When did you first start drawing?
I started drawing when I was knee high to a grasshopper.
What kinds of things did you like to draw as a child?
I still have some of my kinder paintings and my favourite is a swirl of paint with some splodges, titled, ‘The smoke is coming, the bees are coughing.’ Apparently, I often told stories with my pictures. I loved drawing beetles, flowers and birds and still do!
What interests you in children’s books?
Possibilities. I see children’s books as an art form in itself. I am fascinated with the tradition of story telling through images and words and the partnership they create. It is exciting to see and hear fresh voices in beautiful new picture books and the way design is playing such an important role.
What do you like about creating them?
The feeling of escape. Spending time in a tiny world that can hold endless adventure, hope, fragile moments and contentment.
What’s your process? Is it the same each book, or does it change?
Day dream. Draw. Wonder. Draw. Paint. Worry. Paint. Worry. Paint. Complete. And Repeat. The only difference is really the techniques I experiment with, whether it be printmaking, collage, pencil or watercolour.
Tell us about your latest book Lottie and Walter, where did this idea come from?
When I was a child my cousin told me there was a shark hiding in the pool filter in my grandparents swimming pool. I was terrified of the idea, and would not venture beyond the steps of the pool alone. I have always loved Walruses too, and when I was wondering how Lottie would overcome her fear of the shark, I knew which creature should come to hold her hand!
How did the characters some to life – overtime or was it more immediate?
The characters arrive with a slow reveal. By spending time with them, they gradually take form and I come to know the way they move, they way they respond, what they like to eat and their personalities. I adore the character of Walter, he makes me laugh! One of the highlights of this story was creating the stop motion book trailer and watching Walter lumber on to the scene.
How long does it take you to sketch the ideas for the whole book?
The rough sketching stage takes approximately five months and painting the final illustrations takes around six months. I generally say a book takes a year, although Walter from the first tiny sketch in my visual diary until final pages was more like three years.
How much does your childhood influence what you write and illustrate about now?
My childhood plays a pivotal role in creating stories. I often create stories for the child that I was or am. I think writing stories as an adult, is a way of understanding the world you experienced as a child and how you navigate your way through life then and now.
What has been a book you’ve created that has resonated with you most?
Ooh, this is a tricky question. I have a close relationship with many of the characters in my stories. I suppose Peggy, Mr Huff and Walter all hold an extra special place in my heart. Peggy is so quiet and brave, Walter is reassuring, and Mr Huff while holding an inextricable sadness can also be amusing. They feel like friends, and I feel fortunate knowing them.
How do you feel when you see the book printed and ready to be sold?
When I open the package of an advance copy of a book, I can barely open my eyes. My kids say I always stress about the colours, even though they can barely see any difference between the proof and the printed copy. I hope the book will be ok out there in the world!
What influences what you write and draw about?
Family, friends, childhood and the things I see in daily life. Recently we travelled to Japan and I was taking pictures of the charming, worn houses all pressed together in a street, when I saw a tiny door, the size of a picture book. I knew straight away who was quietly snoring behind that door. . .but that is another story!
Are you a collaborator or more of a solo artist?
Before I entered the world of children’s books I thought I would prefer being a solo artist but I discovered the joy of collaborating with others is as rewarding as flying solo. I am fortunate to work closely with Jane Godwin, who is insightful, clever and passionate about story telling. Whether collaborating with an author or being both author and illustrator, it takes a village to make a picture book and I value the feedback of my friends and studio mates.
What is something you have learnt about yourself from being an illustrator?
That quiet moments can reveal a story worth being told. That I can be a tough negotiator. And that a solution to an illustration can be found when I least expect it. I remind myself not to give up!