Wednesday 10 February 2021

Can Bears Ski - Illustrator Q&A

We are very lucky to welcome Polly Dunbar, illustrator of our new book Can Bears Ski?, written by Raymond Antrobus, onto Picture Book Party to talk a little about the process behind creating the book. 

1. Can you tell us more about your artistic process, in particular when illustrating Can Bears Ski? ?

I decided to illustrate the bear characters in Can Bears Ski? with a Japanese brush pen. It’s the first time I’ve illustrated with one so it was exciting to try something new. I felt the pictures of the bears need to be strong and the brush pen is quite a nice thick black line and if you hold it in a certain way it can almost look furry; perfect for bears. Boy Bear in the books says 'he likes his colours loud’ this was lovely to illustrate and I used the brightest marker pens I could find. Part of the beauty of this story was the description,  I was able to use muted colours for the sense of muted sound snow scenes were perfect for this and of course, make boy bears bright personality pop and clothes pop all the more. All the aspects of the book are handprinted and then I used photoshop to assemble it all to make the full scene. This gives me lovely freedom to more things around and tweak things as I go.

I made the work for this book, like so many illustrators on my kitchen table. One day my eldest son joined me at work and drew the bear picture that hangs above the staircase in the book. I now have a studio at the end of the garden which is a dream come true and great because I don’t have to tidy my paints away for mealtimes!

2. Do you have a favourite spread from Can Bears Ski? ?

My favourite spread in the book is probably the library scene, the quietness of the books and the snow falling through the window was all so lovely to draw, especially as it comes after a really loud busy scene of lunchtime at school where boy bear struggle to understand what’s going on. The library picture also shows the solace Boy bear finds in books; it simply has the words ‘Shhhhh’.  It is a challenge to illustrate quietness or the chaos of noise but I was so excited to take this on as I am partially deaf myself so I have first-hand experience of knowing how being deaf isn’t just about the world being can be confusing and startling too. Hopefully through use of colour and vibration I’ve been able to express what it’s like tone hearing-impaired and also (hopefully) created artwork that is beautiful to look at.

3. When did you know you wanted to illustrate for picture books?

I feel very lucky to be a picture book illustrator, as far as I remember that’s what I’ve always wanted to do, telling stories through pictures. I write too, but it’s usually always the pictures that come first. I love books as objects, the weight of them the feel of them even the smell of them. Most of all I see how important books are to both children and adults and to be able to contribute to that is an honour and therefore I try and do the best work I possibly can.

4. What is your favourite picture book?

My favourite picture book as a child was Mr Magnolia by Quentin Blake, it’s so joyous and alive. There are so many wonderful books to choose from. My favourite illustrators include Maurice Sendak, Tomi Ungerer, Sydney Smith, Lucy Cousins, Emily Gravett and so many more!

Thank you, Polly, for joining us on Picture Book Party. Can Bears Ski? is available from all good booksellers!