As much as I adore picture books, I’m don’t often become misty-eyed while reading them. But there are always exceptions, and author/illustrator Piotr Parda’s brand new book Graduation Day is one of them. Graduation Day is an incredibly moving wordless picture book about a young girl who takes something negative and turns it into something beautifully positive. It’s a must see!
Graduation Day is Piotr’s second book. Before that, he illustrated The Gentleman Bat, another lovely book, which was written by Abraham Schroeder. Both books were published by Ripple Grove Press, the publisher of my book The Peddler’s Bed.
I’m very pleased to share this interview with the talented Piotr Parda!
Did you know from a young age that you were going to be an artist? Did your parents encourage your talent?
Yes, my parents are the very first people in my life to remember how throwing a piece of paper and a pencil or a crayon into my crib while I was crying was better than any pacifier in the world. But then again most children, if not all of them, enjoy drawing and painting, sculpting, cutting and gluing, making up alternate realities, performances, happenings, scientific experiments, installations, mixed media art and other things done for no reason. Some lose this interest along with their baby teeth and some don’t (or do but find a secret passage back to these imaginative shenanigans). I must say I lost it many times and I still do occasionally. Luckily so far I’ve been able to find the “secret passage” but always with great difficulty.
My parents have been supporting me since the “crib incidents” and they still do with curious enthusiasm but without projected ambition. I’m very lucky that way. They were never pushing or demanding results or telling me things like “you will never be able to support yourself!” or “become a doctor like your cousin!” They just were there with me.
What or who inspires your art?
So many things! Things of reality and things of art and by “art” here I mean just things other people make or made in the past. I enjoy watching people working on something, solving problems, building. Whether it’s a cooking/travel documentary or home improvement TV show or something about scientific process. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s something innovative. “The Joy of Painting” with Bob Ross? Yes please!
I’ve watched all episodes of ‘Mythbusters’ until they just started to focus solely on guns and explosions probably encouraged by the popular demand of the American viewers. I find human nature quite inspiring too, I guess…
To me the best fuel for the creative spark has always been the work of other artists and innovators. When it comes to motivation nothing ever worked better for me than being exposed to other people’s creations.
And finally and fairly recently this one book I can’t stop reading since I first found out about it: “The Invention of Nature” by Andrea Wulf. If a child asked me to tell her “everything about the world” this is the one and only book I would reach for except it might be a bit too irrelevant for a small child.
How did Ripple Grove Press approach you to illustrate their first ever picture book, The Gentleman Bat?
The “approaching” was quite an intricate matter in this case. In 2006(?) Abraham Schroeder, the author of the book and friend, told me about his eerie idea for a story. When I heard he wanted to create a world full of anthropomorphic bats, wearing clothes, using contraptions, inhabiting mansions, dancing and being generally graceful, the first thing I told him was “it’s great but totally impossible to illustrate.” So we gave it a shot… We worked on our little project on and off for about eight years ending up with a few versions of the same story (each one unfinished) and hundreds of sketches and concepts. It was only after Abraham learned that his good friends are launching their own publishing business and love his story, we finally got a solid deadline and the prospect of having an actual book printed out. It was their first ever book to publish, so we thought it had better be done well!
Your illustrations in The Gentleman Bat are very different from your illustrations in your new picture book, Graduation Day. How do you decide what style of art works best for a story?
I think it extends beyond books. I’ve been “accused” of having created the most disparate and confusingly diverse body of work ever but I feel like every single idea deserves special technical considerations. It’s always interesting to come up with techniques that harmonize with the idea. Even subtle things make a great difference: a book about saving trees printed on recycled paper, a story about coal miners with illustrations drawn with coal or illustrations for a book about bees drawn with wax crayons. But sometimes I’m not even sure how to reconcile the fact of having to stay within the 40 page story book format. Why not a novel? Why not a puppet show? Why not an animation? A feature blockbuster? On the other hand having some parameters and limitations to work with provides a good balance.
The technique for “The Gentleman Bat” was the result of many discussions and negotiations with the author. It had to be of a specific style resembling the one used in the old-timey Victorian illustrations additionally inspired by an old Japanese woodblock print. “Graduation Day” was an independent project so I guess you might say this is the kind of “classic Parda” style Parda would be most likely to employ (but only for this particular project perhaps?).
Why did you decide to make Graduation Day a wordless book?
It was a very simple decision. I wrote the story (with English words). The main character was the narrator. It was cute. Then I drew the pictures and read it again. It was HORRIBLE! The text had to go and a few additional images had to be squeezed in to complete the sequence and there it was! Can you imagine doing that while working with a writer? I always knew there was a reason the writers have to be good at what they are doing.
Graduation Day is incredibly moving. Do you have a personal connection to the message of the story?
The primary inspiration came to me one late August while I was walking through my quite industrial looking neighborhood. There were all sorts of weeds sprouting from the cracks in the pavement. Some of them very tall and interesting. Yes, I know plants growing through concrete inspired many people already and made quite a few motivational posters in corporate offices everywhere but this time it felt as if I was looking at it with a fresh perspective. I thought the plants were beautiful in the way of their variety, diversity and versatility. It wasn’t really about brute force but flexibility and perseverance. It made me think about the crushing majority of humans living on this planet having no choice but to make things work with what’s around them. And if they manage to do it, they improve their worlds in a lasting way and against overwhelming odds. It’s much more powerful and long lasting than the top down brute force of an angry sledgehammer.
For an unknown reason the time of executing “Graduation Day” was quite an anxious period in my life. Sometimes anxiety just comes unannounced and yells “surprise!” The project took me about a year and by the time I was finished, and not without some amazing help and support, I learned how to manage anxiety. Strangely, managing anxiety turned out not very different from (spoiler alert!) putting a sunflower seed in your pocket.
Would you like to illustrate more children’s picture books?
Where can fans go to learn more about you and your art?
My potential fans but also those who dislike my art or are on the fence about it can follow the publisher’s website:
or just go to my site if only to witness the organized randomness:
I also participate in the Brickbottom Open Studios in Somerville, MA, along with countless other artists in the building every November one week before Thanksgiving.
Thank you, Piotr, for sharing a little bit of yourself with Frog on a Blog readers!
More about Piotr and his art process from his website: “Making things has always been something of a magical thing to me. Growing up in the former People’s Republic of Poland, I had to accept the fact that there are places I can never go to, and things I can never have. It meant that I had to imagine, draw and paint places I would want to go to, and build things I would want to have. So I drew and painted, built toys out of wood scraps and paper, “electronic” watches out of tin foil or a life size car out of four chairs and a blanket. To me making art still means making a world for myself to inhabit and enjoy. The world I build is not imitating or mimicking the reality. It is rather an addition if not an alternative to it. I don’t commit to one particular style or medium. Current creations reflect an instinctive urge to explore a particular field of interest that appears at one particular time. The process is open, dynamic and free of schedule.”