Just how powerful is nature to inspire ideas for a picture book? This weekend, I was to listen to the achievements of French author-illustrators, Clotilde Perrin and Eric Veillé. In association with Gecko Press, Alliance Francaise and Institut Francais, they are currently touring Zealand for the Embassy of France’s Les Petits Kiwis. I listened intently to Clotilde Perrin, as she spoke at Unity Books about her career in creating picture books.
As a young child she would play in the forests and mountains. It was here, surrounded by nature that her imagination was fuelled. However, she did admit “It’s inside me” – to blend fiction and fantasy and to be creative. “When I draw, it gives me the stories”. Clotilde holds up her sketchbook of ideas, which to me looks more like a masterpiece.
She draws all she imagines, including scary characters despite feedback she has received from publishers and editors. In her opinion, creating strange and scary characters can be positive for children as they further develop an understanding of their own fears (and as long as there is a happy ending). Her most recent book, Inside the Villains, is about witches, wolves and giants. Having worked alongside psychologists, Clotilde also believes in the power of emotions. So much so she has even created a book about emotions À L’Intérieur de mes Èmotions. She states “It is necessary to have emotion when you read a book”.
Clotilde designs on paper first to experiment freely with creating the form of the book. The cut outs are beautiful as children are encouraged to pull string in different directions and to discover what lies beneath. I found books with pages cut in half, or like an accordion. Her goal is for the reader to be like an actor – to participate with the book. Her books have also formed the foundation for multimedia exhibitions, and theatre set designs. Her first book published, The Royal Package, was recreated as an exhibition. But I couldn’t help but love the storyline of the book. It’s a visual narrative as the reader is to follow the red package as they travel through different countries. On the last page the reader discovers the book inside the package, enticing the reader to revisit their world journey again and again.
When Clotilde was an art school, she focussed on the balance between text and image as opposed to drawing techniques. In other words, how can the page be made more interesting? Her pursuit was to explore ideas and make books for children, thinking back to her own fond memories as a child. She is continually exploring and establishing her own style as an illustrator and author. She first sketches in pencil and ink, and later colours digitally to ensure rich colours for reproduction. Her recommendation to finding your own voice is to open your mind, listen to yourself and create what is inside of you. Although Clotilde has two children, she regularly listens to her own inner child. Ultimately she views books as ‘cultural embassadors’. It was a lovely notion to conclude her talk as an international picture book illustrator and writer.