Thursday, November 20, 2008

Interview with Jackie Morris

Interview by Marya Jansen-Gruber

I'd like you to meet Jackie Morris, the talented artist who illustrated a beautiful fairy tale called Singing to the Sun.

What did you think when you were first sent the text for Singing to the Sun?

I first heard the story of Singing to the Sun at a children’s book festival in Swansea. Viv was doing an evening event and I went along to listen. The story made pictures dance in my head, and after the event Viv asked me if I liked it. When I said yes she replied 'Good, because I wrote it with you in mind.’ And from there we began to look for a publisher together. The story was originally published in a collection of stories and the others in the collection are equally beautiful.

What do you think of the message that it imparts to young, and not so young, readers?

There are so many messages in the book if you want to look for them. For children, one message is that maybe love is better than wealth and power, but it is a thing to be freely given. For fathers, a reminder that daughters have free will and are fed up of being given away as prizes in stories. For parents, the message can be that arguing is frightening for children. For women, that it is always a good idea to keep your wolves close, if you have a wolf, and that cats are smart and music can often provide answers.

The artwork that you created for the story has a magical, ethereal quality. What inspired you to create these pictures in this way?

I love medieval manuscript, textiles, animals and birds. I suppose really the words inspired the images. Each book that I do is different, each a response to a different text.

How were the illustrations created?

The illustrations were created with watercolor on hot pressed paper, after 27 years of practice and much blood sweat and tears. Firstly, I did small thumbnail drawings and sketches trying to catch the characters, then went on to the finished work, which is larger than the published work. Some pieces flowed easily, others I had to work on a few times. I loved the wolves who are very much a side issue in the text, so I brought them down from the golden mountains to be beside the princesses, ready for when the princes get the answer wrong.

This is not the first fairy tale that you have illustrated. Do you have a fondness for this genre?

I have a fondness for story. I love listening to storytellers. I love the way a really good story can live in your heart and mind and grow with you and help to make sense of the mad world we live in.

What do you think fairy tales give children?

Hope. Understanding. Courage. Insight. Pleasure. Passion. Music. A connection through history to all the people in the world who have ever told the story before, who have ever listened to it. A place in the world and in time.

Did you like to read when you were a child, and if so what did you like to read?

I struggled to read when I was a child and only persisted because I knew that what was hidden in books behind the code of the alphabet was worth knowing, worth breaking through to. What I love to read now is stories that have magic, not necessarily witches and wizards, but that magical power where an author can make you believe, make you care, for a character whose bones are paper, whose blood is the letters on a page. Discoveries this last couple of years have been Robin Hobb, The Book Thief and Stardust. Two of my favorite books I read as a child were White Fang and The Call of the Wild.

You have created illustrations for many charitable organizations. What do you like about doing this kind of work?

I like to use the work I do for good. I do not want to advertise cars, do illustrations for banks and big business. I always felt very priveleged to be able to work for Amnesty International and Green Peace and Oxfam.

You often use one of your cats as a model for your paintings. What does he think of this?

Max is a private kind of cat who likes to sleep in cupboards. He does not often come to sit on a lap and tends to keep out of the limelight, unlike the ginger brethren who dominate the house. But I think he is secretly quite pleased. He is very handsome and dark like midnight with emerald eyes.

If you could travel anywhere in the world to paint where would you go and why?

I would go to Venice in Spring. The colors of the buildings, the madness of the water-filled streets, the crumbling decay are all inspiring. I would go to the arctic where the colors play in the sky and on the land and I would wait and watch for polar bears. I would go to Bhutan or Nepal and sit quietly and watch cranes fly over high mountains and hope a snow leopard would be watching me. I would go beneath the sea where great whales sing and see them swim and leap from the water, before it is too late, before there are no more and I would go to a jungle in India and wait for a tiger to burn the emerald forest bright. And for now I will go to my studio and paint some more.

You can find out more about Jackie on her wonderful website. If you are a cat lover do take the time to visit the blog written by her cat companions. Her journal will show you what the life of an illustrator is like.

1 comment:

Jules at 7-Imp said...

What a lovely interview! Thank you. Will be linking it to our feature of Jackie this Sunday.