Julia lives near me, and I still managed to be 20 minutes late for our interview, because she lives in a hidden lane, off a main road – which could easily have featured in one of her books.
We spent a really interesting morning talking and Gruffalo fans everywhere will be envious to hear that I had a glimpse inside her amazing prop cupboard, which is just off her homely, yet arty kitchen. Julia and her husband tour around their kids' show using these fantastical props.
Thanks to Julia for the well-chosen signed books she gave me for my kids; The Giants and the Jonesses for my nine-year-old son and Princess Mirror-Belle for my seven-year-old daughter.
This article appeared in Saturday's Herald in the Galleries pages of the Arts section:
Exhibition profile: The Illustrators
The Park Gallery
Callendar House, Callendar Park, Falkirk
From today until May 2
If the envelope lying on her kitchen table is anything to go by, Julia Donaldson’s postie has one of the most interesting beats in Scotland. The recycled padded A4 envelope, sent by illustrator Axel Scheffler to Donaldson’s house in Bearsden, is adorned with a grumpy looking Oscar statuette on top of a red carpet along which three little mice trot.
The Oscar is a nod to the fact that the half-hour animated film adapted from Donaldson’s bestselling book, The Gruffalo, failed to win in the Short Film (Animated) category at this year’s award ceremony in LA at the end of last month. Scheffler’s goofy looking stuffed mice, foxes, owls et al, will be associated forever more with the global publishing sensation that is The Gruffalo.
Donaldson explains: “Every time Axel writes to me, he decorates the envelope, often involving the stamp in a witty way, like turning Prince William into a giant. Sometimes the postman has to search for my name and address, as when Axel wrote them on various bricks being played with by the Gruffalo’s Child.”
Donaldson has worked with the Surrey-based illustrator on several of her books for young children, including The Gruffalo, which has now sold more than three million copies worldwide. She describes Scheffler as ‘my favourite illustrator in the whole world’ and there is a strong bond between them. “I love his rich colours, his lack of pretentiousness, and above all his wonderful sense of humour.” she says when we meet to discuss a new exhibition she has curated called, The Illustrators.
Donalsdson didn’t actually meet Scheffler until after he illustrated her first book, A Squash and a Squeeze, first published in 1993. As is common practice, she says, they were paired by the publisher.
Several of Scheffler’s envelopes will be on display in Falkirk’s Park Gallery from today, alongside original drawings, prints and animated film by 16 fellow illustrators in this fascinating exhibition which examines the relationship between writer and illustrator, using Donaldson’s own experience as the author of over 150 books for children.
A joint venture between the Artlink Central and The Park Gallery, the exhibition came about after Kevin Harrison, director of the Stirling-based charity, asked Donaldson if she’d consider helping to put together an exhibition about illustration. Donaldson is patron of the charity which puts artists, musicians and storytellers into schools, hospitals, prisons and community spaces to work with children and adults and help them develop their talent and creativity.
Featuring original illustrations, sketches, ideas and film by the likes of Scheffler, Nick Sharratt, David Roberts, Pam Smy and Charlotte Voake, the exhibition provides a real insight into the illustrator’s working methods.
Donaldson is fascinated by the process which sees her stories take on a life of their own via the mind of the illustrator, although she admits the picture she has in her head doesn’t always tally with the picture which arrives back on her desk in the shape of early proofs.
She cites the example of working on The Troll, with former milliner and fashion illustrator David Roberts, who has also drawn the Dirty Bertie series. The Troll was the second book the pair worked on together. The first, Tyrannosaurus Drip, is a tale about a vegetarian dinosaur reared by a family of bloodthirsty T Rexes.
“David has such a distinct style that sometimes there is a danger his illustrations can swamp the story. In The Troll, there is a character called Polka Dot and initially, he drew her as a giant polka dot. I guess I didn’t describe her in the book, but we talked how I viewed her as a nimble cabin girl and she started to change. With her fashion-inspired beehive, she’s still not as I imagined her originally, but I now like her that way!”
Clearly artistic differences haven’t got in the way of a healthy working relationship and the two are now working on a third collaboration, Jack and the Flumflum Tree.
“When you’ve worked together before, you know what to expect,” she adds. “They all have their own way of working – as well as their own style. You always see it in the eyes and the mouths, especially with artists such as Axel and Lydia Monks, who has illustrated the Princess Mirror-Belle series.”
The exhibition also features a sneak preview of illustrations from Donaldson’s forthcoming new book, The Future Adventures of the Owl and the Pussy Cat, illustrated by Charlotte Voake, whose book, Hello Twins, was selected as one of the Ten Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2009 by the New York Times.
Several works are for sale and the exhibition is being supported by a number of related events aimed at all ages, including a screening of the Gruffalo film, a talk by illustrator Pam Smy and an illustrated talk by Julia Donaldson.