Stuck for a book? Here is one to get stuck into ...
As a counter to COVID enjoy the second in our series of quick Q&A Blogs with the year’s best new picture book illustrators each of whom are working to bring children love, warmth and reassurance thought their work. We have old friends, new friends, peace and security in each of the five books shortlisted for the 2021 Klaus Flugge Prize and we begin with Steve Small, illustrator of Smriti Hall's I'm Sticking With You
Can you tell us where you were when you heard the news that you had been shortlisted, and what your reaction was?
I was working from my studio in Blackheath and was just about to head out to buy some nuts to feed the crows. I was surprised and very honoured to hear that the illustrations for Bear and Squirrel had been shortlisted, and it did make me chuckle too. Now that every hair on my head is definitely grey, it’s been a while that I have qualified as a newcomer to anything and I couldn’t be more pleased that in finally realising a long held ambition to illustrate Picture books, my first one is being received so well.
Whereabouts do you work when illustrating, can you paint us a picture of your studio set up?
I work from my studio in my flat, which means that I have to be disciplined to resist too many walks around the local park or go window-shopping outside my local patisseries.
I have one of those desks that go up and down, so I can trick my body into thinking I am visiting all sorts of different places and being a lot more active than I actually am. I like to listen to music or radio while I work. I know some people who cannot have any distractions while they draw or paint, but I have the kind of brain that can happily coast along and concentrate while humming a tune or sponging up a good story. To be honest, my work habits haven’t changed much from when I was little and I used to sit down with Mum and Dad’s old radio, a cup of tea and a small bag of Minstrels, and while away the hours with a box of paints.
Did your background in animation help you when you were illustrating ‘I’m Sticking With You’ ?
I think it helped me to appreciate all the many alternative ways to tell a story and be selective. Animation compels you to consider the size, shape, speed and sound of your characters and then reflect on how they feel and what kind of world they live in. You cannot be too immersed in a story when making an animation. Developing these observational habits provides a decent range of techniques when stepping into Picture books. But Picture books are a very different way of relating a story, and need an intriguingly different mindset to make them. It seems to me that even with illustrations, the delight of a good Picture book is as much to do with what you don’t see in the illustrations and perhaps is also as much about what you don’t read in the words too. It sounds like an odd thing to say, I know, but the craft of writing and drawing in Picture books places much more emphasis on the reader’s imagination to convey a sense of the story. The happiness, sadness, urgency and humour is down to a handful of images and sentences, compared to a typical, densely-packed animated story that uses heaps of dialogue, sound, music and hundreds, sometimes thousands of images to convey it’s tale.
For this reason, like a decent magician who can place a card in your inside jacket pocket without you noticing, Picture books need a remarkably sure sleight of hand to place a story in your mind that will likely sit there for many, many years before you realise it’s still there.
The illustrations you have created are so full of character, what made you decide on a squirrel to accompany the bear in the story?
Thanks! The Bear was a natural fit because the character was full of good will but, for some reason, seemed to not always notice the effect it had on it’s friend. I thought that this sincere but slightly clumsy character must be a large creature, and that the friend was perhaps hard to see. Perhaps it was small. And being so small, I wanted to make sure that whoever and whatever it was, we, and eventually Bear, could notice it’s mood easily. Have you ever seen a Squirrel when it’s alert, or annoyed or perky? It’s tail is the perfect giveaway and readable from a fair distance. Squirrels would make dreadful poker players. But pretty good companions for Bears.
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 currently working on my second solo book about a small Elephant called Wellington and A Day Out With His Dad. That is due to come out in the Spring of 2022. There is a sequel to I’m Sticking With You due out in October of this year which of course features Bear and Squirrel and follows what happens when someone new wants to make friends with them. Actually I’m quite taken by the new interloper who happens to be a lot of fun, and I hope to see a little more of them sometime in the future.
With thanks to publicist Andrea Reece for facilitating this Blog series for us and Armadillo illustrator in residence Sarah Lovell for undertaking the interviews (and doing all the associated reading!) The Klaus Flugge Prize honours publisher Klaus Flugge, a supremely influential figure in picture books, and the founder of publishing house Andersen Press.
It was founded in 2016 and recognises a published picture book by a debut illustrator; the winning illustrator receives a cheque for £5,000. Past winners are Nicholas John Frith (Hector and Hummingbird), Francesa Sanna (The Journey), Kate Milner (My Name is Not Refugee), Jessica Love (Julian is a Mermaid) and Eva Eland (When Sadness Comes to Call). The Klaus Flugge Prize is funded by Klaus Flugge and run independently of Andersen Press. It is administered by Julia Eccleshare, children’s director of the Hay Festival and head of Public Lending Right policy and advocacy and Andrea Reece, reviews editor at Lovereading4kids, managing editor of Books for Keeps, and children’s director of the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival.
About Klaus Flugge Klaus Flugge was born in Hamburg in 1934, apprenticed to a bookshop and sent to Book Trade School in Leipzig. He emigrated to America at the age of 23 as an East German refugee who spoke only German and Russian. After a variety of jobs, and two years as an American GI, he was offered a job working as a Personal Assistant to Lew Schwartz, owner of Abelard-Schuman publishing in New York. After only a year and a half Schwartz suggested he go to Europe to build up the very small list they had there and came to London in 1961. He launched Andersen Press – named after Hans Christian Andersen - in the autumn of 1976. The roll call of artists Klaus Flugge has worked with at Andersen Press reads like a textbook on illustration: David McKee, Tony Ross, Satoshi Kitamura, Michael Foreman, Susan Varley, Emma Chichester Clark, Sir Quentin Blake, Chris Riddell, Ruth Brown and David Lucas to name but a very few. In 1999, he became the first publisher to receive the Eleanor Farjeon Award for outstanding contribution to children’s books and in 2010 he became the first and so far only publisher to be awarded Honorary Membership of the Youth Libraries Group. In 2013 Klaus was made an honorary citizen of the City of Bologna in recognition of his commitment to children's books abroad. About Andersen Press Andersen Press is one of the leading independent children’s publishers, publishing some of the biggest names in the world of children's books including the much-loved picture book characters the Little Princess and Elmer the patchwork elephant. Andersen Press is the home of many award-winning authors and illustrators including Melvin Burgess, Rebecca Stead, Satoshi Kitamura, Tony Ross, David McKee, Chris Judge and Jeanne Willis. Andersen Press was founded in 1976 by Klaus Flugge.