Monday 15 July 2019

The Jacket – Interview with illustrator Thea Baker

The jacket was no ordinary jacket. It was soft, like dandelion fluff. It was comforting, like a hug from your favourite teddy. And it had four dazzling buttons down the front...

The Jacket is a beautiful new picture book written by Sue-Ellen Pashley and illustrated by Thea Baker. It is a heartfelt, tender story about a favourite family jacket that, once outgrown by a little girl and her sister, is kept in the family in a very special way.

Publishing this July, illustrator Thea tells editorial assistant Alice Dawes about her own family treasures, and her unique illustration style.

This is a gentle, beautiful story about a treasured family jacket, worn throughout a little girl’s childhood and passed down to her younger sibling and then on to her doll as each wearer grows out of it. Did you have a similar piece of clothing as a child that has stayed within your family?

My mum is really good a sewing – a talent that sadly doesn't seem to have been passed on. She was always recycling and repurposing when I was growing up. Funnily enough, I had a favourite piece of fluffy material, probably one of her fabric remnants, which I used in imaginative play for all sorts of things: a magic cloak, a flying carpet, an animal den. That material ended up on the hoods of two jackets she made years later, one for me and one for my sister. How fitting! 

The story is very homely and focuses a great deal on family, sharing, and new beginnings. Are your illustrations inspired by any of your own childhood memories? Does anything about the characters you have created remind you of yourself?

I think characters always have a little bit of their creator in them. Amelia's apparent reluctance to pass her treasured jacket on to her sister, even though it no longer fits, would have been me down to a T. My sister was always much better at sharing than me!

Can you tell us about your illustration style, and what mediums of art you prefer to use?

I'm currently obsessed with pencil crayon! I do find a particular medium will dominate depending on the nature of the story, but I always like to use a mix. The Jacket made absolute sense in collage. That was a suggestion from the amazing art director, Donna Rawlins. I tried to use as much recycled and reused material as possible. It was a joy to make the mini outfits for the characters. The buttons on the jacket are from my gran's wedding dress from the 1940s. They were the most dazzling buttons I could find! 

Who are your favourite illustrators, and what are your favourite picture books?

There are SO many. Susanne Dolesch, Brian Wildsmith, Stepan Zavrel, Rovina Cai, Richard Jones. I need more bookshelves! Growing up, I loved Hans Christan Anderson. My favourite story was The Tinder Box. I still have the copy of the book my mum used to read to me.

Illustration from And The Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Rovina Cai

What is your earliest memory of illustrating or creating art?

What a lovely question – it certainly brings back some warm memories.  I remember being obsessed with drawing horses in primary school, which is ironic because these days I find them one of the more tricky animals to draw. I also remember creating a big pattern for my Grandma to use as wallpaper. She seemed to mean it when she said I could do all of her walls!

You can pick up a copy of The Jacket from your local bookshop.