Thursday 26 August 2021

Ergo - Guest Blog Post from Viviane Schwarz

Today we welcome Vivane Schwarz onto Picture Book Party to talk about her new book, Ergo, written by Alexis Deacon. 

"I find favourites hard - but if I did have one, my favourite picture book of the year would probably be Ergo. A triumph in design. Profound simplicity." - Nikki Gamble

For budding philosophers of all ages, this is the uplifting story of Ergo the chick. Ergo wakes up and sets about exploring her world. She discovers her toes. She discovers her wings and her beak. She has discovered EVERYTHING! But then she considers the wall. And something outside the wall goes BUMP. What could it be? The only way to find out is to peck peck peck through to the other side...

This is an inspiring story told with heaps of humour. Like its predecessor, I Am Henry Finch, Ergo is a book for everyone – from the very young to the very old. It is for dreamers, philosophers, artists, the foolish and the enlightened. A profound picture book experience told with simplicity and style.

Guest Blog Post from Viviane Schwarz

 “This has to stop eventually”, said my music teacher when he looked at my homework about major and minor scales and the margins were covered in cartoon animals again, in this case, different size cows mooing.

“Can I have a copy,” asked my science teacher when she saw the cartoon I had made to explain ionisation to myself, making it all about people hugging tiny cats.

Sometimes I still feel that I disappointed people by never stopping, but more often, I am pleased about the books I’ve illustrated that introduce small children to big ideas, via the medium of funny creatures.

People who know me a bit know that as soon as I understand something, or discover a big question, I will excitedly start saying: "Oh it's just like this! It is a bit like that! It is not at all like this other thing." I map it out in metaphors and similes and compare patterns all day long. I look for the simplest way to think about it, and then the one that is most useful, and the funniest, and the one that makes sense to me, and the one that makes sense to whoever is still listening. I think about everything in patterns, and then... I draw funny animals.

A few years ago, I illustrated I am Henry Finch, a wonderful story written by Alexis Deacon about a tiny bird discovering some of the big foundations of philosophy for himself. A bit of Descartes saying 'I think, therefore I am'. Some of the realisation of the cycle of life we are all part of. The beginnings of ethical thinking. It was like going back to school and instead of filling the margins, I got to fill the pages.

The book was well-received, and after a few years, Alexis came back with a new tiny bird story. This one was all set inside an egg. “Plato, is it”, I said, happily.

Then I started thinking about what this story was like. One way of reading it was following the development of a sense of self in a young child. I tried to remember the ideas I had when I was very small, and the questions I had asked while feeling my way around the overwhelming truth that there is a whole world which exists even if I am not looking, full of people as real as myself.

Some people don’t ever realise that, no matter how old they get, I thought later, while drawing Ergo glowingly happy in her egg, thinking I AM THE WORLD.

We can hatch so many times over in our lives. To spend time thinking inside some unseen egg is good. Then, when the time comes, we burst through the shell into a bigger world, to be greeted as ourselves, and to welcome other hatchlings.

My drawings of Ergo are a declaration of love and gratitude for all the moments in life where I have witnessed friends feeling the joy and awe of simply being themselves. There is nothing scarier, funnier, more wonderful I know of in life.

Some stories I too look and marvel at. Some are to stick your hands right into and grab and make them your own. I wanted this one to be grabbable, and so I made sure to illustrate it in a way that says: you can do this, too.

The studio was quickly covered in sheets of watercolour paper with golden yellow blobs on them. Fuzzy blobs, squat blobs, bendy blobs, and ones that were a little green around the edge… those last ones, of course, to be turned into depictions of Ergo as she discovered feeling unwell from rolling around wildly. Visitors wondered what was going on as I used every available surface to dry the blobs on.

Next, I used my trusty fountain pen to add the parts that make Ergo - her eyes that open to discover a beak, feet and legs, wings… it was a joy to meet her.

I sent her over to Ben Norland, who art directed the book, and we got working on the layout and typography. The hardest part was to create sounds, movement and thought in scribbles. Whole monsters can spring from the imagination filling in the unknown with a terrible jumble - I drew a good few of those.

I hope that children who read the book will be encouraged to draw their own blobby little creatures to help them ask their own big questions and to scribble their worries as big as they need to. I certainly won’t stop doing that myself. 

I hope Ergo will encourage you to love the strange and amazing world that you are. I hope you'll hatch out of your eggshell as often as you can and must, and that you are met with love by all of us other worlds out here.


A special thanks to our guest this week,  Viviane Schwarz!
Ergo is now available to buy from all good booksellers.