Oliver Jeffers, children's author and illustrator has answered readers questions in a Twitter Q&A. Jeffers talks about his inspirations, his own favourite illustrators & authors and what he reads to his own children at night.
Jeffers recently designed a beautiful masthead for the cover of The Bookseller's Children's Special, inspired by the cover of What We'll Build. The book will be published by HarperCollins in October 2020.
Who was your favourite illustrator/book as a child?
I wasn’t actually a big book person as a child- preferring to make my own drawings, play football or climb trees outside. Some of the obvious names come to mind when I think back on the books I liked-Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, The Bad Tempered Ladybird by Eric Carle. Quentin Blake may have been my favorite illustrator though (still is one of them)
What were your inspirations for your unique way of illustrating and who are your favourite artists?
I take inspiration from everywhere and anywhere- you never know where it's going to come from, which is why its not always on tap. It could be an overheard conversation, or a scene from a film, a poem or a painting in a museum. I haven’t historically kept on top of all that is happening in the illustration world, and so haven’t always been massively steered by trends or fashions- which may be no bad thing inadvertently. Some of my favorite painters include Gerhard Richter, Elizabeth Peyton, Basil Blackshaw, John Singer Sargent, to name a few. None really anything like my illustration style.
What was your inspiration for ‘What we’ll build’… and any teasers as to the next project, are there any sequels?
The birth of my daughter was behind What We'll Build, when thinking of how we are on the verge of it no longer being so exclusively a man's world, but also how much work there still needs doing. Coupled with how two people go about building any relationship together (in this case a father and daughter, but could be any two people), and finally about the comfort that comes from sharing plans, daydreaming of a future together- of all that might be.
I’m a primary science specialist and trying to encourage every teacher and parent I meet to point out where science is around them, so they know. What science area interests you the most? Will you write/draw a book about why it is so important?
I think ‘Here We Are’ is probably my science book- but with a philosophical and moral filter. I’m interested in all aspects of science, -particularly cosmology and biology, and much of my pleasure reading is in the form of non-fiction. Currently no plans to make a book directly about science. It was certainly surprising how under attack science became in the last few years, but hopefully, if anything good comes this virus sweeping the globe, it will be a return of trust for science.
When you are creating the characters, do you vocalise them or just have the different voices in your head? What do you read your kids at night?
There’s not an awful lot of dialogue in my book- and as I’m an artist rather than an actor, I think of the words visually and rhythmically, rather than with a ‘voice’ when there is dialogue.
The books in current rotation for our kids are The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Paddington, and the Moomins. Also, Dear Zoo and Spot the Dog. Classics all.
What comes first, the illustration or the text?
Each project is different. Largely the illustrations and text are conceived in tandem- if you picture a memory or a film, how it looks and the narrative are seamlessly intertwined. It’s the same a lot with the formation of ideas. Though in two cases, with Here We Are, and with The Fate of Fausto, the stories were written in their entirety, and for some time, before I thought about putting images to them. The former because it was originally intended as a letter for my son, the later, because it was one of those days where I was interested in the rhythm and structure of writing when the idea for Fausto struck me.
What book have you reread the most?
For picture books- probably either The Tiger Who Came to Tea or The Book With No Pictures (my son LOVES that one), I tend not to re-read adult books much. Though I did just recently read Bill Bryson's At Home for a second time.
Your books have such perspective and humour. I’m wondering what you were like as a kid?
Precocious, my dad tells me.
How did you choose the path to become an illustrator?
As a product of the British education system, it was fairly straight forward once it occurred to me that making art was a real job. I was funneled into art college starting at the age of 15. Always intending to be a fine artist, the idea of being an illustrative gun for hire occurred for practical reasons in art school. My first book was originally intended to be a fine art exhibition. So my path was a non-direct, and slightly stumbly one where I was reacting to things as they happened. As most paths are.
From Edie (aged 7) Which of your books is your favourite and why...(and do you like football?) From Elsie (aged 5) Did you like drawing as a child?
Its very difficult to pick a favorite of my own books, so I answer diplomatically that it was the last one I made (as its also freshest in my head). In this case that would be What We’ll Build.
I DID like drawing as a child, and yes I like football. Both playing it and watching it.