It is great fun being part of blog tours for new and inventive books being published. We love the classics, and they feature heavily on our creaking bookshelves, but there is something thoroughly exciting about getting a first glance at the dream-weaving, toddler-taming classics of tomorrow. We particularly love great illustration. Kevin Waldron, author of Harold’s Hungry Eyes from creative publisher Phaidon, has used line drawings, block colours and photographic collage to produce a quirky and original picture book. His exceedingly cute, wide-eyed Boston terrier Harold is torn between his twin loves: his smelly old chair and his insatiable appetite for treats. He is content, until the morning he discovers that his beloved couch has been confined to the jaws of a departing refuse-collecting truck. Hot in pursuit, he sets off across an alien city and finally, utterly lost and without the chair, he finds his way home using his rumbling stomach to guide him.
In scenes, reminiscent of the fertile imagination of a Magritte landscape, hungry Harold sees over-sized pieces of food at every juncture: raspberry hydrants, pizza windows, street lamp sundaes, as he searches for clues to get him home for his breakfast. Waldron hopes, with his surreal cityscapes, to inspire his young readers to use their own imagination when observing objects in their everyday life. Given that toddlers seem to constantly graze and chart distance and hours by access to snacks, perhaps they are not so far removed from this kindred canine - the book certainly gripped the imagination of both Culturebabies.
We leapt at the opportunity to ask Kevin a few further questions about his creative process and influences and display some of his original notebooks and images used in creating the book:
I’ve been drawing black and white cats for years, it’s like hand writing to me at this stage! So I thought I’d draw some black and white dogs. I’ve always had a soft spot for Boston terriers. Around that time I was making a lot of collage art for my own amusement. I brought everything along to a meeting with Phaidon, not with anything in mind particularly, and they saw potential for a children’s book. Making art purely for fun is a great way to start.
- Is Harold based on a real canine?
I suppose he is an amalgamation of all the dogs I knew growing up! I like to watch the vastly wide variety of breeds in the dog runs here in New York - it’s fun and helped when I was drawing Harold’s body position, the position of his ears, etc.
- The illustrations are reminiscent of a surrealist landscape- rather like a Magritte. Are they inspired by this sort of art? What are your other artistic influences?
Probably more from eastern European illustrators and artists from the 60s & 70s - Květa Pacovská , Janusz Stanny, Bohumil Stepan, etc. (I've since checked these out and their work is extremely interesting)
- who is your favourite artist and why?
I don’t have a favourite artist. Some things stick with you for a lifetime I’m sure, depending on when you were exposed to them, but one thing leads to another to another… I could only say what I’m into now, this month or this week! I was very keen on the paintings of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner a few weeks ago.
- what childhood book influenced you the most?
I have always drawn, I have always wanted to draw but I didn’t know I wanted to make children’s books until I was in my twenties. There are lots of books I discovered then that had a profound effect on me, but from my childhood I just remember what kind of books would appeal to me. Mr Tickle was a favourite! “today looks very much like a tickling day” he thought to himself.
- do you exchange a lot of thoughts and ideas with the other author/illustrators you share a studio with? (Oliver Jeffers and Jon Burgerman)
Absolutely, I’m very fortunate in that regard. I’ve learned a lot not just from my peers’ opinions but my own interpretation of their tastes if that makes sense?! A defining moment for me was when I was asked for my opinion on some work and I realised that everything I was saying was equally meant for me. It echoed in my head for weeks and finally started to manifest itself on paper!
- what comes first - the story or the images when you are writing?
The very genesis for me is always a drawing in my notebook. There is always a ‘first time’ that I draw a character even if I’ve tried twenty times. One scrawl will have a mystery that I try to unravel the best I can.
The answers are usually somewhere in your notebooks already. But I do like to pair visual ideas; it’s like a hook to me. So sometimes if I’m starting a book I’ll go to the library and pull out books from any section I think might be applicable or catch my eye. At the moment I work at a rate of one of my own books to two of another author’s. I wouldn’t accept another author’s text if it didn’t inspire me.
- If you could curate an exhibition with five great artists and five illustrators to show children the breath of creativity in art & imagination. Who would you choose?
If you don’t mind I’d like to amend your question to suit myself, much like a politican! I would like to show the children five animated shorts, because the people involved in creating these marvels are artists, illustrators, storytellers, innovators all rolled into one.
The Hedgehog in the Fog (1975) directed by YuriyNorshteyn
The Oompahs (1952) directed by Robert Cannon
Creature Comforts (1989) by Nick Park
Betty Boo in Snow White (1933) directed by Dave Fleischer
Windy Day (1968) directed by John & Faith Hubley
Phaidon have created an activity pack and desktop wallpaper to accompany this book. The activity pack can be downloaded here www.phaidon.com/resource/hungryharold-uk.pdf and a desktop wallpaper image is available here www.phaidon.com/resource/harolds-hungry-eyes-desktop-background.jpg.
Harold's Hungry Eyes was published this week.