The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Giuseppe Poli
I love being able to make something
inspires, brings joy
and wonder to someone else ~ Giuseppe Poli
Today, I'd like to introduce you to a very special author/illustrator from Australia, who I'm honored to call a friend.
From a very young age, Giuseppe Poli loved solving problems, making cool drawings, stories and games; creating and making things from whatever he had available. He created board games to play with siblings and friends. In high school, he teamed up to create a role-playing game system, wrote stories, and drew countless artworks.
After a long meandering journey, he eventually discovered children’s picture books. Since 2014, he’s been feverishly illustrating and writing stories. He’s illustrated nine picture books, and is currently working on the tenth, with more projects lined up.
I had the pleasure to meet Giuseppe at the Australian SCBWI conference in February and fell in love with his newest book, Invisible Jerry. It released in November 2018.
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?)
GIUSEPPE: I am a creative and love helping people create opportunities. Currently, I work full time in the university/ teaching/technology sector building creative solutions and leading teams of people to explore and make creative solutions. It would be great to have more time to create in the Children’s literature industry. I’ve been creating art for most of my life and I used to write a little when I was young but now I writing more frequently. I’m not sure if I have a favourite type of book to illustrate… though I do prefer working on books where I can contribute my own vision to the project.
Having seen your work, I too wish you had more time to create Children's literature. Guess we'll settle for what we can get! What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
I used to teach Salsa and Merengue with my wife and some very close friends. We started a street latin dance school and had a lot of fun. Looking back, it was my first professional gig as a teacher and coach. When things settle down, I’d like to get back on the dance scene. There is something about learning new ways to move and then experiencing music with your whole body and sharing that with your dance partner. Love it.
I didn't expect that. But it sounds like great fun. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
My favourite author as a child was Victor Kelleher and his book, The Master of the Grove. I’ve loved it every time I’ve read it. I’ve just read it to my son recently and I still love this book. My favourite illustrator as a child was John Howe. I love John’s illustration of the Fall of Gondolin (https:// www.john-howe.com/portfolio/gallery/details.php?image_id=287)
Middle Earth fans will love that image, too. What captured your attention or imagination when you saw the manuscript for Invisible Jerry?
Adam’s text is so expansive and powerful. To be truthful I thought I knew where it was going and then it went in a new direction. It really moved me.
That's quite a feat for a manuscript to have that effect on an illustrator. Many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Invisible Jerry? Could you share one or more with us?
There are lots of things to find in Invisible Jerry. There is one character that features in the book that is not mentioned in the text at all. I wanted to create imagery that children could relate to. A major design intention for the book was to show a world that kids could recognise and to not hide Jerry behind some physical barrier. Jerry is in plain sight. In that way, I was hoping to help them recognise that invisibility isn’t just a concept in a book or just an empathetic way we feel towards a character in a book. It can happen in the world around us.
I love both the extra character and your approach to invisibility. What is your favorite medium to work with? Your least favorite or maybe one you’re itching to try?
My favourite medium would have to be pencil, water colours, and inks. I love the expressive nature of these mediums, the many happy accidents that can occur and the immediacy. They also remind me of children’s artwork, and I love that.
Sitting next to you as you captured the instructor in a Master Class, I can attest to how expressive your doodles can be. What is the hardest thing for you about writing and/or illustrating children’s books?
To be truthful the hardest thing for me is me - my own inner critic stopping me. The actual craft is challenging and fun but you can always progress. That inner critic… can knock you back to the beginning.
From a craft perspective, writing is very tricky for me at the moment only because I’m still building that muscle. The more I write the better I get. I was explaining this challenge to someone recently. For me, drawing starts with an overall impression and I can easily bounce between fine details and broad strokes. Actual writing is very linear for me… it’s like cupping your hands around your eyes so you narrow your field of view, looking down at your feet and then walking and following whatever interesting thing comes across your gaze. My text wonders freely and one word can really spin me off where I want to go. That’s great but it’s also challenging for me. I can easily lose myself.
The other thing is that actual writing doesn’t look much different from a final version. It’s just a flow of words. With a sketch I can clearly see a 30,000ft view and a 1ft closeup all at once. I can clearly see where I want detail and where I want to be loose and expressive. I can clearly see where I have led a reader and where I’ve left room for them to bring their own imagination to complete the story.
Ooh, I love that explanation of the differences in writing and illustrating. Do you have a favorite spread in Invisible Jerry? Which one?
Text © Adam Wallace, 2018 and Image © Giuseppe Poli, 2018.
The dancing spread. I really love the expressive nature of it. I struggled trying to create something new there because I felt I needed it to be more than what I could imagine in my mind at the time. That’s why I love happy accidents and my process working with digital and real media. It was a happy exploration on the computer that led to that final picture. Love it. Love exploring and quickly trying new things to uncover new possibilities. My next favourite spreads are the end papers. Spoiler alert: please read the book in sequence before you get to the last endpaper.
As the author/illustrator of Young Macdonald (2018), do you prefer being the illustrator or the author/illustrator of a book? Why?
I prefer being the author/illustrator because I know exactly where I want to leave space for the reader and where I want to add something. I can choose to not have text if it diminishes or becomes too prescriptive. If a text or script came my way that I loved, and my collaborators gave me room to bring my vision to it, then that would be something I’d love to work on. I guess, I don’t want to be a part in a conveyor belt. I want to be a team member on the playing field, working together, creating something amazing.
I know many an author who wishes to be an illustrator for that very reason. What's something you want your readers to know about Invisible Jerry?
Every opening has a purpose, including the covers. It’s a cyclical story in the text and as a physical book. I’ve used every surface of that book specifically to craft an experience. Many people will not discover that and that’s ok.
I’ve made similar experiences in my previous books. It’s my secret treat for those that keep looking further and love how rich we can go with picture books.
You did an amazing job adding to Adam's story, all the way through to the subtle shifts in the end pages. What was it like to work with your wife, Katie Poli, on Marvellous Mummy?
Creating a picture book with my wife, Katie, was wonderful. She has this great story about how she could just pop into my work area and comment on my illustrations! Yes….hmm. Maybe it’s not all great :-) but truthfully I’m really looking forward to making another book with her. She is a rhyme ninja and I can imagine how much fun our books could be.
Funny! Might have to create "work boundaries." How is Invisible Jerry different from, or similar to, Marvellous Mummy (2018), Baby Band (2018), Oliver’s Grumbles (2015), Fearless with Dad (2015), or Hootie the Cutie (2014)? Was it more (or less) challenging than these other books?
I try to make the book that I am working on my best book. Each of my books was increasingly difficult for me because I wanted to create something magical each time.
Hootie the Cutie (2014) was my first book. This was a great start for me because I could envision taking people into the fairy tale forest and going on an adventure. Michelle Worthington’s joyful story created space for me to explore this wonderful world. The first opening in the hard cover is a sweeping entrance into that place.
Fearless with Dad (2015) was my second book and now I had to move people without fantastical imagery. Cori Brooke’s text captures beautiful moments of parents and kids. Emotion through vignettes of today. I’m really happy with the work I’ve done on this book. People have told me many times that dads and their kids love this book.
Oliver’s Grumbles (2015) was my third book. Yvonne Mes’s story is a fun look at being grumpy and learning to love ourselves. The challenge for me was how I could illustrate emotion in a very relatable and fun way. This was a fun book and I found myself laughing at my own pictures. Kids love this book.
Baby Band (2017) was the next big leap. Dianne Jackson Hill’s text has a beautiful cadence and rollicking build up but for me I really connected to this book on a deeper level and I really wanted to bring that depth to the book. The challenge for me was how could I bring depth and substance for adults and older readers but also have it fun for younger readers? I stepped out on this one and started to bring more visual art concepts to this book and not ‘talk down’ to kids in my art. I was so happy when respected Teacher Librarians told me they loved this book and it’s been included in Megan Daley’s “Raising Readers”.
Invisible Jerry was where I really leapt into being me and let go of all my inhibitions. Freedom in expression. Freedom in visual art. Freedom in using every part of the physical book. This book was a major landmark in my literature career. Adam’s text has so much potential to connect with so many people and it moved me so much.
When I started to think about the experience I wanted to create and my design intentions that I would not go with the commonly used devices I put myself into a corner that forced me to find a way out. Invisible Jerry was my personal Everest at that point in my career. Now you don’t need to do that to yourself… but when the possibility is there to create something wondrous how can we limit ourselves? How can we limit ourselves to our current capabilities or current answers? You need something to pull you into unknowns.
I start all my books with imagining my readers saying, “that book was amazing! I love it!” and then my experience design process kicks in to try to figure out how I can deliver that. Actually, you know, it’s the only thing I imagine for my books. It’s not a visual destination and most of the time I can’t see the final book with clarity. I just try to focus on that feeling for my reader and keep checking in with that. And when everything goes bad or I feel like I just can’t deliver it, the only talk I allow myself to utter is “I love your book. It’s so amazing. Thank you so much for making this!” What happens then is your brain starts trying to make that true.
Refuse to be limited - you'll never know what you can create until you do. And I love your strategy to leapfrog that annoying inner critic. What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (as a child or now as a writer or illustrator.)
I’m not sure if I have a single greatest source of inspiration. I’m inspired by so many things, but I suppose the greatest sources of inspiration would have to be my children and a photo I have of myself in Grade 3. I look at these young people and say the world is full of possibility and I just can’t find solid evidence that disproves that. There is no logical argument that clearly states that we should stop reaching and dreaming and making. We are so blessed.
Wow! If you could share one thing with your younger self and/or kids today what would that be?
Play. When we play we live, we explore, we share, we care, we grow, we discover, we are curious, we act in the present, we invent, we retry, we are ourselves. It was what we were born to do… and it’s what creates a successful life for us all.
Never underestimate what can happen when you simply play. Any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I’m working on my tenth picture book and working on a number of my own characters and their stories. Sorry :-) I can’t share more at this time.
No worries. We'll be waiting, more or less patiently. 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?
Hmmm. One thing. Finish the book… Finish the sketch. Finish the page layout.
That’s the number one thing. Wandering around trying to find answers to things is too slow. Make stuff and grow. It’s only after you finish an artwork or story that you can improve it. Trying to improve something in your head is a waste of time. Put it down on the page. Then you can reflect. You miss out on the process when you haven’t actually made something… so you are not able to assess the full creative product - the consequence of a thought, through action to a result.
It would be like trying to get better at dancing….. without actually dancing! Take that step. Commit to the step. Take another and another and soon you can see if you are dancing and where you can improve. Is it a problem with my technique? Is it a problem with my process? Is it a problem with the way I think? Is it a problem with my inner quality judge… you know the one that keeps you drawing heads as circles without you knowing it.
That’s a big one to uncover. That’s what I’ve learnt to far. I guess that’s why I love the simplicity of ‘play’. Playing isn’t something you imagine….it’s something you do. Move. Be. Play. I wish you a wonderful creative life of play.
Thank you so much, Giuseppe for stopping by and sharing with us. It was truly wonderful to chat with you again. Best of luck on your current and future projects.
Be sure to stop back by on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book Post on Invisible Jerry.
To find out more about Giuseppe Poli, or get in touch with him: