Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Dianne Wolfer talks with her illustrator Brian Simmonds

Dianne: Seeing an artist bring your story to life visually is exciting and sometimes a little unnerving. As Lighthouse Girl grew, it became an unusual blend of archival photos, newspaper articles, maps and sketches. Cate Sutherland and I began searching for the right illustrator. It wasn’t easy. Cate knew Brian Simmond’s work and she thought that his evocative charcoal sketches would compliment the black and white photography and also tie-in with the era of the book setting. She was right. I love the way Brian captures the wild, windswept beauty of Breaksea Island. Although he is an established and successful artist, Lighthouse Girl is Brian’s first book. I asked whether working as an illustrator is a different process.

Brian: Yes, it is totally different. When I read the story, I could ‘see’ the images that I wanted to put with the text. Then I needed to develop those ideas. One challenge was to add things that weren’t referenced.

Dianne: Can you give an example?

Brian: Devices like giving the lighthouse keeper a moustache… For research, I spent a lot of time looking through books to find images that captured what I wanted to portray. Stills from old movies were the most helpful.

Dianne: I remember I was fascinated to see the springboard image you used for the illustration on page 114. That was based on a scene from the movie To Kill a Mockingbird wasn’t it? That final scene with Gregory Peck and ‘Scout’…

Brian: That’s right. It was helpful to use movie stills like that as a reference. Not to copy the image but to capture a similar moment.

Dianne: While you were working on Lighthouse Girl, you told me that sometimes you felt like a movie director…

Brian: Yes, it was as if I was engaging a cast of people and I needed to invent sets, lighting and so on…

Dianne: What was the most challenging part of the process?

Brian: Keeping the continuity with character’s facial features was challenging. That became easier once Cate took photos of her niece Ali Babington.

Dianne: Would you like to illustrate again?

Brian: Definitely, for me the process was also like being a jazz musician. Like a jazz player your fingers don’t know exactly where they are going until they get there. It was the same for me. My head was filled with images and my fingers then made a mark before I thought too much about it.

Dianne: The marks you made are certainly beautiful. Thank you so much.

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