CAROL GORDON EKSTER: Valentine’s Day seems like the perfect day to write about and share my love of picture books and talk about the illustrator of my newest book. When I first received a contract for my manuscript, You Know What?, from the Dutch publisher, Clavis Books, I wondered how it would all turn out. But I opened my mind to new possibilities. Seeing the proofs surprised and frustrated me. I couldn’t decipher the Dutch and there was no way for me to know if the translation was accurate! Luckily, my amazing illustrator, Nynke Talsma, speaks English and we were able to communicate about both the words and pictures. And then when last month I finally held the books in my hand for the first time, I was even more impressed. The illustrations, the colors, the paper quality are all fabulous. I wanted to highlight Nynke’s incredible talent here, but I was truly curious about her and her process. My Valentine’s Day post seemed like the perfect time to share her interview.
Can you tell us how you came to be an illustrator?
NYNKE TALSMA: Since I was small I was always drawing and painting. My Grandfather and my father painted as a hobby (mostly oil paint), so I had all the materials within reach. In high school I had a teacher who encouraged me to go to the Art academy. So in 1994, I went to the Constantijn Huygens art academy in Kampen in the Netherlands. The first year I followed all disciplines. After that year I chose to study illustration, because I preferred to work on assignments rather than autonomous arts.
CGE: What does your process look like?
NT: First I read the story. Then a very strange mechanism starts: I start rearranging my pencils, make a cup of tea, clean up my studio, make another cup of tea, rearrange my paint in the box… more tea… Of course I have a deadline. The book has to be ready in about three months. So at a certain point I have to get started. Then I make several small sketches or doodles for every page of the picture book, like a brainstorm. After that I pick out the best idea and work that out to a clear sketch, which I send to the publisher and the writer. When they are satisfied with the ideas in the sketches, I work from the sketches to the final result.
CGE: Do you have a specific schedule?
NT: I work during the hours my children are in school and Friday the entire day. But many times I do things in the evening as well, but usually it is dealing with finances and e-mail so that I can concentrate on drawing during the day.
CGE: Of course, I’m fascinated how you came to be the illustrator of our book with Clavis, Mama, Wist Je Dat?/You Know What? What made you want to accept this illustration job?
NT: Clavis approached me with this story. I liked it right away. Immediately I recognized our youngest son Julian (who is 7 years young) in it, whose days are filled with words and stories, especially when going to bed;-)
CGE: Did you know immediately how you would illustrate this picture book?
NT: When I work on picture books for Clavis, mostly I work with acrylic paint also using a bit of pencil, stamps and markers. In general I have an idea about the color palette in the book.
CGE: When you read a manuscript, do you see the story in your head before you even start a sketch?
NT: When I read, I always see pictures, that makes me a slow reader I think. Good for me that picture books don’t have so many pages!
CGE: You have been amazing to work with. I feel like we’re a team. You have been so flexible, changing spreads and taking suggestions up until the last minute. Is this just your incredible nature? Is this because of the philosophy of Clavis Books? Or am I a scary children’s author and you’ll do whatever I say?
NT: I also liked working with you a lot! You’re not that scary;-) The reason that I try to be flexible, is that I am convinced that we (=you, me, Clavis) all want to make a beautiful book. Just like you, as a writer, I am working alone in my studio. It’s very useful when other people look over your shoulder. Because you don’t always see everything clearly yourself, working alone in your own world;-) So I always appreciate it when people mention things they notice about the sketches. It makes me think about things and have a look at it again. Sometimes I use the comments and sometimes I think it’s good the way I made it.
I always like this example (from another book): I made a thundercloud above the head of an angry father. I thought it was a visually strong image, but small children who looked at the drawing, just saw a big bushy haircut. It was too abstract for small children. In this case I removed it. Although I also think that children can understand that images, like a thundercloud, can convey a feeling.
CGE: Do you do any type of promotion to get the word out about your books, like bookstore or school visits? Are you comfortable in that role? And if promotion is not your favorite part of being an illustrator, what is?
NT: No, I did go to schools a few times, but I like it better to be in my studio and do the work I love: illustrating!..just messing around with paint and other materials, especially using them next to each other and experimenting with that. Although it takes a little time to get started on a new book, it is also the best thing about my work, getting new ideas, exploring the world behind the story. So, I leave the teaching and the promotion-part to the professionals.
CGE: I am so grateful to Nynke for bringing my story to life. Mama, Wist Je Dat? Came out December 2016. You can order it here or here if you’d like a copy in Dutch, or the English version will be launched with Clavis’ Fall 2017 titles. We’d be grateful if our Goodreads members would add it to your “to read” list here.
In the comments below I’d love to hear about things you love about picture books or anything you’re fond of in this wonderful #kidlit world we are a part of. Happy Valentine’s Day to all! Wishing you a day of love and creativity.