by Jo Weaver
e: What is your medium?
Jo: I generally work with willow charcoal and a putty rubber on slightly toothed paper. Willow charcoal is very soft which makes it difficult to get crisp lines, but it has a wonderful texture to it and is great for tonal work. I love the earthiness of charcoal. And there is something deeply gratifying about producing a whole artwork with only one little stick of burnt wood!
Jo: This is a tricky question and I’m not sure I can answer it very eloquently. I think that the emotional response an illustration provokes in the viewer is what makes it magical, rather than any specific technique used to create it. For me, one of the most important ingredients of a truly magical illustration is relationship, or rather the depiction of a connection between characters. This could be between two or more characters in the illustration or between the reader and a character. I consider the environment, the setting for the story, to be a character in itself. Because often books are about the relationship between a character and their environment. Certainly this is a big theme in my own work. A magical illustration, I think, often has a strong sense of relationship in it.
Jo: My path to publication probably began way back in my childhood with my absolute adoration of AA Milne's Winnie the Pooh. The joy I experienced in pouring through those books and copying E.H. Shepherd's drawings sparked a life-long love of illustrated stories. But it took me a while to turn my hand to illustration professionally. In my teens I turned down a place at art school because I couldn't visualise where it would lead me. I never wanted to be a fine artist and somehow illustration had never occurred to me. Throughout my twenties I worked in international development and as a support worker for homeless people. I loved my job, but had always had a quiet desire to follow a creative path and had started painting pictures for friends and family. My brother picked up a leaflet in a local cafe advertising evening classes in children’s book illustration with the artist/author Claire Alexander. It was the first time that book illustration had entered my mind as a possible career and it was a bit of a lightbulb moment. I took the class and loved it so much I decided to apply for an MA in Children’s book Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art. I had no formal arts training and my portfolio was pretty meagre at this point, so I was astounded to be accepted. The course completely transformed my artwork and story-telling capabilities. For my final degree project I began to work in charcoal for the first time. Up to this point my work had been very mediocre watercolour, but the moment I picked up a stick of charcoal, it took on a life of its own. My editor at Hodder Children’s Books, the lovely Emma Layfield, happened to visit the college towards the end of my time there. She had a look through my portfolio where she met my charcoal bears and offered me (and them!) a book deal – a very exciting moment!
Jo: I hope that that book has a meditative quality about it. When I was creating it, I always had a sense of quietness in mind as something for the reader to take from it. I believe that there is magic to be founds in stillness, and in maintaining a strong relationship with the natural world. So aside from the story about a mother and her little one, I hope that the book promotes a sense of calm and connection to nature. Jo's studio...
Jo: I’m currently working on two books - one is the follow up to Little One, for Hodder Children’s. I’m not sure I can say much more about it yet but I am enjoying it enormously. The other is a very different project. Endorsed by Amnesty International UK, its a novella by the wonderful writer Gill Lewis about the power of music to overcome oppression. Its protagonist is a young Syrian refugee. Its a deeply moving and important story which I feel honoured to be illustrating. It's wonderful working on two such different projects and between them I think they pretty much cover what would be my dream project.
e: Thanks Jo! Can't wait to see them both!