Our guest: Carolina Rabei is a UK-based, Romanian-by-birth illustrator whose first book (Snow, written by Walter de la Mare) was published in 2014 by Faber & Faber; her second collaboration with de la Mare, The Ride-by-Nights, will be released in September 2015, also by Faber & Faber.) Crunch, her first book as author and illustrator was published in May 2015 by Child’s Play International, and it is adorable.
The Proust-Esque Questionnaire is based on a set of 36 standardized questions designed by Marcel Proust in the 1890’s to give an overview of the respondent’s personality. Our goals are less lofty, but hopefully will provide some insight into how your favorite authors and illustrators work and what they love.
Being born in Moldova, I grew up with Romanian children’s classics, which are full of mystery and fictional characters. Also I remember listening to my brother’s made-up bedtime stories which inspired me a lot as a child!
I really love Debi Gliori’s picture-book No Matter What. I think I identify myself with the character of the little fox, which throughout the story is asking different questions to confirm it’s mothers unconditional love. It reminds me of my mother’s warmth and care and also of my inquisitive and affectionate nature.
3. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR? ILLUSTRATOR?
It’s a bit hard to choose a favourite, because there are so many great and talented people in this industry… The texts by Dr. Seuss and Julia Donaldson fascinate me, their rhyming texts are just brilliant – I wish I could write like that!
Some of my favourite illustrators are Mary Blair, Shaun Tan, Ed Vere, Chris Haughton, John Klassen, but I will put Raymond Briggs (right) on the top. His wordless stories had a great impact on me, and I love the atmosphere he created with his coloured pencil technique, it’s so beautiful.
4. IF YOU WERE THROWING A KINDERLIT PARTY FOR FIVE GUESTS, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE?
I would like to say Dr Seuss, Walt Disney, Mary Blair, Beatrix Potter and Maurice Sendak… But I would also imagine myself being shy surrounded by such figures!
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
Simplicity I think. Children like simple, smart and fun stories and the same regarding the illustrations. Clear and bold images have a quick impact on the young reader.
I also know from my experience that creating a simple idea that works well is not easy.
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT?
I think warmth is a defining characteristic in my work. I do like to use warm colours and round shapes in my illustrations and also create stories that are heart-warming.
With the illustrations for Snow by Walter de la Mare (left), I chose red, beige, brown, grey and black- so no cold colours. For Crunch (below, right) I used earthy colours, well spotted by Catherine Friess in her review: “Carolina Rabei has used earthy colours for the illustrations, mainly greens, oranges and browns (when I talked to my daughter about them she went through the book trying to find blue and purple in the pictures!).” (Editor – Catherine Freiss reviews books at Storysnug.com; read her full review of Crunch HERE.)
Also, when illustrating The Ride by Nights, another Walter de la Mare poem (that is out in September) I used warm shades of purple, red and yellow.
Hmm, hard to say, usually the characters go through difficult situations in their stories, and I’m not sure if I would like to experience that! I’m not very adventurous!
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Looking at my work I can always go back and redo one or two things and I am sure every illustrator feels the same; there is always space to improve. It is important to see your mistakes and learn from them… I think I could always improve my drawing more.
9. WHAT IS THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
I was lucky to have very good Art teachers/tutors throughout my education. From an early age I was encouraged to constantly draw by my uncle and aunt, who are both artists. I think this was the best advice for my career, to draw as much as possible and to be persistent. I think this is how you can evolve in whatever field you work: By practising.
10. DESCRIBE YOUR WORK PROCESS.
I start with pencil sketches on paper or in a sketchbook, though my final illustrations are created digitally. After reading the text I have to illustrate, I would try imagining some characters and elements and put them down. If I work on my own story then I develop the illustrations simultaneously with the text. For picture-books the interrelation of text and image is very important so one is developed with the other.
Next I would split the text into spreads and work on thumbnails to see how the story flows. This can be the trickiest part, because in a 32 page picture-book you are given a certain number of spreads and you need to make the story work in that format.
When I am happy with the thumbnails I would develop the rough artwork, which I then send to the publisher for approval. Some may need changing and some are fine already. After this I experiment with the colour, looking for the right combination of the colours for that particular project. This part can sometimes take me longer than I expect, because getting that right combination is not always easy. But inspiration from nature helps a lot here. I remember one of my teachers just suggested to take an autumn leaf and imitate the colours from it because that is already a perfect colour palette!
When I am pleased with the colours I start to build up the artwork digitally, layer by layer, with the rough sketch scanned underneath. In my latest projects I have tried to give to my work a printmaking feel like lino-cut or screen-printing. The use of different scanned textures helps me to get that outcome.