My Red Hat: Five Questions for Rachel Stubbs
Big congratulations on being shortlisted for the Klaus Flugge prize this year for your beautiful book ‘My Red Hat’, you must be thrilled. I’d be so grateful if you can take the time to answer these five questions for the readers of Armadillo magazine:
Can you tell us where you were when you heard the news, and what your reaction was?
I’d just finished the evening marathon of dinner/bath/bedtime with my son when I spotted the news from Walker in my emails. I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone until it was officially announced, but of course I immediately ran downstairs to share the news with my husband (he’s good at keeping secrets) and spent the rest of the evening in a very happy daze! I was completely thrilled and couldn’t believe it. It was such an incredible boost after the past year, and all the challenges it has held.
Whereabouts do you work when writing and illustrating, can you paint us a picture of your studio set up?
I work from home in our sunny spare room, overlooking lots of trees and sky, and a rumbling train line beyond. It’s joyful to hear so much birdsong and I love watching the trees change throughout the year. This may sound idyllic, but in reality it’s a sea of paper, books and discarded mugs most of the time, no matter how hard I try! My husband fondly refers to it as ‘the teenagers bedroom’. I have a separate little desk where I do my work on the computer, and one of my most used pieces of equipment is my dimmable light box. I keep all my sketchbooks to hand as they are constantly feeding into my work, and lots of drawings by my friends, son and other things that inspire are taped to the wall. I love the flexibility of working from home, especially since having a child - but it can be a challenge to separate work life and the domestic. I’ve worked in shared studio spaces in the past and would love to return to this at some point.
As Fleur Sinclair mentions in the shortlist announcement, you have taken a simple idea and used it to create a really beautiful, heartwarming story. Where did the inspiration for ‘My Red Hat’ come from?
Thank you so much. I came up with the initial idea through lots of playing around in my sketchbook and kept coming back to the image of a giant red hat. I loved its graphic shape and the playful compositions it allowed me to make, and started to think about all the different things a hat could be. The more tender, intergenerational focus of the book didn’t come about until much later in the process when I started working on it with Walker. We started to experiment with adding a child into the equation and much to my own surprise, I loved how it brought everything together. At the time I was watching the special relationship between my father and new baby son unfold, whilst also remembering my own Grandpa, so I think this all inevitably fed into it too.
I love the overall feel your book has, the illustrations are fluid and simple. There is so much warmth between the two main characters and a real sense of movement and adventure as the story progresses. Can you explain a bit about your illustration process and how you decided on the colour palette you used?
Thank you - that is lovely to hear! When it came to working on the artwork I was feeling rather out of practice as I’d just come back to work after having my son. I knew I needed to make it in a way that would somehow take the pressure off and allow me to sink into the drawing, as this is the part I enjoy the most.
In the end I decided to work in separations, based loosely on the principles of screen-printing, to keep the line separate from the colour layers. I used a mixture of pencils for the line, and different dilutions of black ink and brush for the areas of wash, which I then scanned into photoshop and changed the greyscale layers into colour.
I love a lot of mid-century children’s books and am constantly fascinated by the ways that printing restrictions at the time allowed illustrators to combine line and colour in such imaginative ways. I knew I wanted to explore this more for myself, and had been experimenting with using a red and blue palette from the beginning - but needed a third, more neutral tone. In the end I settled on pale pink as it seemed the most harmonious option. Plus I love red and pink together!
Finally, can you tell us what you are working on at the moment, and do you have any new books coming out soon?
I’m working on several new book ideas at the moment which I am really enjoying, although progress has been slow this past year. I’m also working on an illustrated Map of Deptford in the 1800’s for children in our local area - I’ve never illustrated a map before but its really satisfying and the history of Deptford is fascinating.
Many thanks for your time, and best of luck for the announcement of the winner of the Klaus Flugge prize.