The Color of the Word by David Ouimet
Rapporteur: Şevval Baştan
As an artist, you have the unique privilege of being able to both write the texts and create the illustrations for your books. However, when collaborating with other authors on a joint book project, how do you ensure that there is a balance between their imagination and your own? What factors do you consider when working on such projects?
I've had the unique experience of directly communicating with the authors I have collaborated with - a rare experience in today's publishing world, where most authors and illustrators seldom interact. In most cases, this detachment is often considered good protocol, especially for the emotional well-being of picture book editors. When a stubborn illustrator or writer disregards the boundaries of their roles, things can get pretty ugly. I have been blessed to have consistently worked with exceptional collaborators. In terms of my approach to illustrating, it boils down to one word: illumination. I firmly believe that the ultimate goal of an illustrator is to shine a light on the words. This light can create a shadow of the object but should never be a mere mirror. Many starting illustrators make the mistake of simply illustrating what has been written, rather than making the text clearer, or in some instances, inviting deeper contemplation. As I mentioned, I have had the fortune of working with collaborators who I have respect for as writers, and, more importantly, for working with publishers who allow that dialogue to take place.
Most of your readers are adults, but "I Go Quiet" and "I Get Loud" belong to the category of children's books. What do you consider while creating a character that children can relate to?
Picture books resonate with adults as much as they do with children, and are slowly being recognized as a form of literature for everyone, regardless of age. While the notion of an intended age range for children's books is primarily a marketing component, it is critical to craft characters that children can genuinely relate to. Many authors, in my view, tend to oversimplify the emotional depth of their young audience. Even though children may not fully comprehend all of their feelings, I believe they inherently recognize truth and honesty. I am very interested in finding that balance between complexity and compassion in a character. Ultimately, a character must demonstrate a truthfulness, especially when dealing with difficult moments. A child understands what love is, what pain is, and that the world contains an equal measure of both. I believe it is an author's responsibility to their readers to be sincere with that reality.
I've noticed that digital illustrators often lose touch with traditional mediums like pen and paper. What is your approach to traditional styles and materials?
While the first five books I illustrated relied solely on traditional methods without any digital tools, I've recently embraced the use of an iPad drawing program called Procreate in my creative process. This transition has been incredibly liberating, allowing me to work beyond the confines of the studio. For the past few books, I've adopted a hybrid technique that combines both traditional and digital methods. I initiate the process by sketching the composition and conceptual work using pencil and paper. Subsequently, I scan these images into my iPad and digitally develop the color palette. The next step involves printing these digital creations onto large sheets of watercolor paper. Finally, I complete the artwork by adding final values and highlights using paint and colored pencils. While this may not be the most efficient working method, it proved successful in the creation of both "I Go Quiet" and "I Get Loud."
While your book "I Go Quiet" deals with darkness and mystery, your other book "I Get Loud" covers the topic of migration and has a more hopeful tone. As an author of children's books, what was it like for you to write about emotional dilemmas that are often difficult to articulate to children?
The process of bringing "I Go Quiet" to life was a lengthy and challenging journey, particularly in finding the best way to convey around isolation without pushing the reader away. My breakthrough came with the realization of how visual spaces could be used to reflect the anxieties of the very frightened little girl at the center of the story. In contrast, the creation of "I Get Loud" was a much easier book to make. The darkness in this book revolves around the external struggles the protagonist must overcome. The internal struggles depicted in the first book served as a foundation, giving the character the hope and strength she carries into the second installment.
What makes your books different from bedtime stories?
The best bedtime stories wrap the reader in the comfort of the story, and I believe that a book has the capacity to offer a haven of calm and security. I also have a strong belief that a book should be a place where a child is able to safely encounter uncomfortable truths. My recent works lean decidedly towards this second type of book. I aim to initiate a discussion, to encourage reflection. The certain alertness of mind that I ask of my readers is not particularly compatible with a good nights sleep.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, many artists and writers found inspiration despite the challenges. How did that time affect you and your work?
It really had minimal impact on my work as I had been concentrating on writing and illustrating over the pandemic, actives that thrive in solitude. I consider myself fortunate not to be dependent on being in the same room as others to be creative. The pandemic was a devastating time for so many performing artists and filmmakers, not to mention children and students who were deprived of social interaction during its worst phases. The significant challenge for me was the book promotion of "I Get Loud" as it was published in the summer of 2021. Despite managing a tour of the UK for school visits and a few bookstore events, the process was not without hurtles. I had to undergo Covid tests every 48 hours, and a few events were canceled in schools due to outbreaks. Regardless, being the first author to visit most of these schools since the pandemic began made the experience truly unforgettable.
Nowadays, there are contrasting opinions on whether people should only focus on the field they work in or broaden their horizons by exploring different disciplines. In your book, "I Go Quiet," you draw on musical associations inspired by your background in music. Returning to the initial question, how do you think one can achieve a balance between these different approaches? Furthermore, what are the advantages and disadvantages of moving back and forth between various fields of art and interests?
The exploration of different disciplines is crucial for any artist, but mastering each requires a deep commitment and understanding to integrate it effectively into one's creative toolkit. It's essential to recognize that merely digging a hole and planting a seed does not make one a gardener. After 40 years of bumbling along the creative landscape between art, writing, and music, I've found a balance, allowing me to claim to be an adequate gardener. These disciplines can inform and enrich one another, given their shared growth over time. However, the challenge lies in managing their often simultaneous and demanding needs. As an artist, I do believe in the interchangeability of mediums. A light touch of a piano key can express the same emotion as the gentle stroke of a paintbrush.
My next question is about hoodie-birds. How did these mysterious creatures come to be? Can you share their story with us?
They remain as much of a mystery to me as they are to my readers. I have a lifelong habit of napkin sketching when dining at restaurants, and it usually involves one of two creatures: hoodie-birds or slightly thuggish-looking rabbits. Hoodie-birds, in particular, became a perfect subject for my street art—they are quick to paint, easy to spot, and distinctive.
One of the most common questions from my readers is about the symbolism behind the hoodie-birds. I can't answer that as I never want to deprive my readers of discovering their own symbolism in my work. In the visual arts, so much is smothered in unnecessary definition, and putting the mysterious or unexplainable into a neat little box is something I consciously avoid.
I feel a cinematic approach in your illustrations, which makes me think of cinema. Can you name three directors that inspire and influence your art?
Film has always been a great interest for me; leading me to pursue a degree in Filmmaking and work for many years in the New York film industry. Three film directors who have made the most impact on my picture books; Jacques Tati for his musicality of the visual world, and his sweeping choreography of every single frame. Andrei Tarkovsky, for his unorthodox use of composition, and understanding of the language of architectural spaces. And Finally, Hayao Miyazaki. I admire his remarkable ability to seamlessly weave storytelling and painting into a cohesive whole, inspiring my own approach to creating narratives through both words and images.
How is your relationship with your publishers and distributors?
My relationship with publishers and distributors varies from country to country. I share a close bond with my primary publisher, Canongate Books in the UK. With some publishers, I've never had direct conversations, while others are more hands-on. Personally, I find great enjoyment in fostering a collaborative relationship, where discussions about nuances of translation, appropriate format, and even marketing can evolve into meaningful conversations.
You come across different types of readers. Which ones do you find most exciting? What are your expectations from your readers?
I approach my readers with few expectations. I don't create books for a wide readership, and I'm aware that some gatekeepers, including parents and teachers, may hold unconventional views—believing themes of mental illness, depression, and isolation are inappropriate for children, for instance. I maintain a realistic perspective on my expectations. However, the impact of my books has exceeded any expectations I had, and the transformation in my life following the publication of "I Go Quiet" has been inexplicable. Initially anticipating a small readership in the U.K, the book has been fortuitously published worldwide. It has become a bridge to a realm of happiness, love, and gratitude that I could never have imagined for myself. The journey has been surreal and immensely fulfilling on a personal level.
Finally, do you think today's writers will be able to leave lasting works? Among your contemporaries, whose books do you think will still be read a hundred years from now (a hundred might be too many, let's say 50)?
Certain picture books that I cherished as a child still hold an enduring magic, such as "The Giving Tree" and "Where the Wild Things Are." These timeless works, published over 60 years ago, show no signs of losing their power, and it's conceivable that they will continue to be read a century from now. Contemporary picture book creators like Peter Sis and Shaun Tan are contributing to this enduring canon of children's literature. The journey of gaining popularity for a title can be gradual, as seen in the case of Shaun Tan, whose recognition in North America was a slow build, but he is now revered as one of the most prominent contemporary picture book creators. I believe there are numerous authors and books yet to surface. "A Full Circle" by the artist and poet Namrita Bachchan is a prime example. This gem of a book, with its multifaceted layers—serving as a bedtime story, an ode to motherhood, and a mantra in uncertain times—strikes a perfect balance of art and poetry. While it may not have found its readership yet, I am confident that once discovered, it will be read for ages.
Yazar: Şevval BAŞTAN - Yayın Tarihi: 12.02.2024 09:00 - Güncelleme Tarihi: 12.02.2024 17:54