Debi Gliori, author of What's the Time, Mr Wolf? talks to us about her illustration style, what inspires her and what advice she has for aspiring author-illustrators.
How did you find your illustration style? Has it changed over time?
My 'style' if you can call it that, found me. At art college I settled into three different styles; a coloured pencil Spencer-esque one, a lino-cut scraperboard one and the line and wash style I've been using for the past 76 books. Recently, I've been experimenting with a much looser, free-er kind of drawing in charcoal which I'm loving for its immediacy.
When working on a new book, what’s the first thing you do?
Normally, the text always comes first. I need words to wrap my pictures round. Except....my new book began with a single drawing, so I've completely changed the way I work for this book. I drew several sketches of things I thought might happen in the story and then began to write.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I love when a picture takes flight; when something takes over and draws it for me or when a sentence writes itself. Ninety per cent of my working day is spent trying to get my subconscious (or my conscious) mind into a 'flow'-state, whereby I'm no longer in charge of what's happening and all I'm doing is being a conduit for something amazing.
Can you describe your typical working day?
When all is well and I'm at home (as opposed to out on tour, visiting schools, libraries or book festivals), I get up at 5.30 a.m. and spend time in a gym. I do not think about books or art while I'm there; trust me, all I think about when I'm pounding the treadmill is how to get my next breath. Then I head home, aglow with cardiovascular virtue, drink coffee, eat breakfast, see my youngest off to school, talk through plans for the day with my partner, read a few pages of whatever I'm currently enjoying then go into the studio.
If I'm in the drawing phase of a book's cycle, I answer urgent email, attempt to ignore the siren-song of Twitter and begin to draw. Or paint. Or draft out. Or trace off. Or mask. All part of the process of making pictures. I play music, or rather my computer randomly selects music for me. Occasionally I'll break off, pick up my fiddle and join in.
If I'm in the writing phase of a book's cycle, it's messier. I succumb to Twitter. I pick fights with strangers of a different political persuasion from my own. I sign petitions. I go for walks. I pick through old piles of paper. I read snippets of my own books to remind me that once upon a time I was a writer. I go for more walks. I bake cakes. I decide that cars are the devil incarnate and cycle everywhere on spurious errands. In short, I do just about anything rather than WRITE. And then, primed, ready and unable to procrastinate further, I sit down and write.
What has inspired you lately?
Two things, although possibly they might be seen as being mutually exclusive. A heartfelt desire to travel on the Writers and Artists programme to Antarctica and a deep shame for what our species are doing to our beautiful planet.
What advice do you have for aspiring author-illustrators?
Read as much as you can. Read widely. Read outside your comfort zone. Follow your heart. Develop obsessions with subjects that inspire you and use them as fuel to fire your art. Live. Engage with the world. Get Out There; looking at bad weather through glass is not the same as getting cold and wet and splashing through puddles. Be grateful for having the ability, whether it is in art or literature, to express what lies inside your heart.