Our guest: Gemma Merino was a student at The Cambridge School for Art when she was awarded the prestigious Macmillan Prize for Children’s Illustration in 2011. The book she won for, The Crocodile Who Didn’t Like the Water, was published in 2013 by MacMillan. The follow up, The Cow Who Climbed A Tree, was released in October, also by MacMillan. (Read our review HERE.)
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.
1. WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
I remember my parents storytelling of classic stories, traditional tales from all over the world, including the fascinating stories of Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm.
2. WITH WHICH CHILDREN’S LITERATURE CHARACTER DO YOU MOST IDENTIFY?
Peter Pan. Never grew up.
3. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR? ILLUSTRATOR?
It seems unfair to pick only one, but I really admire the work of Isol (left). She is an Argentinian author and illustrator who I discovered only 2 yeas ago when she won the Astrid Lindgren Award. Her witty stories, usually told from the child’s point of view, are full of humor, sometimes surreal and her energetic illustrations complement the text perfectly.
4. IF YOU WERE THROWING A KINDERLIT PARTY FOR FIVE GUESTS, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE?
I would bring to life and invite my favorite storytellers: Rohal Dahl, the Grimm brothers (they count as two), Hans Christian Andersen and Rudyard Kipling.
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
As to all good literature, I go for the stories that make you wonder, laugh and even cry; stories that trigger your imagination beyond the end of the book.
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT?
It seems I have a preference for telling stories from an animal point of view. I like to use the problems or worries we have as human beings and transfer them into the animal kingdom. I have a lot of fun mixing the two worlds.
I also tend to simplify both the text and the illustrations, making the story as clear as possible.
7. IF YOU WERE TO DIE AND COME BACK AS A CHARACTER FROM CHILDREN’S LITERATURE, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE IT TO BE?
Aladdin. I always wanted that magic lamp and to fly on a carpet.
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I think I work too carefully and it takes me forever to feel happy with the final result. I actually realized I should embrace imperfection to improve my work.
9. WHAT IS THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
“Less is more” is one of the phrases that have become a rule in my work and in other aspects of my daily life. It was said by the minimalist architect Mies van der Rohe, and I first heard about it during my first year in college studying architecture. I identify with minimalism for its calmness and the immediate understanding of what the artist wants to communicate.
I always try to simplify the characters, the compositions, the sentences, the story. Trying to achieve something simple is quite difficult, but for me that is the way forward.
10. DESCRIBE YOUR WORK PROCESS.
To write a story I have to come up with an idea first. The thing is, you never know when or how that idea will come. I always have sketch books within reach, because, for me, the best way to catch ideas is drawing or writing them down as soon as they show up.
But it would be foolish to think that once I have an idea most of the work is already done. In fact, the hardest part of the process is to turn that idea into a story. I usually start making a long and complicated storyline. The possibilities are endless, and I have to make choices, get rid of the unnecessary elements until I end up with a shorter but better story. It always surprises me how difficult it is to make something simple.
When making a picture book, I think both about the text and the illustrations at the same time. It is important that the images and words complement each other, and I am careful not to repeat with the text what I already show with the illustrations. Sometimes it’s better to say things with words, and other times an image can be more powerful to communicate what you want to say. Being both the author and illustrator of a book gives me the flexibility to change one or the other as I please.
I also consider the text an important part of the page composition, I make many thumbnails with little doodles and I draw indicative lines to establish where the text is going to be placed.
My work process regarding my illustrations is also about simplifying. I start drawing from observation the animal that is going to be the main character. I get to know the characteristics of that animal and then I only keep what I think is important.
The rough and textured lines of my drawings are made in monoprint, a printing technique that allows me to simplify the drawings, as it would be too messy if I put too much detail. I can do the monoprints from home, I only need a glass plate, thin paper, a roller and oil paint.
For the color I use watercolors, acrylics and if necessary I add color digitally. I scan everything and I move it around in Photoshop.
11. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK, AND WHY?
This is another difficult question, and it seems unfair to only say one book…
Selma, by Jutta Bauer, for the simplicity of the illustrations, and the powerful and charming story. It has all the ingredients I look for in a picture book: Humor, wonder and it appeals to all ages.