Saturday, June 25, 2016

Q&A with Piet Grobler

Piet Grobler is the illustrator of the children's book Who is King?: Ten Magical Stories from Africa, a winner of the 2016 Children's Africana Book Awards. He has illustrated many other books, including The Great Tug of War and Aesop's Fables. He grew up in South Africa and lives in the U.K., where he teaches at the University of Worcester.

Q: How did you end up working on the illustrations for Who Is King?

A: I have made previous books with Beverley Naidoo and our ways of working and understanding of Africa (We are both ex-South Africans living in England) resulted in books that we and our publisher were happy with. So Janetta Otter-Barry, the publisher, approached me to illustrate Who is King?.

Q: Have you used a similar style in illustrating Beverley Naidoo’s other books?

A: No. With The Great Tug of War, a chapter book, there were only black and white fairly realistic line-drawings. In Aesop's Fables, I used watercolour and ink drawings in thin line.

Who is King? was illustrated in watercolour and ink drawings as well, but I used a dip pen that resulted in bolder line work, and to the water colour I also added colouring pencil. I consciously made the colours quite vibrant.

I think in terms of visual language (this is a better choice of word than style) Who is King? and Aesop's Fables are in some respects also similar. In both cases I made use of caricature with more of a "folk" feeling rather than mainstream or generic approach.

Q: You've had a career that included serving as a minister and working as a graphic designer. How did you decide to go into the field of children's book illustrations?

A: I already started to illustrate my first picture books when I was still a church minister. I have always, since I was a child, been very fond of drawings and stories. It was then a natural progression to illustrate more and more, while I was a graphic designer too.

Q: You also teach illustration. What are some of the most important things you tell your students?

A: Draw every day!

Know your strengths so you can depend on them to better your work and know your weaknesses so you can work harder on those areas of your work.

Be curious: read, travel, listen to music, meet people so that you are aware of the world in which you are working as an illustrator.

Everything has potential meaning: be conscious that your decisions (in terms of medium or visual language) could influence the meaning your audience will attach to your work.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am working on two books: One is titled Antonia - a book about a rather flamboyant bird, for my Dutch publisher Lemniscaat. The second is a Chinese folk tale about a chicken and an earthworm for CCPPG, a Chinese publisher.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I cannot wait for the summer break! I have the sun in my blood and England can be soooo wet and cool. I am off to Portugal and then to South Africa for the summer. I think I need the sun and warm colours to inspire my illustrations.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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