Monday, October 1, 2012

The ReadItDaddy Interview with Debbie Fox, Author and Illustrator of 'Quiet Kid'

We were wowed by Debbie Fox's book 'Quiet Kid' with its sumptuous illustrations and weighty themes, so we were honoured when Debbie agreed to an interview with us. We're still novices at the interview game but with two kids (one 44, one 4) scrabbling to think up some interesting questions, we think we came up with some corkers. So over to Debbie..

ReadItDaddy: Here at ReadItDaddy we're interested in how artists work so
describe how your typical 'creative' day gets under way.

Debbie Fox: What a great question! All of my days are creative because I work in an elementary school. Being around kids is inspiring and just so much fun. I have created many handmade books for my work at school- some that even have puppets- and a few of these books have gone on to be published.

I always get my book ideas from interesting classroom conversations about social concerns children face. When I get home, I think about these talks, grab a pencil and sketchbook and just start drawing and scribbling notes. This is how my books get their start.

ReadItDaddy: What do you think you'd describe as your essential 'tools' as an artist?

Debbie Fox: I've been drawing and painting since I was a little kid. I started formal oil painting lessons-three hours long- when I was seven. When I went to art college in Toronto, Canada, I studied experimental painting. I painted large abstract and colorful works. Over the years, I have tried many different art mediums.

I learned that I especially like to work with cut paper collage. I enjoy the challenge of searching for my colors mostly in magazines, but also old letters, postcards, etc. A lot of luck is involved in finding just the right colors. I sort these bits of paper into piles of reds, grays, blues, etc., and store them in a large cabinet with lots of drawers. This is my palette. Besides lots of paper colors, a collage artist needs sharp scissors and very good glue. I have tried many kinds of glues and finally found the one I like best. Recently I have been experimenting with a kind of watercolor called gouache (which rhymes with squash).  Painting the gouache over some of the collage gives it a dreamy kind of feeling. Most of the artwork in Quiet Kid was created this watercolor/collage technique.

Quiet Kid Cover Art

ReadItDaddy: Many writers produce their own art for their children's books, do
you think there's a balance to be kept or do you tend to prefer
writing over illustration or vice versa?

Debbie Fox: Actually, I think it's the other way around- that some artists can find the words that live quite nicely with their pictures. And it's really hard to do both of them well. I never thought as a child that I could be a writer because I have always been such a terrible speller. My teachers certainly reminded me of this every time I turned in a paper- lots of red circles and corrections. But with good editors and spell-checking on computers, this is not really a big problem. I try to let my students know that it is their ideas that matter to me; we'll fix the spelling and grammar details later. For me, the artwork is where I find the heart of my books, but I will always stop and jot down writing ideas while I'm creating the art.

ReadItDaddy: We love the themes of your books, it seems there are very few
writers / illustrators that are 'brave' enough to tackle emotive
issues in Children's Books, why do you think this is?

Debbie Fox: As an educator, I am always looking for books that might spark much-needed conversations. I feel children's picture books should visually reflect the tone of their subject matter. And when the subject is both serious and important, I have a problem with books that use cartoonish imagery and flip language. It just seems sort of insulting and me. I choose to tackle the serious, important subjects in the way I do because I believe kids don't want to be talked down to. Growing up is tough at times, and kids have a lot on their minds. They are so concerned about being accepted and fitting in. I wish that more children's authors would create books that really speak to what worries kids without making it seem lighthearted. There are plenty of lighthearted books out there already.

ReadItDaddy: We particularly loved "Quiet Kid" as this is definitely something
that both of us identify with (I was a very quiet withdrawn kid and
loved escaping to books. Charlotte is also very quiet and quite shy
but does come out of her shell from time to time). Have you had
contact with any parents / children who have been particularly touched
by Quiet Kid's core themes and ideas?

Debbie Fox: I have been amazed by the number of adults who have read Quiet Kid and discovered that they are in fact introverted and never knew it. They see their childhood selves right there in the pages. I had one mother tell me that she didn't realize her daughter was an introvert because she is always so talkative: at home. Well, that is such an interesting aspect of quiet kids; at home or with a close friend they can talk up a storm, especially if the topic is something very meaningful to them. I have read Quiet Kid aloud in some of my classes, and was both honored and pleased by the overall reaction the book received. And when I get those hugs after class, I know I must be on to something.

ReadItDaddy: Questions from Charlotte: "Do you have a pet? If so what do you have?"

Debbie Fox: Hi, Charlotte! I do not have a pet right now, but am really thinking a lot about getting a cat. I used to have a cat named Ben, a big, gentle fellow who loved to watch me paint. He had gray stripey fur and when he laid down on one side, the patterns in his stripes seemed to spell the word 'WoW'. It might be hard to find another cat like that!.

ReadItDaddy:  Charlotte also asks "What's your favourite place to be?" (A bit of
an ambiguous question but hey, let's go with it!)

Debbie Fox: Another really great question! I think my favorite place of all is in my home, which is very lucky for me. I have a large, rumply stuffed chair in the corner of a room filled with books and a large picture window. This is actually where I sit and dream up my books. I do other things there, too, like cuddle and read with my three year-old granddaughter Olivia, sew and look around on my laptop. I drink my morning coffee there, and it is a great place for an afternoon nap. Sometimes when I'm away from home and very busy, I think about going home to my favorite chair.

ReadItDaddy: We're truly in a golden age of children's picture books at the
moment. What do you think goes towards defining a particular book as
'a classic' these days?

Debbie Fox: I like books that seem timeless. Books that I imagine my grandmother would have liked as a young girl. Books that I imagine my granddaughter's someday-children would also like. Ones that don't make a big, loud fuss. Quiet books.

ReadItDaddy:  Who are your favourite inspirations artist / author wise?

Debbie Fox: Some of the artist/author's I loved as a child include Leo Lionni, Ann and Paul Rand,  Bruno Munari, Arnold Lobel, Mary Blair and Maurice Sendak. Their work was and is still incredibly good. Some contemporary artist/authors whose work I really admire .include Shaun Tan, Barbara Lehman (who creates beautiful wordless books), Lois Ehlert, and discarded-object collage artist Gusti.

ReadItDaddy: Last but not least and this is a question we always ask (for obvious reasons!) - how
important do you think online communities and social networking / bloggers are to your work? Do they help or hinder?

Debbie Fox: I don't spend a lot of time on social networking sites but I am a huge fan of the blogging world- it is a great way for many introverted creative types to find their voice. It's perfect, actually; blogs allow their author the time and space to deeply think through what to say, there's no direct in-your-face interaction, and it's visual. I really believe in the power good blogs have to educate and enlighten. One of the best things about the internet.

Thanks for a great interview and some brilliant answers Debbie. We wish you all the best with Quiet Kid.

Quiet Kid by Debbie Fox is available via Amazon

No comments: