A prolific picture book maker, Debi Gliori was the winner of the 1997 Red House Children’s Book Award: Picture Book with Mr Bear to the Rescue. She was also the Shetland Islands’ first Children’s Writer-in-Residence. Her artwork is characterised by its playful characterisation and dramatic use of silhouette. Here Debi Gliori explains the technique and thinking behind one of the illustrations in her latest picture book, What’s the Time, Mr Wolf?
Some books come easily, some have to be dragged kicking and screaming onto the page. Although the challenging ones tend to give me the greatest feeling of achievement, it’s the seemingly effortless ones that hold a special place in my affections. What’s the Time, Mr Wolf? comes into the latter category. My hairy chap arrived, sans teeth, one happy afternoon, and installed a kind of furry glamour in my life for the brief period when he was the focus of my attentions.
He wrote himself (thank heavens) and then… well, he invited his friends along for the ride. And what a ride it turned out to be. Who knew? I obediently followed him, from bed to bath (he’s a morning abluter) to garden. And when, like me and Pip from The Scariest Thing of All, his tummy began to roar its disapproval, out went my Mr Wolf to buy something his dentist most definitely wouldn’t approve of. That would explain why he keeps his teeth in a glass by his bed.
Every illustration in this book was a joy to make. Every day I found myself drawn deeper into Mr Wolf’s sunny landscapes. Outside my windows, the year drew to a close with endless rain; inside my studio, it felt like summer had never gone. Initially, I roughed out the entire book, with the text hand lettered in place in 2B pencil. I always think of my roughs as a ghost version of the finished book. Identical, but in black and white. Once my editor and I were happy with these, I began to work in watercolour and ink, on rough watercolour paper. Sometimes, if I’m trying to make a point (as I did in The Trouble with Dragons), or ramp up the tension, or simply be a drama queen, I’ll turn my characters into silhouettes in black ink against the soft watercolour washes. For the crux of this story, I had all Mr Wolf’s friends throw a surprise party for him and wait, silhouetted, in his house, as he mounts the step, lifts the latch and…
Drawing this spread in the low light conditions of a Caledonian December taxed my eyeballs mightily. I spent months in the human pretzel position, hunched over my drawing table as I carefully drew tiny details, praying that one slip of my hand wouldn’t wreck hours of work. And in the background, Oliver Schroer’s beautiful ‘Hymns and Hers’ played on a continual loop, weaving me deeper and deeper into the world I was making. There are references to many stories in this spread; stories that you might remember ( The Cow on the Roof, anyone?) and stories that you probably won’t (Mr Wolf’s antennae-ed bed toy comes from the same maker as Baby Bear’s from Mr Bear Says : A Spoonful for You) and stories that I hope to tell in the future (Red Riding Hood putting three red roses in a vase by Mr Wolf’s bedside) and a ginger cat with a fiddle that refused to go away when this book was done.
But that’s another story.
The Scariest Thing of All, 978 0 7475 9970 8,Bloomsbury, £6.99 pbk
What’s the Time Mr Wolf?, 978 1 4088 1940 1, Bloomsbury, £12.99 hbk
The Trouble with Dragons, 978 0 7475 9541 0, Bloomsbury, £5.99 pbk
Mr Bear Says: A Spoonful for You , 978 1 8436 2932 0, Orchard OP