When Anthony Browne was appointed Children’s Laureate he announced his intention to ‘focus particularly on the appreciation of picture books, and the reading of both pictures and words’. Following on from Michael Rosen’s Laureate Log in our pages, we are delighted that during his Laureateship Anthony Browne will be exploring different aspects of the creation of the picture book. In this first article he reflects on sources of inspiration.
Everything comes from something else; nothing comes from nothing.
In the world of picture books as in all other arts the creator is inspired by other creations. Whenever we make a drawing, write a story or a piece of music we are influenced, whether consciously or not, by works we have seen, read or heard. When I’m questioned by children they always ask, ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ I always reply, ‘The same place you get yours – things that have happened to me, particularly when I was a child, stories I’ve read or heard, films I’ve seen, paintings, and dreams.’
This is a photograph of a huge communal corn bin from Sudan that the artist Max Ernst saw in an anthropological journal. Ernst was inspired by this image. When I ask kids if this reminds them of anything, their answers are wild and varied – ‘A rocket!’ ‘An egg!’ ‘A house!’ ‘A bomb!’ ‘A pig!’ and, my favourite, ‘A pair of fat man’s trousers!’
This is Ernst’s response, ‘The Elephant of Celebes’, a painting that grew directly from his use of collage, and it’s like a painting of a collage, simulating different materials. The main image is seen from the same angle as the photograph, but he’s transformed the clay of the original into metal and added various strange appendages. Ernst was much affected by his experiences in the First World War and references to this in the painting help to make the work as unique as its creator.
And this is an illustration that I painted for Willy’s Pictures but was unable to use in the book. The main image is still the same shape as the corn bin and Ernst’s elephant, but transformed into a robot vacuum-cleaner. Obviously inspired by Max Ernst but not a copy, I made reference to Willy’s previous experiences as a victim of the bully Buster Nose. Only now, in Willy’s fantasy, he has the upper hand…
Willy’s Pictures is published by Walker Books (978 1 4063 1356 7) at £6.99. Anthony Browne’s latest book is Little Beauty (Walker, 978 1 4063 1930 9, £5.99).
The Children’s Laureateship is administered by the reading charity Booktrust. See www.childrenslaureate.org.uk