Posts from the ‘Author Interview’ Category

Gentleman Bat

We’re kicking off October with a Friday Feature! Friday Features are an irregular occurrence on my blog that include things other than book reviews, something a little extra. This might include author interviews (hint to any authors out there who want to get interviewed), bibliographies, book trailers and program ideas. While I’m not limiting myself to talk about these things just on Fridays, it will be something extra special to finish off the work week.

I’m so excited to bring you an interview I conducted a very long time ago with Piotr Parda, illustrator of The Gentleman Bat. I read it a while back and was so entranced by his artwork that I had to contact him, but I had always planned on kicking off the month of bats, costumes, and the unexplained with this Friday Feature. So thank you to Piotr Parda for answering my questions and for being so patient with the publication of his answers.

Gentleman BatTitle: The Gentleman Bat
Author: Abraham Schroeder
Illustrator: Piotr Parda
ISBN: 9780991386604
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Ripple Grove Press, c2014.

Victorian inspired costumes are donned by a bat and his beau in a nighttime stroll. Schroeder’s rhyming couplets are descriptive and set the scene and direction for Parda’s detailed illustrations. It tells the tale of a “gentleman bat” who meets his date, they dance the night away in the public square, and then return to their respective homes in the rain, under the cover of the gentleman’s umbrella. While the story is sweet, more mood then mayhem, the phenomenal pictures inevitably steal the show. After you pour over them on your own, you can glimpse at the process and find a list of Easter eggs to discover, prompting additional returns to the book. A coworker pointed out that the clothes even have slits to accommodate the bat’s long wings and their attachment to the shorter bat legs. In the final scene, where the bat is tucking himself in for the night, his nightcap has slits for his ears so it stay on his head even when he’s hanging upside down. A great book to share with a group, but also take the time to share one on one so everyone can get a close look at this detailed debut for both author and illustrator.

I had the opportunity to speak with illustrator Piotr Parda about his work and creative process:

  • First, did you do any research regarding bat anatomy before starting? How did building the model pictured on the book’s website aid in your illustration efforts?

It’s safe to say that the research was the larger (or longer) part of the work than completing the illustrations. It was mostly about finding some good solutions to the problems that come with drawing the  anthropomorphic (human shaped) bats: how to make them able to walk, dance and gesture despite of the wings being the most dominant part of their bodies but most of all what would be the best way to design some fancy clothes for them. As you know the wing membrane stretches right from the bat’s ankle all the way to the tip of its pinky. No way a bat could put on a pair of human pants! There is a huge amount of bat related material on the internet and we saw all of it. The wire toy I built for reference was supposed to help me with arranging the poses. It was like one of those little wooden dolls artists use for anatomy drawing, except bat shaped. Strangely enough, once my ‘action figure’ was ready, drawing poses came naturally and I rarely had to resort to looking at my doll-bat. It is also very helpful to me personally when I try to imagine that I myself am the creature I draw.  Since the skeleton of the bat is based on the same “template” as the human one, it wasn’t hard to imagine my fingers stretched far enough to support my weight in flight. Believe or not the wings of the bat bend the same way human fingers do. If you saw me working, you would notice that I’m looking at my fingers a lot.

  • Readers see a significant amount of everyday items created specifically for bat use, such as the scissors and the beetle pets. We also see the bats wearing glasses and monocles, a vendor selling ear plugs, and adapted clothing. What sort of collaboration was there between you and the author when designing these details?

Yes, all bats are sporting some eye-ware in our book. They are bats! Wearing earplugs might be a stretch because for a bat it would be an equivalent of a blindfold. But because the glasses help them see, maybe the earplugs would’t affect their orientation in space too much.

(EDIT from blogger: I guess it’s my mistake, as I thought the vendor was selling ear plugs. I’ll have to go back and take a third – or is it fourth – look at the book.)

Once we knew we are going to create a story about humanoid bats, the ideas and quirky jokes came down like an avalanche. Abraham would pitch some ideas to me and I would tell him if they are possible to draw – for me at least. I was sketching some of my own ideas and Abraham would tell me if it resonates with his vision or not. There is still a lot of details that could’t be drawn but we feel as if they are included in the story: there are coins with profiles of some prominent historical bats featured on them, there is a lot of different bat snacks with candied bugs and there is bat jewelry. I had to try very hard to avoid drawing bat gloves for obvious reasons. We were exchanging ideas via e-mail mostly. One time we’ve spent nearly an hour on Skype to figure out the umbrella scene. Waving umbrellas in front of the computer and taking screen shots was the best way.

  • Quite frequently books featuring smaller characters (like the Borrowers or the Littles) show every day items made from adapted materials (like a table from an empty spool). There is no such adaptation seen in your photos. The chaise lounge is a chaise lounge, and not a matchbox filled with tissue or cotton balls. Were you ever tempted to go that route, and what prompted you to make this world more “realistic”?

We eliminated this kind of depiction right from the start. Our bats, the inhabitants of the town called Batford, are the masters of their own world. Even though they might still be the size of an average vampire bat, their world matches their size, not the other way around. It’s an alternate universe in which the vampire bats evolved into talking, singing, dancing and clothes wearing individuals. There are no humans to speak of in Batford. We also decided to avoid carriages being pulled by bunnies or squirrels. Mini bat-horses would be simply too weird even in our scale of weirdness.

  • The methods and materials you use for this book are a sharp departure from the works found on your website. Was it a challenge to get the right “look”, and what impacted your final decision to use the methods you did?

When I show the books I illustrate to some of my old friends, they often exclaim: “So, this is the stuff you’re doing right now!”. Well, not exactly…

I’m used to this binary system in my work. When I feel like I’m getting tired of the disciplined and labor intensive illustration work,  I complete my deadlines and start working on my artwork ranging from building objects to creating moving images and abstract paintings. When in need of more focus, I come back to book illustration. For me there are no two projects that would require using the same medium. Why would there be? I like the idea of being “medium conscious”. For example if you were to print a book about saving trees, would you use paper or recycled plastic?

The technique for the bat book was inspired by the 1880 woodblock print by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. The mood of this particular image was our basis for the technique from the beginning. Of course I haven’t had enough time or skills to work with traditional wood blocks but I used the next best thing: bamboo pen, ink and watercolor – tools often used for designing woodblock prints. There is no need to create woodblocks when faster and more accurate printing technologies are available, unless you are exploring the beauty of the old technique. I also found a lot of inspiration for my ink lines in some classic comic book titles such as “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” by Alan Moore, but also XIX century painting, victorian prints, some old illustrated stories such as “The Wind in The Willows” and Charles Dickens’ stories. Among the inspirations you can also find Peter Bruegel the Elder, architecture and street signs of Buenos Aires, architecture of Harvard Square and Beacon Hill,  architecture of London,  American cinema (“Singing in the Rain” and “Midnight”), British movies and TV shows. Even “Doctor Who”!

  • What does your workshop look like? Can you provide a picture?

I’m afraid a picture would be of no use right now. My desk at which I usually draw and do my computer work is quite messy at the moment, so is my work table. There is no way anyone could discern a pattern from this chaos. I guess I’m overdue for some discipline and focus. One thing is for sure: I did all my bat illustrations using a special pulley mechanism enabling me to hang up side down and of course it was all done in the light of a candle.

I may have made some of it up…

  • I read on your website that it took years to complete the book. Did you, the author, or the publisher ever get impatient with the process? How did you maintain your focus throughout? I understand you are friends with the author. Did your work on the book ever strain the friendship, or vice versa?

Talking for myself here, I never got impatient with the process as much as people around me did. (I’m laughing here a little) It took a lot of patience for them to put up with this little obsession.

Even though the author’s idea originated in 2006 (?) the work itself wasn’t continuous.  We were mostly fantasizing about the bat world, exchanging ideas and sketches. There were at least two versions of more or less finished Gentleman Bat before this one. What was different about this last version was that a brand new publishing house (Ripple Grove Press) bravely decided to make our story their first book to ever be published. What helps in regaining focus the most is a deadline. Since “The Gentleman Bat” was the very first product to launch a new company I knew that my work had to be as good as it can be. But no pressure… (there would be a wink and laughing here if I was talking)

In reality working on The Gentleman Bat was very pleasant and for the first time in my career I felt like I could take as much time as I needed to do my best. I welcomed all feedback from the author, the publishers and anybody else (even my parents) because it helped in creating even better work. I guess it’s what one would expect when a group of like-minded people works on something.

  • Are you planning on doing any other books in the future?

I would like to work on more books, yes, but I guess wanting to do something can’t really be called “planning”.  The Gentleman Bat was the first book created independently after abandoning the more stressful commission based work. Until then I wasn’t even sure if I would even get back to books.

If  I ever work on more books I will try to recapture the sense of creating something that doesn’t necessarily have to become the hit of the season but rather becomes one of those worn around the edges books that can be found on many bookshelves a hundred years from now. Something you could call “an old favorite”.


All pictures included in the interview are from the book’s website and I strongly encourage everyone to take a peak at large quantity of photos found there for a more in-depth behind the scenes experience. You can find out more about Piotr Parda and the other forms of artwork that he creates through his website.

Personally, I would suggest pairing Gentleman Bat with another old favorite, Stellaluna, for two very different looks at the bat world. For similar stories, readers might want to check out Lindbergh the Tale of the Flying Mouse by Torben Kuhlmann which has equally detailed drawings of a small rodent trying to make a big impact, although his story is more traditionally set in the world of humans.


Friday Feature — Illustrator Interview with Rick Allen

Rick Allen made his stunning picture book debut with his illustrations for Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night, written by Joyce Sidman. The book explains a little about the process on the copyright page, which you should take a look at if you missed it. But I was curious to find out more about this unique way of making pictures.

Rick Allen runs the business Kenspeckle Letterpress with his wife Marian Lansky (a talented artist in her own right) where they create “printed ephemera” (his words not mine) with the help of an assistant. In honor of April being poetry month, I contacted him with some questions, and he was kind enough to answer back.

First, is “illustrations” the right terms to use? I see you use the term prints, linoleum cuts, and engravings. Is there a different process that you use for each of these that distinguishes them from one another? Was the artwork only accomplished through printing, or did you use ink or paint to “touch-up”, accent, or highlight portions of the pictures?

Yes, I’d call them illustrations. That being said, the illustrations for this book are all relief prints made from linoleum blocks. Relief prints can be made from a wide variety of materials, but all are created by removing material from the block and leaving an inkable surface behind for printing.

Engraving refers to a specific kind of relief printing usually made by cutting into end-grain blocks of wood with tools that make very fine lines in the surface of the wood; the end-grain block is extremely durable and you can pull many thousands of prints without losing sharpness and definition of the engraved line. Linoleum by comparison is a fairly soft material, which limits the number of prints you can pull before the printing process begins to compress the surface of the linoleum and you lose some of the crispness and clarity in the image.

I’ll occasionally use some of my wood engraving tools on linoleum cuts to make finer lines that are even more susceptible to filling with ink or being compressed by the press, furthering limiting the number of impressions we can make from each block. Typically our editions of original prints (the number of prints pulled for each image) number less than twenty, and often as few as ten to twelve.

Most of the prints in the book do have some hand-finishing in them. I use gouache, a heavily pigmented watercolor that can be used full-strength as a poster paint for opaque passages and in a very dilute form for delicate washes– a very versatile medium.

If you want more information on the process, there is a write-up on Kenspeckle at the Sivertson Gallery’s website.

What does your workshop look like? What’s it like working with your wife on your projects and how do you divide the labor?

For the past four or so years we’ve had our studio on the second floor of a commercial building in Duluth, MN, a couple of hundred yards away from the shores of Lake Superior; in the two weeks of summer we often get up here we can walk ten minutes across a bridge to a seven mile-long beach for swimming in the 35-45 degree waters of the Big Lake, but I can’t really recall the last time we were so motivated.

We designed the studio ourselves, including an open workspace with large beautiful north-facing windows for the four presses we use in printing lino blocks, wood engravings, and letterpress projects, and a separate office for my wife and partner Marian Lansky’s design business; we refer to her as the smart 21st Century part of the business with her suite of computers and printers while the cast iron brute beasts and I hang back in the 19th.

Marian has been a graphic designer for twenty years and has her own clients and projects (including her own fine art prints that she shows under Shy Nimitta on our website). We collaborate whenever we can on projects. She was involved with the book at every stage from suggestions for type faces and page layout to scanning the finished art and making color corrections for production.

As Charley Russell (the cowboy artist) said about his own situation, anybody who can make a living doing what he likes is lucky, and I am that, but going to work every day with the same person I go home with at the end of the day is simply the best possible life I can imagine.

I read on your website that it took nearly two years to complete the book. Did you, the author, or the publisher ever get impatient with the process? How did you maintain your focus throughout?

I can’t speak for Joyce, the wonderful author of Dark Emperor, or Ann Rider, the equally amazing editor we worked with at Houghton Mifflin, but I certainly never got tired either of Joyce’s words or the process of making the images. Ann and Joyce have together produced a number of award-winning books and certainly have no illusions about expecting assembly-line efficiency from artists. All the people involved with the book at Houghton Mifflin were marvelous to work with.

Making each of the thirty or so prints that went into the book required a number of different stages so I could jump from image to image when I got bogged down on one block or another. From sketching out initial concepts for the images, transferring the sketches to the blocks and beginning to cut the blocks (anywhere from three to six or even seven blocks per image), working out the color palette for the blocks, and then finally registering and printing the blocks and finishing the print with hand-coloring, each step on each block provided enough diversion and challenge to keep me engaged and interested. You’re never quite sure how each image– produced from so many blocks and with so many hours of cutting– will turn out until they’re finally pulled off the press, and that in itself introduces enough healthy uncertainty to keep your attention.

On each of the left-handed pages of the book, there is a little lizard (called an eft in the book) that also appears in most of the right-handed pages of the book. Why didn’t you include him on every page? Was he always meant to be so prominently featured?

The wandering red eft that appears on the verso page with the poetry was my visual indulgence, which Joyce, Ann, and Cara (the designer at HMH) all generously let me develop. I thought he could provide a connection between all the poems (each in a different poetic form and about a different inhabitant of the night woods, including a ballad about the eft itself), and act as a guide who would lead the reader to the next page throughout the course of the night.

The eft doesn’t appear in all of the main illustrations because a few of the images required an up-looking perspective that would keep us from seeing it on the forest floor. For example the prints for the Night Spider and the Primrose Moth each look up toward the night sky and the moon’s progress across it, which in itself seemed like a good idea to keep the reader from getting a stiff neck by having to look down at the ground the whole time. Sometimes the absence of an expected element is good for pacing and to keep one’s interest going in the face of repetition.

The very front and very back prints are noticeably the same print, just with different coloration. Was that the only time you could reuse the same block, and if not, where else can we find identical prints in the book? Did you base the introductory and closing pictures on a real life location?

They were the only blocks I did reuse, but even then they required some substantial recutting and additional blocks to make the transition from Dusk to Dawn.

I tried to suggest a place that wasn’t geographically specific so that a child could imagine it might be their home town or someplace near to it, with a window to a room they might imagine was theirs.

Are you planning on doing any other books in the future?

There’s nothing on hand right now, but I know that Ann is keeping her eye out for another project. She has a pretty unerring eye when it comes to putting artists and authors together, so if she finds something that she thinks will work for us, I’m sure we’ll agree.

Thank you Rick for answering my questions and taking the time to explain the printing process. I certainly hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen some of your prints in print.

Friday Feature — Robin Brande

Insert trumpets and drums and flutes and all sort of other wonderful instruments, because I bring to you my VERY FIRST AUTHOR INTERVIEW! Robin Brande, author of award winning and nominated books Fat Cat and Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature has agreed to answer some questions regarding her two books and what influenced her writing. So I give you a moment to check out my reviews of these two books.
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Done? Okay, without further ado, Robin Brande.

1. I see on your blog that Fat Cat was named an Honor Books for this year’s Michigan Library Association’s Thumbs Up Award for Best Young Adult Fiction. You won that award in 2008 for Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature. Why do you think your books appeal to readers so much?

I try to write the kinds of books I would have wanted to read when I was 15. I’m always happy when someone else enjoys them, too! Those Michigan Library Association awards are a big honor for me. I really appreciate the recognition.

2. I’m sensing an evolution theme between your two novels. Why do you find topic of particular interest and what about that topic inspires you? Is your next novel going to contain an evolution angle as well?

I’m interested in personal evolution–in people growing and blossoming and changing. I love to write about girls who start out shy or insecure, and who learn to step into their power. That’s a very meaningful theme for me.

3. What do you believe regarding evolution and vegetarianism? Do you find your own beliefs influencing how you write or prejudicing yourself against a character with a viewpoint that differs from your own?

Sometimes I go into a book not knowing what I, personally, believe about a topic. I use the research and the writing to figure it out for myself on paper.

I grew up in a church very much like Mena’s in EVOLUTION, ME & OTHER FREAKS OF NATURE, and had her same kinds of issues with trying to reconcile the Bible and Darwin. It was interesting for me to write about her journey–it was the first time I’d really sat down and thought through all the aspects of scientific fact vs. religious faith. Very eye-opening for me!

As for vegetarianism, I had absolutely no idea that Cat in FAT CAT would explore that–it’s just something that came out of all the intense research I did into food and health. In the course of writing that book, I tried all of the food experiments Cat did so I could write about them accurately. And in the end I became convinced that eating a plant-based diet is the smartest way to go–for my health, the health of the environment, and the welfare of animals. It was a life-changing writing experience for me! I love it when writing a book teaches me something new.

4. Both Cat and Mena seem set on not having sex before marriage, but I know that wasn’t the case in my high school. Some people have also said that they thought the subplot involving Cat’s romantic life in Fat Cat wasn’t necessary to the story. Having a romance in both of your books, do you think a romance is necessary in a book for teenage girls? Was it a concious decision to make your main characters take a vow of charity — I mean chastity? 🙂 (Note to readers: If you read Fat Cat, or even my review, you’d get that joke.)

I don’t know if having a romance in a book is necessary for teenage girls, but it’s sure necessary for me. I love love. I need it in my books! Again, I’m writing for the 15-year-old still inside me, and she needs some kissing to go along with her science.

As for the chastity thing, there are plenty of young adult books out there with the characters having sex–no one needs more of that from me. I’m happy to write stories with teenage heroines who have made the deliberate decision to wait. Judging from the letters I’ve gotten from teen readers, I know there are a lot of girls out there who appreciate that!

5. What was your science fair project in school? Where did you get all those wonderfully involved ideas for your story?

*cough**secret* I HATED science in school. Science was boring and too hard. Blech. It’s only been in these last few years that I’ve become a total fan of science. I love it now. Is it too late for me to enter a science fair?

Does this interview leave you wanting more? Then head on over to YA, Y Not! where you can see answers to more questions. Thanks again ever so much Robin for taking the time to answer these.

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