Playing by the book: Chris, it’s a real delight to have you back here on Playing by the book [Chris generously contributed to my post last year, 49 brilliant picture books from the past 5 years as chosen by award winning illustrators]. For someone with just 2 published picture books, you’ve been interviewed a great deal! [click here to be taken to an archive of interviews with Chris, on his blog]. You’ve been interviewed about your fair trade work, your background in design and advertising, how your debut picture book developed and more.
What questions have you never been asked, but would like to answer?
Chris: I always like being asked about my fair trade work because I am very proud of it but I am usually only asked by people who are involved in fair trade so it’s a bit like preaching to the converted! I have been working with fair trade projects for seven years before making books and I think the work that fair trade is doing is really great.
Actually I haven’t been asked much about my next book which I am very excited about. It’s called Don’t Worry, I Have a Plan and it’s about three very silly characters and their plan doesn’t exactly work out very well.
Playing by the book: Ah… that sounds very exciting Chris! I shall look forward to it.
Now, you’ve clearly got a travelling bug Many of the places you’ve lived in require visas. What do you write under “Occupation” on visa forms? (I’ve wondered whether you might choose Designer? Illustrator? Activist? Facilitator?) And why do you choose that label?
Chris: I usually write ‘Designer’ to get through customs with as few questions as possible! But I think illustrator would describe me better.
Playing by the book: What do you love most about being an illustrator?
Chris: I love drawing and making things. I also like that I have a bit of freedom being able to work freelance and have some freedom to travel.
Playing by the book: And what are the most difficult things about being an illustrator?
Chris: I think in order to survive as an illustrator you need a pretty skewed life/work balance! At least at the beginning anyway…
Playing by the book: Looking through the images of where you’ve lived and worked, posted on your blog, I’ve been struck by how these locations are generally quite transient and not the most orderly of places. They don’t look like the homes of designers I’ve seen e.g. on Grand Designs – all white and uncluttered with just a few statement pieces. So this makes me curious – do you work and live surrounded by beautiful things? What are your favourite objects (designed or otherwise) you have around you?
Chris: I think it’s fairly safe to say I don’t think anywhere I have lived would be featured on Grand Designs anytime soon! I am just very fond of travel and being able to take off when I can. It’s easier to do that if you don’t have much to bog you down. At the time when I wrote A Bit Lost, I had been living out of a backpack and had no address. My favourite things are probably my laptop and my iphone (so in that respect I’m a typical designer!)
Playing by the book: Is there a book or an object you wish you had designed/created?
Chris: I love the book Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, and I really feel in love with a book called Le livre des terres imaginées. It’s a factual book about theories of the shape of the earth and the universe through the ages and in different cultures, each has an illustration. The pictures of the earth refine as science improves. It made me think how lucky we are to know so much more than we used to about our world and it did it for me through pictures. I’d really love to create a non-fiction infographics book like that, it’s something I think I would have loved myself as a child.
Playing by the book: That sounds great Chris, yes please!
Now, would you be so kind as to answer a couple of questinos sent in by my readers?
Rosalind (@lollkirby) asks “What personal editing process does Chris employ to ensure the few words on each page are the ‘right’ ones?”. I’d add to that, could you give us an example from your latest book, Oh No, George!
Chris: I think because I work very back and forth with images and text they sort of whittle themselves down. I try to tell the story through the images alone and the text just serves as an extra to accompany it. It is just something fitting to go with the picture. I drew the picture of George eating the cake and really the only thing I can think to say to accompany that is Oh No, George!
It wrote itself!
Playing by the book: Melanie (@librarymice) says “Your colour choices are quite unusual – How do you decide upon them?”
Chris: I really just tweak them around until I am happy. They evolve as the book takes shape.
I don’t use the real colours of the animals and I just use colours in a way that best tells the story. For example the owl is the only thing black against the bright colours of the forest which helps define his body shape graphically. George fills so much of the book that he couldn’t be black. I wanted it to be a colourful book and for his shape to be easily recognised so I had him in one block colour which contrasted with the orange background and text. The whites of the eyes (which are the most important thing in every picture) are the only things that are ever white in any of the illustrations.
Playing by the book: Has your George met Marta Altes’ dog Spike in her book “No!”? They look like they might understand each other…
Chris: No! I have to pick up a copy of that book as I have heard great things about it, but I have not yet seen it.
Playing by the book: And finally, what’s the last book you read? What’s next on your reading list?
Chris: I’ve almost finished a book called The mind’s I which is about theories of the mind and how the mind works which was really good. I am about to read Cradle to Cradle which I have been meaning to read for ages.
Playing by the book: Thank you Chris! What a pleasure it’s been having you stop by Playing by the book once again.