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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Jarvis

I fell in love with Jarvis' illustrations in Patricia Toht's Pick a Pine Tree. When I read the announcement for Jarvis' new book Mrs Mole, I'm Home!, I got excited to learn more about, and share with you, this talent illustrator/author.

Jarvis describes himself as "a guy [who]decided to become a picture book maker. He tried really hard and even learnt how to do colouring in. And after meeting a whole load of really amazing characters he got to make some books."

Welcome Jarvis,

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

JARVIS: I have been writing and illustrating books for nearly 4 years…professionally. I have been drawing funny things since I can remember. My favourite book to illustrate is always the book I'm about to illustrate, the anticipation and opportunity is exciting.

I like that outlook. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

I'm an open book! I’m not sure, maybe…I was once on a Welsh tv show songwriting contest! I didn't win…

That's really unique, and I suppose good news for kidlit. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

I find it hard to remember many books as a young child, my granny and my dad used to tell me stories, which I think is the reason I think telling stories vocally is an important part of me being a picture book maker. But I did of course love Roald Dahl, and I was obsessed with the Beano.

[FYI - Beano was the longest running British children's comic, published by DC Thomson.]

If you could share one thing with your younger self and/or kids today what would that be?

I would say don't worry about everything so much, but that's easier said than done.

No kidding. You’ve illustrated five books in the past three years for Lilly Murray (Hello, Hot Dog), Meg Fleming (Ready, Set, Build), Patricia Toht (Pick a Pine Tree), Jeanne Willis (Poles Apart), and Steven Butler (Odd Bodds). Was one more challenging or, dare you say, a favorite?

Pick a Pine Tree was the most challenging and pushed me in a different direction.​​

Odd Bods stands out to me as a book I'm very proud of, its bright and bold and I think I caught a nice energy with the art for that book.

It's great you have such a range of styles. What is your favorite medium to work with? Your least favorite or hardest?

I change method a lot, but it always ends up on a computer in the end. Currently I'm really enjoying pastels and will hopefully use them in a forthcoming book. I went through a phase of using cut up, painted paper…very fiddly and time consuming!

Do you prefer being the author/illustrator or the illustrator of a book? Why?

Being an author/illustrator rather than illustrator does feel different. For me, it will always be more personal. Being the author means you can express your personality more directly. Sometimes that makes the experience feel more precious which can also be stifling. So, it’s nice to have a balance and illustrate other authors too, which is a chance to explore other areas of my art and push myself in ways I might not think of.

I can certainly see the benefit of that; makes me wish I was also an illustrator. During 2016, you also wrote & illustrated three books (Who Is Happy? Fred Forgets, and Alan’s Big Scary Teeth). Your fourth book, Mrs Mole, I’m Home!, releases tomorrow. I just have to ask - how did you create all these books? Is there a common thread in your books?

Often I come back to common themes of friendship, belonging, and being yourself. I'm not sure why! I have probably written a hundred ideas…but only very few make the cut, my method is to create as many ideas as I can and then search for the ones that stand out.

It's worked well so far. Which is harder for you writing or illustrating? Why? Which comes first when you create a book?

They're both very hard in different ways. Writing is plucking a story from nowhere, this doesn't feel hard to me, but it's hard to get right, so I have to do it again and again.

Illustrating is hard because it takes much longer, and each book is its own puzzle to arrange. There are many elements to illustrating a book and it's much like directing a film…What do the characters look like, how do they act, what do they wear, what is the scene, how can you convey emotion through the scene etc. It's an incredibly hard thing to do.

You seem to enjoy, and conquer, both types of challenges. Where did you get the inspiration for Mrs Mole, I’m Home?

I drew a little mole popping out of a molehill and imagined him saying ‘Honey I'm home,’ in a kind of American sitcom way…that's how it began.

What/who was your greatest inspiration as a child? What/who is your greatest source of inspiration now as a writer and/or as an illustrator?

My favourite illustrator as a child is still someone I love now- Ralph Steadman…I loved the energy of his illustration and it felt ‘funny’ as well as being very artful.

What is the best thing an author can do to help an illustrator? The worst?

That's a hard question! The stories I like to illustrate have space to work in. The text might be very open and not too prescriptive. If the text is very prescriptive, sometimes it can feel like you are filling boxes with no room to play.

What's something you want your readers to know about Mrs Mole, I’m Home?

That my favourite band is the Beatles, and I did my own version of them as the house band in Gordon Ratzy’s restaurant!

How fun! Many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Mrs Mole, I’m Home! ? Could you share one or more with us?

There are 2 worms on the run on every page of the book!

Kids will have so much fun looking for them. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

My new book Tropical Terry released in the UK and other countries on June 7th. It's a book all about a little fish who doesn't fit in with the fancy tropical fish. It's a very bright, bold, and vibrant book which I'm excited to see on the shelves. It will be released in America next year I believe.

I'm also about to work on some board books with rhyming texts, my first foray into rhyme.

Wow, lots to look forward to from you! Is there anything about writing, illustrating, or publishing you know now that you wished you had known when you started? Or are glad that you did not know?

There are lots of things, but the one thing I hadn't realised was that visiting schools, bookshops, and book festivals is a big part of being a picture book maker, and it's a fantastic thing. Being a picture book maker can sometimes feel quite lonely, cooped up in a studio for months working away on a book. So, to then parade the book in front of hundreds of children was at first a surprising experience but it's now the part I love the most - I love telling stories to kids and making them laugh.

That is one thing I am looking forward to. Any advice for beginning illustrators or authors?

If you believe in yourself then keep on trying, keep on coming up with new ideas, and new images.

What is your favorite animal? Why?

My favourite animal is my dog Milo!

Thank you, Jarvis for stopping by and sharing with us. It was truly wonderful to chat with you.

Be sure to stop back by on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF Post on Mrs Mole, I'm Home!

To find out more about Jarvis, or get in touch with him:

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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