I've admired the work of award-winning author / illustrator
Petr Horacek from afar from some years so I fair bounded at the chance to interview him about the release of his brand new board books. Petr's fresh, organic and vibrant style sets him apart from a majority of the board books on the market for pre-schoolers so I was intrigued to hear more about how his style has developed to suit this much younger format.
Petr has been leading the way for over ten years, creating beautiful books for children and his board books are no exception. Full of striking illustrations, in his instantly recognisable and distinctive style. brimming with texture, striking colours and images, created using a variety of mediums and told in a simple narrative.
Honk Honk! Baa Baa! and Time for Bed
are published by Walker Books
Welcome to Book Sniffer towers Petr thank you for taking part in our Q&A...
Can you tell us about your two new board books?
My new board books are called Time for Bed and Honk Honk! Baa Baa! Both these books have novelty aspects. The pages inside the books slowly build to a final image. Time for Bed is a book you would probably read to a child before bed.
Each page has an image of something familiar to a child that he or she comes into contact with during the day such as a book, bath with a duck or supper. Each page is shaped and shorter than the previous one. As you go through the book, the pages build up to the final images. In this case it’s a very colourful blanket under which sleeps a little boy. The blanket is made up of parts of the child’s day.
Honk Honk! Baa Baa! is a book about domestic animals and the noises they make. The book also has shaped pages, which build to the final picture. In this case it’s a black and white cow.
The books are part of the Baby Walker series, published by Walker Books Ltd.
What inspired you to start making picture books?
I started to write and illustrate books around the time when my first daughter was born. It was then that I came across for the first time in my life The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carl. Since I was born in the Czech Republic, I had no idea that this book existed. I thought at the time and still think, that this book is very cleverly designed and beautifully illustrated. I wanted to do something like that myself.
What inspires your stories?
I get inspired quite easily by anything I see around me. It could be an art exhibition, an abstract painting in an art gallery, a drawing done by a child, an interesting photo in a magazine or a butterfly in the garden. The inspiration can come quickly, but working with an idea and coming up with a good story or concept for a board book is a different matter.
I spotted that bears are your favourite animals; did you watch the Great Bear Stakeout? Do you think you might create a book featuring bears?
I haven’t seen the documentary, but it’s true, bears are my favourite animals.
I have pictures of a bear in two of my books A New House for Mouse and Look out Suzy Goose. I haven’t created a book just about bears though. I don’t think it’s that easy. There are so many books about bears and teddy bears, so until I have a very good idea I won’t even try.
You have created some beautiful die cut board books, how important do you think it is to introduce books & art to children at an early age?
The board book could be and often is a child’s very first contact with a form of visual art. Children are learning something new, every minute of every day.
Children may have less life experience than adults, but they are not stupid. They want more from a book than just random images. To come up with a good idea for a board book is not easy. My editors and I spend lots of time creating a good board book and we take it very responsibly.
All of my board books have holes, cut outs, shaped pages and sometimes a turning wheel, which changes colours in the final image.
The child can chase a mouse through the pages of the book, follow a car which is going to visit granny, travel by train over the hills, bridges and through the woods. The shaped pages slowly build into a final picture as you turn the pages.
Yes, the game itself is important, but I also like the idea that children are learning to like books as objects. Next time the child sees a book, he or she will feel the need to touch it and open it.
We have more influence on their education than we think. It may seem easier to switch the TV on, than read a book to a child, but it doesn’t take much to work out which is better.
When you read to a child you are together.
Can you tell us more about your process when developing a book, for example do you plan cut outs, flaps, pop ups etc when you start writing the story or begin the illustrations?
Working on a board book or novelty book can be different from working on a picture book.
With a board book I have an idea about the concept of the book. For example, I know that I want to do a book with pages which are shaped, I know that I want to produce a book about colours, numbers or shapes and so on. Then I think about the story line and the pictures.
With a picture book I start with the story in my head. Then I do a storyboard with small notes about the text.
Then I do a picture, but not the first picture in the book. Usually it’s an illustration I’m most excited about.
Writing the text itself is probably the very last thing and together with my editor we work on the text even after the pictures are finished. The text is of course very important and we do want to get it right.
Are you experimenting with any new illustration techniques? You use lots of mixed media in your books, how long does it take to put together a book?
I like colours, collage, different media and textures in my illustrations.
Using different media often inspires me, but I always remember, that the book itself is most important. I want the illustrations to be right. There’s not a place in my books to show off my artistic skills, even though it could be tempting sometimes.
In my latest picture book, Jonathan & Martha, I used pastels together with acrylics and collage. Working with pastels was quite new to me and I did enjoy it. I think the technique went well with the book.
You share some of your sketches & drawings in your blog - are there any current writers blogs that inspire you?
In my blog I’m trying honestly to write every week about what I’m working on at the moment. I put in lots of sketches, even those that are not very good. I hope that some people will find it interesting and inspiring. I think it is encouraging to see, that even a published author, can be rubbish at drawing a monkey for example.
I must say, that I try deliberately not to look too much at somebody else’s work. It’s too easy to be influenced by somebody’s work. Being a writer is very solitary and before you realize it, you are copying somebody’s story.
Which author/illustrator has been an inspiration to you?
I’ve already mentioned Eric Carl. I have always been inspired by how he uses colour and paint, but I also like artists whose art is different to mine. I like Anne Herbauts, Sarah Fanelli. Lucy Cousins, John Burningham, Kveta Pacovska, or Jiri Salamoun. I like illustrators who are not afraid to paint and use materials.
You have a love for music, do you have any favourites you enjoy listening to while you work?
My studio is full of music. I listen to different music in different situations. When I’m writing I choose classical music. I like Renaissance and Baroque music such as Monteverdi or Bach.
When I’m drawing and thinking about the book I play something creative like My Bloody Valentine or Sonic Youth.
When it’s time to do some painting, printing and I need to loosen up I play something energetic and loud such as Jimi Hendrix or Nine Inch Nails.
Is there anything you find challenging to draw?
It’s not easy to draw friendly and smiley cats. Also, drawing horses can be tricky, even though I used to draw horses in stables quite a lot in my twenties.
What are you working on at the moment?I’ve just finished a book called The Mouse who ate the Moon. It’s a sequel to A New House for Mouse and I’m working on ideas for new board books. I’m also working on a picture book called Treasure Island, which is rather different from what I normally do, so it’s a bit of a challenge.
A HUG HONKING TOOT TOOT Thank You
to Petr for taking the time to answer our questions!
Visit Petr's wonderfully inspiring website here http://www.petrhoracek.co.uk/books.htm
Follow Petr on Twitter @PHorace