Today I’m honoured and excited to be bringing you my very first author/illustrator interview here on Playing by the book – an interview with Katie Cleminson, Best Emerging Illustrator in the Booktrust Early Years Awards 2009, and author and illustrator of two glorious books, Box of Tricks (Magic Box in the US) and Wake Up! (Cuddle up, Goodnight in the US).
Playing by the Book: Hi Katie, it’s an absolute delight to be interviewing you for Playing by the Book – your first book, ‘Box of Tricks‘, is one of our family’s favourite picture books, one we return to often.
Katie: I think Playing by the Book is a very inventive idea, and the artwork your children created inspired by ‘Box of Tricks‘ was so lovely to see! I admire any way of getting children interested in books, reading, and being creative. Bravo!
Playing by the Book: Thank you Katie! Now, to kick off, could you start by telling us a little about how you became an author and illustrator – have you been writing and drawing since you were little, or is it a passion that developed later in life?
Katie: I always loved to draw as a child, I did a drawing of a blackbird from life when I was four, and my mother thought it was very advanced for my age. I continued to draw predominately animals as I grew up, and I started to invent my own stories when I was around 9. I was lucky that my parents were always very encouraging about everything I created.
Playing by the Book: What a great start you had. I think you’re absolutely right about the importance of encouragement. Of your first book, ‘Box of Tricks‘, you’ve said “I’d like children to put themselves into the story” – and this idea of imaginative play inspired by wonderful books is exactly what we’re all about here at Playing by the book. What books from your own childhood sparked games and fun for you? What were your favourite books as a young child?
Katie: ‘The Tiger who came to tea‘ (by Judith Kerr), and ‘Matilda‘ (by Roald Dahl). My mother child-minded when I as small and so I was in a house full of children all week, and on weekends my two older brothers were home. I had a very active childhood, I remember cooking, making my own costumes, camping every weekend of the summer, drawing comic strips, playing shop with all my mum’s jars and packets, and putting up a tipi in the garden. I loved pretending I was in the famous five, drawing my favourite characters out of books, and groups of us drawing on the pavement with coloured chalk. I remember many games that consisted of sitting in a box pretending it was something else, or throwing a blanket over two chairs to create a secret den.
Playing by the Book: Wow, that sounds so much fun – and exactly the sort of memories I hope my own children will have! Returning to the image of putting oneself into the story, when I was looking again at your illustrations for this interview, and I was very struck by the allusions to ‘Alice in Wonderland‘, both on your web page with a rabbit disappearing into a hole in the book and in the opening pages of ‘Box of Tricks‘ where Eva jumps into the box – quite literally putting herself into a story. What is it about ‘Alice in Wonderland‘ that captures your imagination? Might you even do your own illustrations for the novel one day? (If you haven’t already!)
Katie: I think that ‘Alice in Wonderland‘ is an exceptional book because the way you enter the book, down the rabbit hole, is such an inspired device. I think ‘Alice in Wonderland‘ has a cavern full of great ideas, and it’s brimming with strong intriguing characters. I did think of it when I was working on ‘Box of Tricks‘, I wanted the reader to enter into Eva’s imagination with her. By jumping into the box you are entering the unknown together, I like that. I would love to illustrate ‘Alice in Wonderland‘ one day, although I’m not sure anyone will ever get close to the beauty of Tenniel’s illustrations.
Playing by the Book: My readers are curious about the techniques you use for your illustration, in particular your use of a pipette itself to draw with. Could you share a little more about your techniques and favourite media?
Katie: The pipette gives me a quality of line that breathes life into my drawing. If I draw with pencil I have too much control, the drawings can easily become overworked. With ink you don’t have the luxury of rubbing it out, or stopping to think, you just have to launch yourself into it. I draw in the small details with a brush pen or a technical pen, but the main drawing is always done with the pipette. I only use matte black drawing ink, and I use a lot of willow charcoal in my work, watercolour, and coloured pencil. If I’m not covered in ink, with charcoal smudges up my arms, I’ve not been working hard enough.
Playing by the Book: I love that image of you! I wish I had taken a photo of my girls after we tried drawing with pipettes last week – we all had ink up our arms and in between our fingers! Now, I’ve read that a trip to Chester Zoo was a turning point in developing your illustrative style. I wonder, did that trip also provide some of the inspiration for your new book (which we adore!), ‘Wake Up!‘ which features a host of lovely animals from lemurs to lions?
Katie: Yes, that trip was a landmark moment, as it was the first time I used a pipette to draw. ‘Wake Up!‘ was inspired by my complete love of observing, admiring, drawing all types of animals. Who wouldn’t want to be taught violin by an octopus or be woken up by an elephant?
Playing by the Book:You’re right! My children just loved all the animals in your latest book. My five year old also wants me to ask you how you are “able to draw so neatly”. What tips have you for her and other budding illustrators?
Katie: If you practise you will get better very quickly, and draw anything that interests you. My old art teacher used to say I was always happier with a pencil in my hand. I suppose you have to love getting it right, it’s a thrill when it all falls into place, most people give up on a drawing too soon.
Playing by the Book: The party in ‘Box of Tricks‘ is a really joyous one! If you were to throw a party, which other children’s illustrators and authors (living or dead) would you like to invite and what music would you dance to?
Katie: I’d invite everyone on my bookshelf, but I would like to see Edward Ardizzone dancing with Suzy Lee, Wolf Erlbruch blasting the trumpet, and John Burningham tickling the ivories…
Playing by the Book: Oh, that sounds like so much fun! I’d love to join you at such a party 🙂 It’s been a real pleasure interviewing you Katie, but before you go, could you share any secrets with us about what your next book might be or what you are working on right now?
Katie: I’m working on my third picture book, it’s called ‘Otto the Book Bear’ It will be out next summer!
Playing by the Book: How exciting! I can’t wait 🙂 Thank you, Katie, for visiting us at Playing by the book, and more especially for your wonderful two books. We look forward to reading many more from you in the future!