This month sees the release of hilarious new children's book, How Do You Do Mr Gnu? We decided to catch up with illustrator, Maddie Frost, to ask her all about her new book, but also find out what inspired her to become a children's book illustrator.
Hi Maddie, can you tell us a little bit about how you became an illustrator and what made you decide that it was what you wanted to do as a career?
I don’t remember how my love for drawing started but I do know it started when I was very young. My parents are not artists and picture books were never a huge deal in my family. However, cartoons always were. Growing up in the 90’s, my brother and I were lucky enough to be able to watch TV and movies whenever we wanted to. Except we never felt glued to the television because we also loved to be outside. Shows like “Rocket Power,” “Angry Beavers,” “Rugrats,” and “Hey Arnold!” are what started my love for art because they started my love for characters. I also loved Disney movies like, “The Jungle Book,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “101 Dalmatians.” Once I started becoming obsessed with cartoon characters I quickly became obsessed with drawing them and that lead to drawing other things. My parents enrolled me in art lessons and that fully ignited a true passion for art in my heart. I went to college in Boston to study animation and after college I worked as an elementary art teacher for several years. It is the BEST job! But that relentless calling for my making my own art never went away. One summer night not that long ago, my husband and I were having dinner when he asked me what I saw myself doing in few years. Without hesitation, I replied, “working on picture books full time.” His response was, “well what are you waiting for?” Just like that, I quit my job that summer and worked as hard as I could to make it happen. I sent a portfolio out for representation by a wonderful agency and they accepted. I continued to work hard. And work hard and work hard and work hard until eventually I had enough book projects going to maintain a steady income. I refused to listen to people who told me that making a living off illustration was impossible. Anything is possible if you want it bad enough.
What was your first published book?
My first published book was The Snowflake Mistake. I was so excited to have gotten the project because I loved Lou Treleaven’s work and the story was so perfect. Also, everyone at Maverick is wonderful and they are amazing to work with.
Who has been your biggest inspiration over the years?
Oh, gosh, I feel like it is just everyone in my life all together. My father is hilarious and reminds me to keep my sense of humour. My mother is very sensitive and reminds me to stay vulnerable in my work. My younger brother reminds me of all the imaginative games we played as kids. My husband is a top-notch problem solver who influences me to approach my work at different angles. Even all the creative makers I follow on twitter inspire me, I love seeing their latest work and getting glimpses on how they think. I’m even inspired by my dog, who reminds me to just relax and lay on the floor sometimes.
If you could illustrate any book in the world, what would it be?
Well, I feel like every book’s illustrator is meant to be because their work connects the best to the text. BUT, since you ask, I would say it would be one of my favourite book’s as a kid, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. I had another favourite which was, Once Upon a Potty. But I don’t know how excited I am to illustrate poo.
Tell us about your latest book, How Do You Do, Mr Gnu? with Billy Coughlan:
When the lovely folks at Maverick approached me about illustrating a story about a gnu my first reaction was…” a what?!” I didn’t even know what a gnu was. Then once I knew a gnu (see what I did there) and read Billy’s story I laughed out loud and couldn’t wait to illustrate this guy doing all these ridiculous things throughout London. The story is about a gnu that gets accidentally invited to have tea with the Queen and ventures out of the zoo to learn some manners.
It is so fun to read out loud and is sure to get lots of giggles! I wanted to use a bit of an arbitrary colour pallete with some white backgrounds throughout. It has a different style and feel than The Snowflake Mistake but the art playfulness is still there! I designed Mr. Gnu in a way that was easy for me to put into funny poses and gestures. I am terrible at drawing realistic legs on animals like deer or horses. Gnu’s legs fall into that scary category so I took the licence of keeping them straight and flimsy. His hair and beard was my favourite part of the character to make.
When you are asked to illustrate a story, what’s usually your process and have there ever been any acceptations?
I like to start sketching the characters first and make a few loosely drawn compositions to get a sense of how I will put things together. While I sketch, I listen for character’s personalities and voices to emerge. Sometimes they might remind me of people I know, or they just are me in the form of a gnu. Once I have an idea on what things might look like, I make a sample illustrated spread from the story with a specific colour palette. I send that to the editor or art director and we revise the look and feel together from there. My style is never exactly the same on every project. My illustration style is like a writer’s voice, it changes depending on what the story is about, who it’s for, where it takes place, and what the mood is. I like not feeling glued to always doing the same thing, it keeps me fresh because I’m constantly trying new things.
I make my illustrations by creating swatches of different textures with paint and crayons. Then, I scan those into my computer and digitally cut my desired shapes out in Photoshop. It is basically like one big digital cut and paste with many pieces and layers. Every hand, foot, eye, leaf, or window is a separate layer. It sounds crazy, I know. But hey, it works for me!
Do you have any advice for aspiring illustrators?
Don’t ever give up no matter how much rejection comes your way. There will always be doubt and there will always be fear, those things never go away even once you get projects coming into your inbox. But if you believe in yourself and in your work and you have passion, you can only have success. It’s good to explore other artists and read other books, but I think more energy has to be invested into digging deep and finding the unique voice and special style that is your own. Wave your own flag high and proud while also waving the flag of others because we all need to support each other along the journey.
How Do You Mr Gnu? is out now!
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- Gary Sheppard is As Nice As Pie!
- Fiction Express - The Importance of Reading
- The Shakespeare Plot: Assassin's Code
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