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17 December 2015

Daniel Kirk's - 'Twas the Night Before Christmas - Guest Post


On Creating 'Twas the Night Before Christmas
by Daniel Kirk

      It must have been twenty years ago that I first came up with the notion of a woodsman-Santa, wearing plaid coat and a cap with earflaps. I did an oil on canvas painting of him, standing with a camping lantern on a dark, snowy night, and made it into the holiday card that I used to send to friends and family. One of my editors, Howard Reeves, suggested that I should write a story about my character. Over the decades I’ve tried a couple of times to tell the story of this Santa, but I never came up with the perfect idea.
      Just a few years ago I was discussing possible Christmas book projects with that same editor, Howard Reeves, and it was suggested that I might take one of the perennial favorites, like “Twelve Days of Christmas” or “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” and create my own version. Now I must have at least a dozen versions of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” on my own bookshelves, and I went to the library to find all of them that I could. I must have checked out another twenty before I felt like I knew what I was up against! I didn’t see any point in illustrating a classic like this unless I could bring something new to it.
      My favorite version happens to be the one Anita Lobel illustrated in 1984, featuring Brooklyn as the backdrop to the familiar tale. Gyo Fujukowa’s version is also quite lovely and stylized, as is Leonard Weisgard’s classic. I’d have to say that I tend to like the versions that add something new or different to the old poem. If something is worth doing, I believe it’s important to put your own stamp on it! It seems to me that it’s an illustrator’s job to make text come alive in a distinctive, individual way.
      I’ve been writing and illustrating children’s books a long time, and my most popular books have been a series of five stories called “Library Mouse”. I wondered whether I could make the narrator of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” a papa mouse, instead of a man. I thought this might give the story a new perspective and allow me to expand the Library Mouse world to include more characters. My editor informed me that if I had to make a few minor text changes it would be okay, so I did. And then I had to find a way to tell the story, visually, from a mouse point of view.
      I also wondered if it might be time to share my view of a woodsman-Santa. So far nobody has complained about my version not being “true” to the original, and I am glad for that. Though recently at a bookstore reading a little boy came up to me afterwards and asked why Santa’s nose was a red ball, just like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Kids are very observant!
      I’ve experimented with a lot of different media over the years. I began my children’s book career making oil paintings on canvas, then went to gouache, pastel, colored pencil, collage and many other things! My last five or six books have begun with pen and ink drawings, which I scan into my computer and add color and textures in Photoshop. It’s fun for me as an illustrator to try new techniques. As they say, if you always hit the target, you’re standing too close, and I like to challenge myself if I can.
      I have a painting studio in the barn/garage out at the end of our property. But these days I find that it’s nice to set up the computer in the dining room in the house and work there, where the natural light is plentiful, and I am always close to the kitchen. I work better if I always have snacks on hand! And as we enter this holiday season, I am tempted to bake some Christmas cookies to nibble on while working on my next book project.
     Learn more about Daniel at http://danielkirk.com.
Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Moore and illustrated by Daniel Kirk, published by Abrams Books for Young Readers (£10.99) CLICK HERE to purchase the book directly from Abrams.

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