From the archives: Q&A with Chris Haughton
This short interview with multi-award winning Irish illustrator Chris Haughton was conducted back in September 2010, soon after the publication of his first picturebook, A Bit Lost. Since then, Chris's debut has been translated into 20 languages and he has gone on to publish three more picturebooks, Oh No, George!, Shh! We Have A Plan, and Goodnight Everyone, all of which have won awards either at home or abroad. He's come a long way in the last 7 years so let's venture back through The Forest to where it all began...
Q. Your first picture book, A Bit Lost, has just won the Association of Illustrators Award. How did the idea for the book come about?
A: I had done an image of some birds in a forest that I really liked and wanted to develop. The birds were quite richly patterned and the forest was a complex web of undergrowth with little elements hidden in it. I really wanted to do a simple story for them that could feature the forest and all its hidden elements and simply introduce us to the animals of the forest. I loved books that are richly illustrated as a child that have hidden elements in them that you can find later.
Originally, I had the idea of them coming down from their perches and traveling through the forest hunting for berries, cleverly dodging the other animals. The story was simple and repetitive but in the end it left a kind of sad and lonely tone to the book. The forest seemed like a very inhospitable place. I wanted a way of somehow introducing the other animals in the book that didn't involve the birds running away from them. Eventually I had the idea that the bird could fall from his nest and then being lost he has a reason for approaching and interacting with the other animals. I actually wrote a little bit about the process here.
Q. What did the process of illustrating A Bit Lost involve?
A. I start out with quite a quick pencil drawing. I scan that into the computer and colour it in and do other little tweaks and details from there. It's usually a quick sketch because often if it's too detailed or elaborate it loses its energy and character.
Q. How did you go about getting published?
A. I wanted to have the story and look of the book quite finished before I contacted the publisher, that way I could do it mostly myself and do it as close as possible to the way I had planned. Some of my friends in London are illustrators of children's books but they are often strongly art directed and pushed into doing something that accommodates the publisher's vision for the book, which they found frustrating. I had a fair idea of what I wanted to do, but the only problem was I could never get around to actually sitting down and doing it as I had no deadline for myself. Years went by, and in the end I decided to book a ticket to the Bologna Children's Book Fair as it would give me a deadline to work towards. I managed to get the bones of the story together along with a few images I was happy with. At the fair I saw hundreds of publishing companies but really there were about 30 that I thought would be interested in my book and style of imagery. In the end it was a Korean publisher, Borim Press, who agreed to publish it. They do some very interesting books and have a really creative approach so I was very lucky to get published by them. You can read more about them here.
Q. Who are some of your favourite illustrators?
A. I really love Beatrice Alemagna's work. Un Lion a Paris/A Lion in Paris is perhaps my favourite. It's about a lion that takes the train to Paris; she wanders around the city and falls in love with Paris and finds here home as a famous Lion statue in the heart of the city. Also Tara Books in India do some great unique (even screen printed!) books. Catch That Crocodile is one of my favourites of theirs. Cho Sunk Yung is a huge inspiration for me also. His books are quite different in tone to my own. His Underground Garden is about a man who plants a garden in the middle of a dark city and it bursts through the walls and takes on a life of its own. There is a beautiful poetry to his writing and there is always a metaphor and meaning behind the stories. Leo Lionni and Bruno Munari are great for their simplicity and clever graphic ideas.
Q. You've been artistically involved in a variety of projects. Can you tell us about some of those?
A. I mainly started out with advertising and magazine work, but there has been lots of very random projects. I have done commercial animations, I did murals in Tokyo and London and elsewhere.
Q. What are you working on at the minute? Might there be another picturebook in the pipeline?
A. I've actually spent the last 8 months in India and Nepal developing some new fair trade products and designs. One of the ideas I'm most excited about is making rugs from digital designs. Kumbeshwar Technical School are an amazing group and support a school and orphanage. Also we have developed a little toy for the A Bit Lost book. You can see and read about it here.
And yes!, I'm doing a new book about a bad dog (Oh No, George!) which will published by Walker Books in 2012.
Oh no, George! was indeed published in 2012, followed by Shh! We Have A Plan in 2014 and Goodnight Everyone in 2016, each as bold, vibrant and original as the last. Keep 'em coming, Chris!