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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Camilla Pintonato

Camilla Pintonato is an author, illustrator, graphic designer based in Venice. She studied illustration at MiMaster in Milan and completed her MA in editorial design at ISIA in Urbino.

She is the author/illustrator of Full Moon (2021) and the illustrator of Pigology (2021) and Chickenology (2020).

Her newest picture book, Detective Mole, releases tomorrow.

Camilla, thank-you so much for stopping by to chat.

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

I see myself as an illustrator and a graphic designer, I don’t really feel like a writer because I’ve only been writing for three years. Detective Mole, my second book as an author in America and the third as a writer, maybe was born by chance or maybe because I suffer from insomnia so, to fall asleep, I think of a lot of ridiculous nonsense or simply because my mother likes thrillers and I like moles. I really don’t know. But surely I know what kind of book I prefer to write: the one that amuses people who read it.

I think you're definitely an illustrator/author! What inspired you to write Detective Mole? (I think he will remind parents of Jacques Cousteau from the Pink Panther movies).

I think I wrote this picture book in a moment in my life I found myself having to make a choice: work as a graphic designer or try to be an author-illustrator.

Before I used to do both to earn a living, but I wasn’t happy because my dream was to be an author-illustrator all the time. On the other hand, being a graphic designer allowed me to enter a studio and work more serenely. A real dilemma.

It was precisely at that moment that Oscar arrived: blindfolded and with his head in the clouds, he’s exactly like me. He is a chef (a very good one) but his dream is to be an investigator. Why? He doesn’t know either, but dreams are always like that.

So there wasn't a precise moment when I thought "this is going to be a detective story." The idea came when I wasn't looking for it, I don't even know exactly how. Maybe it came with a good laugh because a mole is really unfit to do this kind of job!

This is actually a great description of how inspiration can sneak up on us. What is the hardest thing for you about writing and/or illustrating children’s books? How about writing Detective Mole in particular? Was it easier or harder to write or illustrate Detective Mole than Full Moon?

I’d say finding an idea and thinking it’s still valid after a month, mostly. The simplest part instead is definitely doing the illustrations when you have the clear storyboard in your head. For Detective Mole, the most complex part was making the two levels of reading effective because in this book the text says one thing while the image another and you always have to make the relationship is clear and funny.

Full Moon had a completely different genesis: it was born as the project for the Silent Book Contest, so it was a book without words. When Come Des Geants decided to publish it, the publisher asked me to include a text, but the story and sequence were already done.

That's so interesting. Which tends to come first for you – the text, a title, or an illustration idea?

It depends. Sometimes I make a draft of the text but usually it changes a bit when I make the drawings and I see that the two together are repetitive or that they don’t work. The title usually comes last, especially since it’s the one that worries me least.

It's a little comforting to know that even author/illustrators have to adjust the text when the images begin to come to life. Is it easier or harder to be an illustrator or the illustrator/author? Do you have a preference?

Surely it is more difficult, but also much more satisfying, to be an author/illustrator. My preference depends on the period: if I don’t have an idea for a new book and I’m stuck I think "why don’t I just be an illustrator!?" Then maybe the idea comes and - mamma mia - if that moment isn't fulfilling!

That made me smile. So, many illustrators leave treasures or weave a story throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Detective Mole? If so, could you share one or more with us?

Text and Image © Camilla Pintonato, 2021.

First we can talk about the banana. The banana with the scotch tape is a work by the artist Maurizio Cattelan. When it had been exhibited for the first time at Art Basel Miami, the banana was hanging there with its scotch tape until another artist came by and ate it. At that time it was valued at $ 120,000, so the preoccupied gallerist immediately replaced it with another fruit. This is a fantastic lesson of contemporary art: the value of the work lies in the idea, everything else is replaceable and renewable. I love to put these little details in my books. Things that I like or that have struck me for their meaning. And then Cattelan is from Padua, like my father! In short, in Detective Mole there is a bit of my whole family.

Text and Image © Camilla Pintonato, 2021.

In addition to the banana, we can also find a coat hanger with a hat, this too is a reference to another art work. Do you know which one? When there was Jannis Kounellis’ exhibition in Venice, the mayor mistook the artwork for a real coat rack. Can you imagine? My mother, who was the mayor’s secretary at the time, laughs every time she remembers it, and so I drew it.

In the end, when illustrating a book, I believe there are always references of this kind to the personal life of the author, because if there is a room to furnish or a landscape to draw, one must ask himself: what can I put in here? So you try to find not just any landscape or any room but something that has meaning. In this case it is not really important for the reader to grasp it (how could he?) but I know it is there.

Thank you so much for sharing these treasures in your illustrations. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or what was your favorite book as a child?

Definitely The Woodland Folk by Tony Wolf. I think it’s thanks to this book that I love animals and stories set in the forests.

I am not familiar with this book, but I love that cover! How are, or have, you been staying creative during this crazy time? Any specific things you’ve found helpful?

Maybe living in the city where I live: Venice. Venice during the lockdown was ghostly, but also magical in a sense. No one will ever see it like this again, without tourists, without noise, like time’s gone back a couple of centuries.

Oh, lucky! I love Venice. And it would have been amazing to wander the canals and streets when they were empty. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I’m working on the third title of the farm animals series and…it will be sheep this round! I have to show you a sheep. They’re so cute. Then I’m illustrating the story of a wombat pianist written by another writer. This one’ll be definitely hilarious.

A wombat pianist! I can't wait for that one. Last question, what is your favorite animal? Or one that you are currently enamored with. Why?

My favorite animal are without doubts chickens! In particular, if we really want to be precise, I would say the Paduan hen because, when I was small, I had one that couldn’t see anything because of her tuft.

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

Be sure to come back on Friday for a Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on the hilarious Detective Mole.

To find out more about Camilla Pintonato, or contact her:


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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