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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Qian Shi

I can unabashedly state that I do not generally like spiders. However, I have been known to admire their webs - IN the garden & from a distance. However, I have to admit that when I saw Stanley on the cover, I fell in love with him and his artist.

So, it is my distinct pleasure to introduce you all to an amazing debut picture book author/illustrator from "across the pond."

Qian ("Chen") Shi grew up in Shijiazhuang, a northern city in China. She has always been drawn to stories and loved making pictures. Her short animation Shoe won several international animation film awards and her commercial clients includes Cow & Gate, Walt Disney Pictures, Facebook, Google, and Volvo. She now lives with her husband, Callum, in East London.

Her debut picture book, The Weaver, arrives in the U.S. on April 10th.

Happy US Book Birthday!

Welcome, Qian!

ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing and illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate?)

Qian: I’d like to call myself a storyteller, the stories I tell can be in different forms. The Weaver is my first picture book manuscript, the first ever complete manuscript I have written was for an animated short film, Shoe, which is my BA graduation film.

I don’t really have a specific place where I write, for example, The Weaver was inspired by a spider web with a leaf stuck in it, this got my imagination going. I then went on a short train journey. During the 45 mins on the train, I pretty much thought through the whole story in broad strokes. Then later on, I sat down and worked out the more fine toned details.

It’s always great to be able to challenge myself to new type of book/illustrations, so I don’t have a favorite type, I’m hoping each one of my project is unique and I’d choose a format that suits the story the best.

I'm looking forward to seeing what you make next. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

One little secret about myself is that I’m scared of spiders!

Me, too! Luckily, you're not too scared to write about them. If you could share one thing with your younger self, and/or kids today, what would that be?

Be like Stanley, go out and see the world. Life is short, fill it with many many wonderful, meaningful experiences, and it's even better if you can create something wonderful from these experiences!

I couldn't agree more. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

As I grew up in 80s’ China, I was not exposed to a vast choice of illustrated books, however I have vivid but fragmented memories of Tintin’s adventures. However, my dad had a great collection of books and therefore since a young age I buried myself in all sorts of classical literature books - Chinese, Western, fairy tales, fiction, or historical.

Later years, in order to learn to read in English, I got into classical western children’s books such as Roald Dahl, Beatrix Potter. Funny that it seems I’m doing it the wrong way around!

My all-time favorite author is Roald Dahl, and favorite illustrator is Tove Jansson - specially love the quirkiness of her Moomin series, the slightly dark Nordic humours.

I don't think there is a "right" way to read, as long as you read. As I mentioned earlier, I really don’t like spiders (unless they are in the garden), but your images of Stanley's collection are so endearing. What was your inspiration for Stanley?

When writing this story, I knew I wanted a character who is adventurous, curious but innocent, and sweet. I start by imagining what Stanley would do, sketching out those moments when he collects leaves, seeds and twigs. I also thought his design should have a strong simplicity, a black dot, eight legs sometimes turning to arms which adds to the charm of Stanley’s character. Due to the story having only narration and no dialogue, I knew that Stanley would need to be really expressive - through facial expressions and body language.

Coming up with a name for him was challenging as well. After trying out quite a few names, wanting something that’s catchy, pure, and also related, we finally settled on Stanley based on Stanley Kubrick who was a collector, and yet such a brilliant artist & movie maker. Stanley rhymes with Spider too!

What is your favorite medium to work with? Your least favorite or hardest?

I’m constantly trying out different medium - I love Watercolour, screen printing, and currently I'm really into texture making & paper cut collage. But I mostly work with digital painting commercially. When I travel, I always try to pack a sketchbook and it’s really the best way to ‘look’ at a place by drawing it.

I often envy friends who are ease with their watercolors or sketchbooks. What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (as a child or now as a writer or illustrator.)

Travelling has always been my best source of inspiration. I love being able to see the world with fresh eyes, broaden my views, & have time daydreaming on the journey.

Sometimes I discover interesting things on trips, I write notes, sketch them down, and perhaps turn them into a project later on. For example, my graduation film Shoe is based on a Shoe-doll (a doll made from a shoe) which is in a collection of the Museum of Childhood, in Edinburgh.

I love this wonderfully unique response! What a great way to get inspired. How do you shift between illustrations and writing? (Which comes first? Which is the hardest?)

The story and the image sort came at the same time. Sometimes a few words pop in my head, sometimes I’d doodle a couple of moments of what I imagine could be happening in the story. Altogether the words & doodles paint a bigger picture, within which the story slowly forms.

Many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in The Weaver? Could you share one or more with us?

The Weaver is really a story about what I have been through in my life - born & grown up in China, then I moved & lived in Norway, Denmark, and eventually the UK since my early 20s. My life was formed & transformed through all the years of moving around, it hasn’t been the easiest experience partially due to my ever-growing collections of books, things, and even furniture!

Thank you for sharing this. It makes The Weaver even more special. Do you have any advice for beginning illustrators? Perhaps something about illustrating or publishing you know now that you wished you had known when you started? Or anything you’re glad you didn’t know about in advance?

Read lots and lots of picture books. Read the classic picture books - they’re classic for a reason, you can learn so much from them! And write your story ideas down, even if you’re not 100% sure yet, they might just need some more time to mature, revisit them at a later day if you feel you're getting a bit stuck.

If you are really keen on getting into children’s book field, perseverance goes a long way. Be mindful that each publishing house has their own set of style and lists of interests, don’t let rejections (if you get any) make you lose confidence. Always show your work and look for feedbacks & suggestions, consider them carefully, you might pick up some really good ones!

Any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

Recently I was just finishing up a couple of short animation clips for promoting The Weaver: Clip1, Clip2, Clip3.

And I am currently exploring my next idea for a picture book!

These are so fun! Thank you, Qian for sharing the clips and stopping by and talk with us. It was truly wonderful to chat with you.

Be sure to stop back by on Friday for the #PPBF post on The Weaver.

To find out more about Qian Shi, or get in touch with her:

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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