Barbara Reid is a Canadian author and illustrator. She has won nearly every award for her books and illustrations. She recently took some time to use a different medium than normal and took up pen and answered some questions for us here at Book Reviews and More.
1. Your artwork, your plasticine illustrations are famous around the world, you have won numerous awards as both author and illustrator, what award means the most to you and why.
Winning the Governor General's Award for Illustration was a real thrill. As one of Canada's highest literary honors it brought my work more international attention, as well as more speaking and conference invitations. Most of all it encouraged me to take my work more seriously.
2. If you had not become a writer and illustrator what do you think you would be doing for a living?
I would love to be a set designer, or a gardener at a large estate somewhere in England, preferably in the olden days.
3. What was your favorite book that you wrote and illustrated and why?
My favourite is always the one I am working on. I'm in the midst of creating the art for a book called "Picture a Tree", a visual exploration of trees through the seasons and the moods and feelings they inspire. I have had the art for this book in my mind for several years, but it took a while to organize it into book form. I love this part of process.
4. What book that you illustrated for another author was the most challenging?
The book Gifts, by Jo Ellen Bogart was a challenge to illustrate. Written as a song, there was no real narrative, just Jo Ellen's lovely verses describing a grandmother's travels and the gifts her grandchild requests. The gifts are things like "the roar of the jungle king" and "a rainbow to wear as a ring". Each spread involved research about the country described and solving the riddle of how to bring back the intangible items. Just recently Gifts was selected as the 2011 Canadian Children's Book Centre TD Grade One Book Giveaway title. Over 500,000 copies will be distributed to each grade one student in Canada. So the challenge was rewarding, and Grandma's travels continue!
5. What does your writing process look like? Takes us through the steps from idea to publishing?
There is usually an ah-ha moment. For The Subway Mouse it came when I noticed a mouse nibbling on a filthy apple core in the subway here in Toronto. With Perfect Snow, I overheard a conversation between my daughter's friends, reminiscing about a legendary snow fort. After the initial excitement, there are months, and sometimes years of scribbling notes and rough drafts, gathering possible reference material and related clippings and tossing it all into a file folder.
Eventually there is something I think is good enough to submit to my publisher. I often have to do this a few times before my editor commits to the project. We have worked together for many years and she is brilliant and patient! At last there will be a contract and the real work starts.
6. What does your illustration process look like for a book you wrote? Takes us through the steps from idea to publishing?
When illustrating my own text I usually have a good idea of what the book will look like, the characters and setting. Often I have submitted thumbnails or a story board along with the manuscript. After the manuscript is accepted, I do a much tighter story board and create full sized roughs. This can take a few months. I usually find when I put on my illustrator's hat, I can edit out some of the text! I create the plasticine art from the approved drawings. Each spread takes about a week. Once the art is finished, it is photographed and the digital files go to the publisher and on to the printer.
7. What does your illustration process look like for a book your illustrated for another author?
Illustrating someone else's story is more like problem solving. There may be more research involved. It is quite fun to interpret a text. I really get inside someone else's story, which is the ultimate reading experience. In some ways it is a lot easier, as I don't spend any time worrying about the text!
8. What authors influenced your writing style and format?
All the authors I loved as a child, and many of my contemporaries in Canada and internationally. Artistically, my heroes are Bruegel, Toulouse Lautrec, Arthur Rackham, N.C. Wyeth, Edward Ardizzone, Edward Gorey, Pauline Baynes, Anthony Browne, Willian Kurelek- to name a few.
9. What were some of your favorite book when you were a child?
Beatrix Potter stories, the Madeline books, the Narnia series (probably my biggest influences, both the stories and the illustrations by Pauline Baynes), the Alice books, Grimms fairytales, Hans Christian Anderson stories, Peter Pan, the Born Free series, Farley Mowat books, Gerald Durrell books, anything by Rumer Godden, The Secret Garden, Stig of the Dump, The Borrowers, The Wind in the Willows, the list goes on….
10. What were some of your favorite authors in your teen years who helped shape you?
C.S. Lewis, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Lewis Carrol, Rumer Godden, the writers of Mad Magazine and Warner Brothers cartoons. I took an advanced English class in high school; my teacher had been a pupil of Northrop Frye. I read a lot of classic literature in those years and loved it.
11. What are some of your favorite books and authors now?
I read a lot of picture books, non-fiction and novels, too many to narrow down!
12. Do you use a playlist when writing? Are certain books written while predominantly listing to the same music?
I like listening to the radio; classical music if I am writing and a mixture of classical and talk format when I am illustrating. Listening to recorded music makes me feel lonely, the radio makes me feel connected to the real world and I like the randomness. I have enough decisions to make when working, I want someone else to organize the music! Lately I have been enjoying CBC podcasts of the Ideas program.
13.Some of your earlier books are currently out of print, have you thought of rereleasing them as ebooks?
It's not an area I want to put a lot of energy into, it may come later. I much prefer creating..
14. Speaking of ebooks, currently none of your books are available in electronic format. But with that comes bootleg distribution. What are your impressions of ebooks and the distribution of them through torrents and other illegal means?
The whole ebook thing is changing so rapidly it is hard to commit to anything. The delivery systems for picture books are still rather primitive, and not kid friendly, by that I mean they are fragile and expensive. Of course that will have changed by the time I finish typing this sentence! I expect my publisher, Scholastic, will becoming up with a format and distribution system soon. The ideal is to create the best quality product, that would become the one readers would choose, and one that the creator would be compensated for. There are many decisions to make as well, such as deciding whether your "product" is a book or a toy or a game. I'm still a fan of the book, but realize with the change in formats, the format of the picture book will change. Interesting times!
15. Your husband Ian Crysler photographs your plasticine art in preparation for use in books, what is it like working so closely with your spouse?
Ian has been photographing my work from the very beginning. As with any creative collaboration there can be tension at times, but there is a huge advantage to having such a close relationship. And no commuting!
16. You have stated you wanted to be a writer when you were younger but love illustrating, do you think you might even write a novel?
I would never say never, but I don't think I'll be writing a novel any time soon.
17. If you could only recommend 10 books to a reader looking to be a well rounded and whole person what books would you suggest?
Eeek! Too much pressure.
18. I once had a university professor state that the true goal of a university education should be to teach one to learn how to think. What would you state should be the goal of higher education and why?
I agree that the goal of a university education should be to teach one how to think, because there are very few opportunities to do so afterwards. I would add that there should be a sense of freedom to pursue one's inclinations while at university, without worrying about a specific result. This may delay a one's career, but the time will be made up by avoiding a mid-life crisis later on.
19. If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have 10 books to read again and again, what books would you want with you?
In no particular order: 1.The Secret Garden by France Hodgson Burnett; 2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen; 3. The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard; 4. The bible; 5. Timthy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile by Verlyn Klinkenborg; 6. Bruegel, or the Workshop of Dreams by Claude-Henri Rocquet; 7. Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White; 8,9,10. The Magician's Nephew; The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe; and Prince Caspian-no! The Silver Chair no! Prince Caspian; (arg!) all by C.S. Lewis. Ten is just not enough.
20. What advice would you give to young aspiring authors and artists?
For authors: read, read, read, look, listen and write, and write some more. For artists: look, look, look, listen, draw, draw, read and draw some more. For all artists it is very important to spend some time alone, not doing anything in particular.
Thank you Barbara for taking the time to interact with us at Book Reviews and More. My family always looks forward to your new books. And I am sure the readers will have found this very informative.
Book written and illustrated by Barbara Reid:
Zoe's Year (2012)
Picture A Tree (2011)
The Party (2010)
Perfect Snow (2009)
Sing a Song of Mother Goose (2007)
Fox Walked Alone (2009)
Read Me A Book (2004)
The Subway Mouse (2003)
Zoe's Rainy Day (1992)
Zoe's Sunny Day (1992)
Zoe's Windy Day (1992)
Zoe's Snowy Day (1992)
The Golden Goose (2000)
Fun With Modelling Clay (1998)
The Party (1997)
First Look Board Books: Acorn to Oak Tree (1999)
First Look Board Books: Seed To Flower (1999)
First Look Board Books: Caterpillar to Butterfly (1999)
First Look Board Books: Tadpole to Frog (1999)
Two By Two (1992)
Sing A Song of Mother Goose (1987)
Book illustrated by Barbara Reid:
Peg & The Yeti (2004)
Have You Seen Birds? (1986)
The New Baby Calf (1984)
Jenny Greenteeth (1983)
Books contributed to:
Read Me A Story (2010)
Dream; a Tale of Wonder, Wisdom & Wishes (2004)
Mother Goose: A Canadian Sampler (1994)
Author Profile and Interview with Barbara Reid