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Reading – we all recognise it as a core skill. By ‘intelligent reading’, I mean reading with a level of comprehension commensurate with the child’s experience of the world they inhabit. Fortunately, reading to children is now encouraged as being supportive of reading literacy and as a sound foundation for future learning.
Not that long ago, children were seen as passive recipients of the eager parent’s input via the quality time spent in ‘read to me’ and ‘bedtime story’ sessions.
I always felt sure my children were taking in much more than the professional opinion allowed.
Recently, I borrowed a copy of Dr. Virginia Lowe’s very excellent book, “Stories, Pictures and Reality: Two children tell” (Routlege 2007) based on the record of her own two children’s responses to books from birth to adolescence. Dr. Lowe’s book vindicates what I felt all along as a parent! This book should be set reading for students of primary, early childhood and remedial teaching, child and family psychology and for anyone with an interest in literacy or children’s literature!
Her children had a smorgasbord of stories proffered continuously, both Dr Lowe and her husband being librarians who were passionate advocates of children’s literature. The children’s reactions to and responses concerning elements of story and illustrations provide a wonderfully insightful peek into the psyche of the child. Both Lowe children clearly had a blessed and privileged childhood, but being ‘read to’ is within the reach of most children. Public libraries and school libraries are accessible to most families. Even if parental work commitments make a nightly ‘reading’ impossible, there are weekends and visits to grandparents when a ‘storytelling’ session can be included in the agenda.
There are other options.
And online resources such as “Ripple Reader” and “A Story Before Bed” provide a way for even absent grandparents and parents to read to their children. In the USA and Israel, ‘bedtime stories’ are part of official early education policy. Programmes like “Reach Out and Read” and “Read to Me” do a monumental job in promoting literacy and the power of storytime to be a deeply meaningful and bonding time in families.
The wonderful people of Nami Island Concours have created another outstanding opportunity for illustrators all over the world! The dream of these folk, who are so passionately devoted to children’s literature, is to turn Nami Island into a library! Angela Kim is the Assistant Manager and the person to contact if you wish to know more – her contact details are on the website.
These are the links – Nami Island Concours, Guidelines and information
Books are created from the imagination and inspiration of authors and the insightful vision of illustrators. They are then crafted. The authorial crafting may be right brain with a touch of editing or slow and laborious left brain plotting. For an illustrator, it may be inspiration flowing like rivers from brush or stylus or it may be storybook or dummy creation then rethinks, scrap some ideas, adapt others. Eventually, a book emerges that is then ‘ready for submission’. These days, that may mean adding animation and audio to make the book a digital production for app developers like Utales or Flying Books, or for YA, formatting it for Kindle or Nook e-publishers. It may mean self publishing on Createspace or Lightningsource, Smashwords or Lulu. Or it will mean the long road via submission to traditional publishers.
If the latter is chosen, the publisher will often require more editing, changes and perhaps more changes. My own book, started under contract to one publisher, was already well underway with the inimitable Sarah Davis as illustrator. We were having a ball creating our book. Then our publisher was taken over and the new publisher wanted to institute changes. At first, the major change – ‘get rid of the dead bird’ – seemed straight forward. Then we realised the book needed the bird but, to keep it, we had to make some big adjustments. An injured bird can’t just disappear in a children’s book, it has to get better and be released, which, in our picture book, meant its story had to be woven into the fabric of the main story seamlessly. No problem, a few days and Sarah and I had nailed it! As book creators, you have to be flexible and, especially if going the traditional publisher route, you can’t be too precious about your creation.
SO! This exhibition is about the journey numbers of wonderful children’s and YA books took from creation to bookshelf! Each book has a different creation story to reveal - something the public doesn’t see, it’s behind the scenes. Now the reader can take a peek backstage, behind the scenes to how it all came together!
THE SET UP
Setting up was not straight forward. The spaces has to be utilised to best advantage and the items displayed needed to be seen from as many angles as possible given I had a two shelf rectangular glass case. I didn’t end up using everything I brought with me. It would have been too cluttered. Last minute inclusion, bulldog clips, proved life-savers! They held the photographic prints in place.
I had never ‘hung’ a painting before at an exhibition and that proved ‘interesting. Sarah Davis sent up her wonderful original painting via kindly courier, Peter Taylor, but it was unframed. I had no time to find a frame. Fortunately, I had one around the house that was a good match colour-wise though not quite the perfect size.
Given my exhibit was about my close collaboration with Sarah, the items displayed needed to reflect the two minds working together to make a new creative whole – our book! Sources of inspiration, stages in text change, changes in images, cover and trivia relating to the characters, objects and places in the book, all combined to make a successful ( I hope you agree) exhibit!
The Exhibition, Journey of a Book, has a wide range of book journeys exhibited, from YA novel, like David McRobbie’s, to real life adventure by Prue Mason, picture books like those by Kathrine Battersby and chapter books like the one by Angela Sunde, to non fiction works on calligraphy as an illustrative art form by Peter Taylor.
The Art of Illustrating for Children and Some Survival Initiatives for Illustrators! – An Interview with Bernhard Oberdieck - storyteller with paint and pen
Jennifer: Bernhard you have already covered in detail the extraordinary processes and techniques you utilise to create your wonderful images. [Readers - I highly recommend a visit to http://www.bernhard-oberdieck.com/en/technik.php to gain an insight into the workings behind Bernhard’s creations.] You have an astounding output – around 200 books by my estimation! What I want to cover in this interview is the background to all this amazing creativity.
You talked about developing ideas in the studio and doing variations of an idea until it is ‘right’ especially in relation to the layout of text. Do you also carry an artist’s notebook with you when you travel in case a solution occurs to you for a particular illustrative problem or an inspiration comes? Could you share one of your more challenging projects with us?
BERNARD: No, I don’t take an artist’s notebook with me if I travel. Previously, as a professional illustrator and as a student, I have drawn and painted a lot from nature and I have visited a lot of museums to study the old masters. Today I draw almost everything freely from my head or I look at photos or old illustrations from old books which I use as stimulus and inspiration. Some I utilise their basic layout in changed form in my illustrations. A good example of this is the circus illustration. Here I took an old photo, I made several years before in the South of France. I deleted some houses in the middle and placed the circus tent in their place. Because I illustrate daily about 8-12 hours, I take no drawing materials in hand in my free time.
Jennifer: Yes I see the very varied sources of inspiration coming through. This particular picture reminds me of some of the works of Japanese hanga woodcuts.
BERNARD: Yes, I also sometimes paint as purely an ‘artist’. But these pictures are abstract, very different from my illustrations and, up to now, only for myself.( http://www.bernhard-oberdieck.com/art.php) As an illustrator, I always try to interpret the text to so that children will get the most from the book. Maintaining the highest quality in my illustrative work is important to me. I illustrate many themes but I prefer illustrations with animals, I don’t know why.
Jennifer: Some of the stunning wildlife and landscape photographs on you website show you to be a skilled photographic artist [see http://www.bernhard-oberdieck.com/en/galerie2.php%5D .
Are your photographs a source of inspiration or more a reference tool in the studio, especially during winter months? Or are they another form of your art you exhibit&/ or utilise in cards and calendars?
BERNARD: I illustrate a lot from my imagination and my recollection. Only if I must draw something exactly, do I refer to photos and older illustrations.
Jennifer: You have a very strong sense of place. The atmosphere in your landscapes and streetscapes is humming with story.
What I mean by that is you have captured the feel of the moment, the storm is almost audible rolling across the sky.
You can feel the ripple of the waters.
The reader/viewer is able to step into your pictures and observe the story first hand. Have you always had such a strong connection with nature and your surroundings? What are your fondest memories of the outdoors? How has where you live/have lived shaped your art?
BERNARD: Yes, this is exactly right. I have very strong recollections of my childhood. This was lived on the land and amongst the beauties of nature. I grew up in a very small town and also live now in a small village with only 300 inhabitants. This has very much stamped me and my work. And, of course, I was influenced by the books which I read as a child. This is an image of my native landscape, where I was born. ( http://www.bernhard-oberdieck.com/image/Illustration_32.php )
Jennifer: Sense of place also includes interiors. In Germany, you have so much history in your buildings, so much atmosphere built up over centuries that the buildings have character of their own.
Would you share with us your source of inspiration and how and why you chose the particular perspectives for such wonderful creations as the following pictures ?
BERNARD: I don’t believe that here, in my Illustrative work, German history plays any special role. I always try, to make my illustrations a little more interesting for the viewer by using special perspectives. Of course I try to lure the children to explore the pictures more closely by adding in a lot of interesting, curious and imaginative little things. It is certainly more interesting for them to discover a treasure trove of unexpected details.
Jennifer: Your love of nature and keen observation come out strongly in the botanical detail of the plants and trees in your pictures. Do you draw plants and animals from life or memory or from field sketches?
BERNARD: Photos, old books, magazines and also the Internet – these are all things I use.
Jennifer: The ability to give distinctive characterisation to animals/toys is another feature of your work.
As a guide to up and coming illustrators and art students, can you describe to us how you achieve the strength of feeling, the humour and the drama in animal faces or is it something that comes instinctively?
BERNARD: I think it comes instinctively. In addition, the publishing company and the children expect figures (animals) that they can identify with from fiction and their own memories and experience with their soft animal toys. pets and zoo or farm animals. And, in addition, one must sometimes humanize them.
Jennifer: I love the drama and the humour in some of your eye-catching perspectives. Did pictures such as these come to mind spontaneously or did you work through a number
of experimental stages? Do you consciously look for extraordinary angles?
BERNARD: These pictures come to mind spontaneously. If I begin, I generally already have a picture in my head. Not always, but very often.
Jennifer: Many illustrators end up writing some of their own stories, e.g., Ian Beck and Mick Inkpen. Have you ever written any stories of your own, is that something you hope to do at some future stage? What are your plans for 2009?
BERNARD: No, I don’t write books. I simply have no time for this, because, for example, in 2009 I must illustrate 4 new picture books and certainly also other small works.
Jennifer: Time! Yes, I think you speak for all of us. I know I wish I had 24 more hours in each day! We all look forward to seeing your new projects out on the shelves. To have a peak at Bernhard’s stunning latest project go to : http://kibook.blogspot.com/
Jennifer: Finally, do you have a question that I and other interviewers have failed to ask and which you would love answer? Now is your opportunity!
BERNARD: I would like to say that the financial earning power of professional illustrators is something that needs exploration with a view to expanding opportunities to capitalise on output. It seems that everywhere we need to look at other ways of making our artistic output pay dividends. Thank you for this interview.
Jennifer: My pleasure Bernhard and, yes, I hear what you are saying, dialogue is needed. For those out there looking at other options to earn with their work, check the link below to see what Bernhard is already doing in the area of merchandising.
Cards, Calendars and More
Skillful ‘ merchandising’ of artistic output with spin offs as posters, cards and calendars, as Bernhard already does, is another feather in his cap! The illustration, above, is an example of creating merchandising opportunities.
Coming soon is Bernhard’s latest book, “Cat’s Concert” . I have seen a ‘peak preview’. It is STUNNING! This book is a further outgrowth of Bernhard’s efforts in innovation. The book will be released with an accompanying music CD collaboration with the writer.
Words are something I play with – blend, bend, break and mend, shape, shift scape and grift into wild and wonderful patterns of saying! Words can make stories, dramas, poetry, songs, information and I work with all of these. I love showing others how to use and express themselves with words in hands on workshops.
I also illustrate the poems I write with line drawings and photography and I make jewellery. That’s me plus spouse, five kids, two cats, possums and geckos and water dragons….
I have just had my 9th book released, “Mending Lucille” with Hachette Livre, and it has had the most amazing reception! It sold out the first print run in the first week, got picked up by ASO (Australia’s biggest distributor) and within the first fortnight was a recommended book for counseling/biblio-therapy by the Australian Centre for Grief Education, Monash Medical Centre. The story in itself did not take long to write – under 15 minutes, although it was ‘cooking’ for many many years whilst I was growing up, listening and observing the devastating effects of childhood grief/loss played out in the lives of those around me. The story was important to me, so when it was accepted by Lothian (Hachette LIvre), I was keenly interested in who would illustrate my story. To be given the opportunity to find my own illustrator as a relatively unknown author was HUGE! I found Sarah on the internet – her style was perfect for the story. Sarah intuitivley saw all the layers and the result – stunning!
Sarah and I had the honour to be asked to present our story of creating “Mending Lucille” at the SCWIBI International Conference in Sydney, February, 2008. A huge deal for two relative ‘newbies’. The Conference was a BLAST! Met numbers of amazing folk and networked with amazing writers, illustrators as well as publishers from all over the globe. I highly recommend SCWBI membership to anyone!
This is an example of my illustrative work. I write poetry under my maiden name, J.R.McRae. The illustration of the tree came first, then the poem (“Fledglings”) and I added the screen of leaves to the right. I drew it with my mouse in Paint and imported the colours into the palette with the dropper tool.
The illustration can add a whole further dimension to the poem, but generally the poem and picture work hand in hand. I like the experimentation and the extension that working with line and color give to my writing.
I also make jewelry – beading and what I call RaptRocs – these are semi-precious rocks that have been tumbled to take off the roughest bits. I hold them in my hands and feel their texture, the fissures and shape, any faults – then I wrap them in silver to make pendants etc so that the best features of the rock are highlighted. Now they will say something about the wearer as well – one of them is now in Germany.