David Litchfield's WHEN PAUL MET ARTIE

I am thrilled to have David Litchfield on today to talk about his booming career and his newest book, When Paul Met Artie.
e: David, you surged onto the picture book scene with The Bear and the Piano (published by Frances Lincoln, 2016), but you’ve been illustrating for years. What happened!? How did you shake up your career?
I have always been drawing since I was very little and I used to make my older brother and sisters comics (which they used to fake a mild interest in and then promptly throw them away). After art school I did a few illustration commissions here and there but it wasn't until I started teaching art and design full time that I realised that being an illustrator was something that I really wanted to pursue.
      So, I quit my sensible, full time teaching job to become and took the leap of faith into being a freelance illustrator. This was just after we had our first son and we were saving for our first house so the timing was not great and it was a super scary thing to do. But luckily I got signed up by my agent at Bright a few months after. Bright arranged my first ever meeting with a publishing company and thats where I first pitched the idea for 'The Bear & The Piano' and it all went pretty bonkers from there really.
e: What is your creative process/medium, can you walk us through it?
I make lots of watercolour washes and make a mess with acrylic paints. I also take lots of photographs of interesting textures such as tree bark, concrete, that kind of thing. These then get scanned into my computer and I experiment with overlaying them and combining them until I find something that looks really nice and interesting. These experiments will usually be used as a background, or a sky or a just a nice starting point for the pages artwork.
All the characters and scenery will usually be sketched out on paper and I will also scan these in too. I then combine all of these with the textured background and apply a bit of digital Photoshop wizardry to finish off.
Its great fun, I try and combine the feel and messiness of the practical way of making art with newer digital techniques. I have always enjoyed using watercolours and acrylic paint but once I started experimenting with Photoshop etc a few years ago it opened up this whole new realm of art making possibilities.
e: How do you advertise yourself?
Right now I have a fantastic agent who is so good at spreading the word about what I do. But before I was signed up to Bright I found that social media was probably my favourite way of advertising myself. When I realised that illustration was what I really wanted to do I challenged myself to draw a picture a day for a year. Each day I put the drawings up on Facebook and Twitter and the project really took off and built up a great following of people wanting to see the new drawing each day. By the end of that year I had learnt so much and developed new techniques and lots of great stuff came from it. But it also was a great way of spreading the word about my illustrations. (Heres a link to the 365 drawings if you fancied a look: http://davidsdrawingaday.tumblr.com/)

e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again? I’m looking for your definition of “Heart Art.”
I LOVE the term 'Heart Art'. Thats awesome.
      When I was young it was very easy to get fully immersed in illustration. Marice Sendaks's 'Where The Wild Things Are' is probably my earliest memory of this happening. Those amazing full page spreads just completely pull you in to that world. The expressions and design of those characters, the colours, the textures, the detail and emotion that is in each of those spreads was- and still is- very profound.
      Later on, the Asterix books gave me similar sensations. They are comedy books but theres something very emotive about them. They felt like friends to me and carrying an Asterix book around with me at school gave me a weird confidence. Again the exquisite artwork made it very easy for me to escape to this different time and place and spend time in ancient Gaul. Growing up in a small town in Bedfordshire, England, there was something magical about reading books that were written and drawn in a different country that at the time seemed so far away. This was in the late 80s and way before the internet, but in a funny way reading Asterix made me feel more connected to the world.
      Anyway, when I create art I always have these feelings in my mind. These books and their illustrations meant so much to me when I was a child and getting lost in the strange worlds they presented was just one of the greatest joys to have. The hope that my art will do the same and inspire children today is what makes me do what I do.
e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of When Paul Met Artie?
I didn't actually believe my agent when she told me about the project. It's actually a real dream project for me having loved Simon and Garfunkel's music for the majority of my life. In my primary school we sang songs from the same music book over and over again in our music lesson and one of those songs was 'Mr's Robinson'. So that was probably my earliest introduction to their music. Paul Simon then became known in our house as Princess Leia's husband, and in fact I first thought Paul Simon was Chevy Chase because of the fantastic video for 'Call Me Al'.
      But it was also a dream project because I got to visually play in the 1950s and 1960s, two of the most defining eras in terms of music and fashion. Also drawing other musical icons such as Bob Dylan and Jonny Cash for the book was just brilliant. I really did have so much fun making this book.
      I have never actually met the author G Neri in real life. We communicated a lot through email and he would send me tons of visual references regarding Simon & Garfunkel, the locations and the time period. He seems to be one of those people who is like a living, breathing encyclopedia when it comes to these subjects. I think his passion for music and history really comes through very strongly in this book.

e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
My favourite part is just doing it. I am never happier than when I am creating art in my studio. The fact that this is now my job is still pretty unbelievable to me. I try and never take it for granted and always try and appreciate that I am doing what I love.
      That's not to say that being an illustrator does not have its challenges. Working to deadlines is almost the antithesis of being an artist in a way. I always feel that my art is never finished and can always be improved upon, but I have to get it done or else the book can't be published. Juggling projects, keeping accounts, being sensible with money are all tough things to get my head around, but the fact that I am drawing every day and making a living from it outweighs all the negative stuff.

e: Is there something in particular about When Paul Met Artie you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
Today I think a lot of people see success as a very straight, uncomplicated line. You learn to sing, you make a record it gets into the iTunes charts and your a success. Or you go on X Factor or American Idol or become a You Tube sensation, or whatever.
      Paul and Art worked tirelessly every day from a very young age, perfecting their craft, making huge mistakes, falling out, moving away, coming back, learning about the industry and about life. Their story is an incredibly complex tapestry that goes back and fourth until it all comes together and falls in to place at the right moment. But they worked for it, oh my did they work for it. Hopefully kids- and adults- reading the book will take inspiration from that. Failure does not mean the end, its just another part of the tapestry.
e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
Last year was really bonkers and busy. I drew 5 books, most of which will be coming out in 2018. They are all really exciting and I can't wait to hear what people think of them. The sequel to 'The Bear & The Piano' will be out in the autumn which I'm hugely excited about. The bear starts a jazz band with a number of other musically gifted animals. Its lots of fun.
      I'm working on a few books this year too, which I don't think I'm allowed to talk about yet, but Its really nice as they are all so different. One is a fairly traditional and whacky picture book, another is a really surreal and dreamlike story, the other is an educational book and another is going to be a science fiction picture book. Its all incredibly exciting.
      To be honest, 'When Paul Met Artie' is very much my dream project. But I would love to do more illustrated books about real life people. One thing myself and a friend have been talking about recently is making a book about Buster Keaton. That would be such a fun book to illustrate. Who knows what the future holds though.

e: Thank you, David! I look forward to seeing more!


Annie Lynn said...

Excellent interview filled with questions I wondered about too. I grew up listening to Simon and Garfunkle as a young girl, playing underneath my father's architectural drafting board. They taught me the ins and outs of harmonies, and how they can weave around each other and fill up a space with the sound of at least three people. When I saw this book was coming out, I almost cried. The illustrations look magical, and I even recognize the trees I used to climb to watch the central park concerts! I can't wait to own this book! It is books and illustrations like these that have made my work exciting. I look forward to hearing more from you both. Peace, Annie Lynn ✌🏼️💁🏼🎶🎨📚annie lynn.net

Elizabeth O Dulemba said...

What a lovely comment, Annie - thanks so much for sharing! e