My blog is about writing and illustrating children's books which I have been doing since 1974. www.gillianmcclure.com has all my books. I also have another blog: www.paulcoltman.blogspot.com where I publish my father's poems.
This conversation with Carol Thompson follows on from my 3 February 2013 post remembering Jan Ormerod (1946-2013) a much loved picture book author-illustrator whose first book, Sunshine won the Mother Goose Award. Carol, also a successful picture book author - illustrator worked with Jan on two books Molly and her Dad and Looking for Rex.
G:Molly and her Dad was the first book you illustrated for Jan, can you tell me how it came about?
C: Firstly, I would say that MOLLY came out of an acquaintance that grew into friendship. As we learned more about one another - our families, things that were important, I think Jan could see that I could be the illustrator for her Molly text, a tender story about an absent Dad and the small girl who get's to know him again. Based on Jan's own observation, the themes were of loss, a sense of where we belong, who we're like and where we fit in the world - handled with a light touch - and full of fun.
Jan needed time out from illustrating her own texts - and with her usual insight, could see that another illustrator could bring a different experience and aesthetic.
I had been involved with adoption - so Molly's situation (who she was like, where she fitted in, who did she look like, wanting to have a Dad like the other kids), strongly resonated with me - but from a different viewpoint. I sketched and drew layouts, made up a dummy - and took Molly to Bologna. On first showing, Molly was bought by Neil Porter at Roaring Brook Press - YAY - we did it on our own! Then subsequently by Little Hare - Jan's Australian publisher. I'm still touched when I look at the pictures of Molly - trying to make sense of her new dad.
Jan just hits the right note. She said very little on this one - liked the early sketches so much, she encouraged me to keep their looseness, be brave and not be tempted to 'tighten up'. 'Stick with it - and keep breathing'! - her favourite phrase.
G: Can you tell me what medium you used in Molly and her Dad?
C: I made pencil sketches, and used charcoal for tone and texture - on layout paper. Then I pushed each of the drawings through my ancient photocopier - darkening the tones and either enlarging or reducing the image. This subtly changes the line and adds halftones and texture in a quite unpredictable way - to me, this is the exciting thing about the process. You never quite know what the result will be- it can be a lovely surprise, or, print it again! I then have a series of b/w prints on copy paper. These prints I cut and pasted into a Dummy - with the text in place, so I had something to show to publishers. I print my original drawings again for the final artwork, but using a quality smooth surface Fabriano - not too heavy (the Machine doesn't like it!) but strong enough to take washes . I draw on these prints with a dip pen and ink or pencil. For colour, I use watercolour - inks - crayon, pastel, and occasionally collage.
The unusual thing about MOLLY is that most of the final art has been used straight from the original Dummy; I didn't re-draw - except where I was making changes. Jan encouraged me to keep the looseness and vitality of the original drawings - so we did. I'm always tempted to tidy up and end with a more finished image -but this time I didn't, they resonate with the emotional tone of the story - and my own first tentative drawings and response to Jan's text. The colour palette is quite spare - the tonal depth being in the underlying black/white prints.
The small child, Molly, is in the deepest red with the blackest hair - a smudge of colour on each cheek. She stands out - a strong graphic image on each page, the colour a metaphor for her feisty character and vulnerability.
G: Fascinating hearing about the process to get the images so loose and vital.
How soon after this did you start work on Looking for Rex?
C: REX was our second book together; very different to Molly. Jan handed over the text one day at her house, 'see what you think, no pressure. Take as long as you want to decide'. It took me no time at all to grab it and go! 'Yes please'!
A family want their elderly Gramps to get a dog. They feel he needs company and is stuck in a rut - so they set out to find just the right dog for Gramps - resulting in hilarious doggy pics, as they encounter every type of canine.
Again, based on a family that Jan had observed in this dilema.
But there was an underlying thread of loss, loneliness and increasing frailty that I wanted to subtly bring out. Jan agreed. In fact she made very few suggestions, other than getting rid of text when she saw my sketches at different stages. If you're showing it - you don't need to say it.
It was an exciting fruitful collaboration - and we were still friends!
REX had already been bought by Little Hare Aus - so this time there was no plan to find a publisher - we had one.
G: I love your jacket image for Looking for Rex.
It must be wonderful working with a friend in this way. You must miss Jan a lot and the collaboration you had.
C: Although we'd completed Looking for Rex -Jan's sudden death has meant that we won't have the fun of taking Rex 'on the road' - to Bologna, into schools and libraries. We'd talked about it - Jan joked about her sequel Living with Rex - Life after Rex.
I can't tell her that Rex will be in China, Korea. One of her first wordless picture books Sunshine, has been selected for the Silent Library project in Lampedusa, Italy.
There's a Jan shaped hole in my life - which will probably never go away - nor would I want it to.