Hi there! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us about your work. Could you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
I am a children’s book maker. I write and illustrate them, and I try to invent new ways of using the format to encourage children to be creative, to entertain them and to help them overcome troubles and to stay curious, inventive and be excellent to one another.
Tell us about your creative process, from the initial idea to the finished piece.
I have a mental bucket of ideas for books that I think should exist – books that are in some way needed or would simply be brilliant. Now and then one surfaces, I realise what to make of it, and I start planning a structure for the book. When that is in place, I fill it with characters and a story. I make dummy books physically and very roughly using a lot of invisible scotch tape, cutting and tearing and sticking and scribbling. Then I refine them until they become publishable books.
What size do you tend to work at? Do you have a preferred scale?
I generally work size down. I like to take my work to cafes and carry a sketchbook around, so I don’t usually work larger than A3. I’ve even experimented with working extremely small, making pencil illustrations the size of a penny and scanning them at very high resolution. I hope I’ll get around to illustrating a whole novel that way, with all the original art fitting on one small piece of paper.
What is your favourite subject-matter and why?
I love drawing living creatures. They are so expressive and make me laugh… I love drawing fur, and noses.
We loved your (mostly) pencil illustrations for the books “Cheese Belongs To You” and “The Sleepwalkers”! How do you go about choosing which medium to use for a particular project?
It’s all down to what I want to communicate… pencil drawing looks very “handmade”, you can see how it’s done, how the lines are feeling around, building shapes. The process remains visible. I think this is a good way to make art which looks approachable and achievable, the kind of images that make people think: I think I want to try making my own. Sometimes, other media work better. I like to do brightly coloured brush drawings because they speak of exuberance and fun, collage art because it suggest a history and encourages people to try it for themselves, collect and combine things and make them their own. Sometimes neat digital elements are just the ticket, because they take a step back and simply show clear, somewhat abstract messages without visual interference.
Do you have a favourite medium to use and why?
I do love drawing with my flexible fountain pen. It’s kind of meditative and I like the quality of line, the ritual of filling it up before going out, and that it is easy to carry.
What do you particularly enjoy about working in pencil?
Pencils are great. You are allowed to take them anywhere, so you can draw in museums and libraries. They are easy to carry and quite cheap, there are so many different grades and brands and sizes and each one does something different. You can mix them up for rich and varied textures, or just use one which changes from precise and pointy to blunt and soft. They are very likeable. You can even erase mistakes. And you can digitally process them in so many amazing ways.
Your Tiny Pencil piece was great – a real tiny adventure! We heard you’ve been working on a new epic adventure series (with maps and languages!)? Could you tell us about that?
I love adventure stories… for years, I have been building a fictional universe where animals can talk, as they do in picture books. I’ve drawn maps, invented a language for mice which is shaped by the fact that they are tiny prey animals who communicate in a kind of whistling song. In Mousese, only the present exists and future and past are subjective, they talk about them as good and bad dreams. Also every sentence is just one long word, so you can whistle it rapidly. I have written one novel set in that universe already, and now I’m writing a second draft.
Can you tell us about a favourite piece or book of yours, or a favourite creative experience?
I love all my books, I especially love working on them with the creative team at Walker Books, we have wonderful meetings where we talk about picture books very seriously. But I think what I enjoy most is writing novels. It was great to get a graphic novel published (“The Sleepwalkers”), to have the chance to build something big and intricate rather than precise and minimal. My novel characters become very animated in my mind, I can imagine conversations with them. I like talking to the Sheep from Sleepwalkers when I wake up, before I get up and make coffee.
Do you have any early memories of drawing?
Yes. My parents made sure I had a lot of scrap paper and art materials, and later proper blocks of drawing paper and sketchbooks. I remember drawing in nursery, in the first week or so I drew a picture of a dog going FFOOW FFOOW (in German, though) and one teacher got concerned that I was dyslexic until another pointed out that I wasn’t even supposed to know any letters yet because I was a tiny tiny child. – Drawing was my favourite activity. We sometimes had to draw on blotting paper with brushes so we wouldn’t waste paper, which is a strange experience – you paint a whole picture and it fades away, then the paper gets put back in the box and someone else can paint on it, and so on.
Do you keep a sketchbook?
Yes. I keep separate sketchbooks for every project and I made a leather sleeve to keep them all in, held with rubber bands. When a project is finished or a book is full I swap them out. Sometimes I bind sketchbooks especially for a project, using different sorts of paper that seem right. I enjoy bookbinding.
What directions are you interested in exploring in the future?
I am thinking more and more about the need to make an effort to be inclusive, and to deal with difficult subjects like bullying. I feel I have a duty to make books that make everyone feel included, respected and encouraged, and it involves a lot of serious thought to avoid it being heavy-handed and counter productive. At some point I’ll also work out what apps I’d like to make and how best to use ebook illustration. I don’t think we have quite worked out how we will present narratives digitally, and are somewhat stuck on making digital versions of analogue books. Most of all, I want to get some novels out there. It’ll take time but I’ll get there.
Viviane’s work appears in Issue 2.0 of Tiny Pencil, the summerzine Monsters, Mammals & Mars! Available to buy here.
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