I am excited to welcome author/illustrator Deirdre Gill to Frog on a Blog. Her beautiful debut picture book Outside is one of those magical, wintertime books I adore so much. The story is about a small boy whose imagination soars when he goes to play outside in the snow. The text is sparse, but the pacing in perfect and the oil paint illustrations are stunning. After coming across Outside at my local library, I knew I would soon own my own copy. And I knew I wanted to learn more about its creator, Deirdre Gill. Please enjoy the interview!
Q. Please tell us a little about yourself and how you got your start in children’s books.
DG. I majored in illustration in college and knew that I wanted to illustrate books for children when I graduated. I started off doing illustrations for children’s magazines and textbooks. I also worked at Books of Wonder in New York City right out of college. Many of my co-workers were people who were very passionate about children’s books and also went on to be authors and illustrators, including my husband, Jason Chin.
Q. I am so captivated by your picture book Outside. Please tell us a bit about your process, both writing and illustrating, when you created Outside.
DG. From initial idea to publication, Outside was five years in the making. I was actively working on the book for about 2.5 of those years. It started with first a written draft, that very sparse text. Then I created the images and put together the first dummy. When I was offered a contract for the book, I set about revising the story and of course the pictures as well. The story evolved quite a bit, and went through some 30 or so drafts. (I stopped counting after 27.) I estimate that I drew well over 5,000 sketches while working out the story and pictures. Once my editor and I were settled on the story and sketches, I drew more detailed and full-size finished sketches. I then transferred these sketches to my painting paper. I then begin to paint and cross my fingers that it comes out okay! I work in water-mixable oils.
Q. Your vivid imagination really shines through in your artwork. How would you describe your artistic style?
DG. I would say that I aim to create images that are representational, but I try to never be a slave to reference photos. I search for a ton of images to inspire me then I mostly draw from my own imagination. I love color and try to imbue my paintings with both vibrant colors as well as more subtle tones. I am heavily inspired by illustrators who achieve a sort of dreamy “sfumato” look in their art. Peter McCarty, Chris Sheban, Renata Liwska and Quint Buchholz are among a few of my favorites. Although I don’t come close to achieving that in my oil paintings, I always aim to create a similar mysterious and dreamy sort of feeling.
Q. I love picture books that are set in winter; there’s just something magical about them. How did you decide to set Outside in winter rather than another season?
DG. My initial idea for Outside was not exactly a story, but rather a vague series of images I had in my mind of a child going outside to play in the snow, and becoming totally engrossed in the magic of playing outside. This idea was inspired by my own love of being outdoors, especially on a perfect, snowy winter’s day, and how wonderful it is to sink deeper and deeper into one’s own imagination. There is a kind of magic that comes over us when we are outside in the snow. We become our best, happiest selves. Those of us who are lucky enough to live in a place where there is snow know what it feels like to wake up and look out the window to see a pristine blanket of freshly fallen snow covering the ground. And to feel that sense of anticipation that coaxes us from our warm cozy homes outside into the cold. We feel the deep, fluffy snow crunch under our boots and know that our adventure has begun. Our heads clear, our senses sharpen, we become more open to all the beauty and wonder that is around us. Being outside in the snow sparks our creativity; suddenly we have a million ideas of what to make, and our ideas multiply as we go, each new idea more awesome than the one before. Our resilience strengthened, we trudge on through the cold with frozen toes and wet mittens because we are aware of the temporary nature of that just right, snowball-making snow and we know this moment, right now, is our chance to create the perfect snowman or snow castle. We are cooperative with our fellow snow explorers because there is so much snow to move and sculpt and we must work together to make our visions come to life. And when our efforts fail, for we are building with the imperfect medium of snow, after all, we find another way or allow new ideas to spring to life. I think that this magic can happen in any season, but there is just something to special about how the world seems transformed when it snows.
Q. What projects are you currently working on?
DG. Currently I am illustrating a rhyming picture book about trains. It’s a lovely text, written by Andria Rosenbaum. I am very excited about it, as the mother to one four-year old train fanatic and another blossoming 1-year old train enthusiast.
Q. Why do you think picture books are important?
DG. Oh, let me count the ways! Picture books are so important because they are a child’s first introduction to stories. And stories are our greatest tool in processing the world around us. Not only do they teach children a healthy vocabulary, they also help them make important associations, give them words to go with their emotions, and introduce them to the world outside of their own home. Just as important as the words and pictures in a story, are all the words and pictures that are necessarily left out of a 32-page book. Unlike a movie that does all the work for you of showing every action scene by scene, the picture book makes the brain do a lot of the work in filling in the missing pieces. I also love that a book allows readers to go at their own pace, and will often reward readers who return over and over to their favorite books with little details that they might have missed during the first read. And, of course, there is nothing better than curling up on the couch with someone who loves you and sharing a book.
Q. Where can fans go to learn more about you and your work?
DG. They can go to my website: www.deirdregill.com, visit me on Facebook at Deirdre Gill Studio, or follow me on Twitter @deirdrekgill.
Q. Any closing thoughts?
DG. Thanks so much for allowing me to share Outside with you and your readers!