Our guest: Poly Bernatene is an Argentinian illustrator with more than 60 children’s books under his belt. His latest, The Adventures of Lettie Peppercorn, is out tomorrow (February 2, 2016) from Margaret K. McElderry Books; it was written by Sam Gayton, whose Proust Questionnaire can be found HERE. Also coming in 2016 is Hello, Hippo! Goodbye, Bird!, written by Krystin Crow and published in April by Knopf.
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 wasn’t an avid reader when I was a child. My love for literature started later when I was older, when I finished primary school, but I remember a book that I received for a birthday; it was a classic storybook, and I don’t even remember the illustrator, but it captivated my interest, especially Puss in Boots and Hansel and Gretel. A bit older I remember having read Jules Verne’s A Captain at Fifteen.
2. WITH WHICH CHILDREN’S LITERATURE CHARACTER DO YOU MOST IDENTIFY?
Mr. Bianchi, the traveling salesman that told stories on the phone every night to his daughter in the book Telephone Tales, by Gianni Rodari. Because I liked the idea of having a lot of stories to tell. I love to tell stories with images and I feel that in my work I can do it for thousands of children.
3. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR? ILLUSTRATOR?
Jimmy Liao and Shaun Tan (left), both are writers and illustrators of their own stories and they are brilliant!
4. IF YOU WERE TO THROW A KINDERLIT PARTY FOR FIVE GUESTS, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE?
I would like to invite The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Mafalda (Editor: An Argentinian comic character, left), Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson and Jules Verne. I think that a conversation with all of them would be incredibly interesting.
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
The most important quality is honesty, because writing or illustrating for children is a serious matter, and it deserves the greatest respect. When children’s books are done with the heart and the passion they are a great way to create passionate readers, and this is because children know exactly what they want.
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT?
A defining characteristic of my work will be the search. My work transforms itself according to what the story requires. Telling (a story) in different ways has became a style in my work, and also the use of light and the atmosphere are always present.
7. IF YOU WERE TO DIE AND COME BACK AS A CHARACTER FROM CHILDREN’S LITERATURE, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE IT TO BE?
I would like to be Baron Munchausen. This is related to question number 2, with my answer: Mr. Bianchi. Even if Baron Munchausen is a great liar he is also a great storyteller, and being a main character in such adventures will be my dream.
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
If I could redo one thing in my work it would be to work more manually, and not so much with the computer. Luckily, I still have time to keep experimenting and go back to old customs.
9. WHAT IS THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
Recently I read a Woddy Allen quote that reminded me of advice a great friend of mine gave me many years ago: “I don’t know the key to success, but I know that the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” At that time my friend added “Be faithful to your yourself”.
10. DESCRIBE YOUR WORK PROCESS.
Luckily fine art school allowed me the use of many materials (oil painting, acrylic, watercolour, sculpture, engraving, etc). Also, I learned something of photography and I really like to do mock-ups. I always use some of all of this depending on the project that I’m working on, but always everything ends up going through Photoshop. It is my fundamental tool. Generally I use it to edit what I previously did by hand (textures and drawings), after I add details with brushes, but always trying to use it in a way similar to the traditional techniques. I try to avoid as much as possible the pre-designed filters. That’s why I never be able to use the Painter; it copies too much the reality. Instead, with Photoshop, I use my own textures and brushstrokes. The rest is editing all that previous work and for that reason I find it more comfortable as a tool.
In my YouTube channel I show how I work:
Basically, I draw many sketches searching for the line or style that fits better with the project from a more conceptual point of view. I try to think about it as a whole: Design, composition, white spaces, the way to tell it, and I achieve that by planning everything from the beginning. Something important at this stage to have in mind is to compile information. For example, if the story is about a Russian princess, the image must be consistent with that criterion to be believable, no matter if I add my interpretation to the illustration after.
11. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AND WHY?
My two favourite books are, The Little Prince and The Red Tree. Both books are made to be read and re-read in different moments of life; they are books that keep adults thinking like children, and when you read it being a child you can keep enjoying the reading and reflect on it.
12. TELL US ABOUT A BOOK THAT, FOR ONE REASON OR ANOTHER, HAS NOT FOUND A WIDER AUDIENCE.
Jimmy Liao’s Beautiful Solitude is a special book, and it’s to be expected that is not so popular because it’s a very intimate book. Maybe it’s understandable that, above all, illustrators like him.