The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Chris Turnham and Kyo Maclear
I absolutely loved The Wish Tree (2016) and was so excited that Chris Turnham and Kyo Maclear collaborated on another picture book. And I am even more excited to get the opportunity to interview Chris and have Kyo chime in on a few questions.
Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Chris Turnham is an illustrator currently based in Los Angeles. He's had a long production art career working as a visual development artist in the animation industry for clients including Sony Pictures Animation, LAIKA Entertainment, and Dreamworks Animation.
His art style reflects his love of mid-century illustration and he grabs inspiration from the architecture and beautiful natural environment of southern California. Currently he works as an illustrator for children's books and spends much of his time in the studio pursuing his passion for printmaking.
Chris is the illustrator of National Parks of the USA: Activity Book: With More Than 15 Activities, A Fold-out Poster, and 50 Stickers! (2020), National Parks of the USA (2018), and The Wish Tree (2016).
Kyo Maclear is an essayist, novelist and children’s author. She was born in London, England and moved to Toronto at the age of four with her British father (a foreign correspondent and documentary filmmaker) and Japanese mother (a painter and art dealer).
Her books have been translated into fifteen languages, published in over twenty countries, and garnered nominations from the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction, the Trillium Book Award, the Governor General’s Literary Awards, the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Awards, the Amazon.ca First Novel Award, the National Magazine Awards, among other honours.
Kyo is the author of 16 children's books, including Story Boat (2020), It Began with a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way (2019), Operatic (2019), Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli (2018), Flo: A Picture Book (2018), Yak and Dove (2017), The Fog (2017), Spork (2017), The Wish Tree (2016), The Liszts (2016), The Specific Ocean (2015), The Good Little Book (2015), Julia, Child (2014), Mr. Flux (2013), Virginia Wolf (2012). As well as four adult books - Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation (2017), Birds Art Life Death (2017), Stray Love (2013), and The Letter Opener (2007). She is also a widely published essayist and visual art writer.
Their newest book collaboration, Hello, Rain!, releases April 13th.
Welcome Chris & Kyo. Tell us a little about yourselves. (Where/when do you write or illustrate? How long have you been writing or illustrating?)
CHRIS: I’ve been an illustrator for a while now — over 15 years, but only more recently started doing children’s book illustration. My background is in animation and printmaking. Since I create all my art digitally there are only a few ways to output it — so I do silkscreen printing and digital printing as a way to put my digital art on paper. [Chris, your silkscreens are amazing!]
KYO: I grew up in a house full of words and art. My father was a British-born journalist and foreign correspondent. My Japanese mother was an artist and owned a gallery that sold contemporary Japanese prints. In my early twenties, I started working as an art critic in Toronto. Since then, I’ve written art monographs, novels, a hybrid memoir, and many picture books. Picture books feel like the perfect form to me, particularly given my childhood ecology of words and pictures. They just seem boundless in possibility. [That's such a great way to describe picture books!]
Kyo, what was your inspiration for Hello, Rain!?
KYO: All my stories grow from tiny seeds. The seeds might come from an everyday experience, or a historical figure whose story I wish to tell. I tend to all my seedlings equally, but eventually I commit to the one that feels the most inviting and mysterious.
My two books with Chris were seeded differently from my other picture book collaborations insofar as the art came first. In the case of The Wish Tree, Chris’s agent sent me an image of a boy and a toboggan in front of a snowy tree at nighttime. Immediately, questions started forming. Who is this boy? What does he want?
In the case of Hello, Rain!, our wonderful editor Victoria Rock at Chronicle sent me a few preliminary pitch images, including the one Chris mentions of the umbrellas blooming. I loved the mood. I’ve always loved rain. Perhaps all introverts do. I knew I wanted to tell a story that was more of a list poem describing various reasons to love the rain—from a human and more-than-human perspective.
What a fun way to create a book! Chris, what was your inspiration for the Hello, Rain! illustrations and was there any difference in working on this one versus The Wish Tree?
CHRIS: Kyo and I actually came about this collaboratively — it started as an idea that I had and created a few pieces of inspirational art for. After Kyo and I did The Wish Tree it only made sense for her to write the text for this one as well! It was the perfect second project for us. From a design standpoint it freed me up to try some new techniques — I knew I wanted the book to “feel” like it had been splattered by rain, so I introduced a lot of new digital brushes that I had never used before to give it that affect.
I think the process was pretty similar! This one had such an ease to it though, I think because we worked together before and I also was more assured in my ability to follow through with it.
I hope you get to collaborate on more books! Kyo, what's something you want your readers to know about Hello, Rain!?
KYO: It is part poem and part story. It follows the journey of a little girl and her dog from the first drops of rain to the final clearing. It’s obviously a joyful celebration of rain; the girl soaks it all up with fizzy curiosity and excitement. It’s also, less obviously, a celebration of solitude, imagination, so-called ‘bad weather,’ and our animal companions.
I love that it's a juncture of play, solitude, and poetry. Chris, many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Hello, Rain!? Could you share one or more with us?
CHRIS: The dog in the book is very much my dog! Although my dog is more blonde and the one in the book is gray — they are generally the same. I think all illustrators throw their pets into their books whenever the book requires one!
And even if not strictly 'required.' As a child, who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book?
My favorite book when I was a kid was Chris Van Allsburg’s Mysteries of Harris Burdick. It made me feel a little scared whenever I looked at those vivid illustrations and I’m still haunted by them to this day! Now my tastes skew more towards illustrators who are very much icons of the mid-century era of illustration; Mary Blair, the Provensens, and M. Sasek.
That really is such an intriguing and haunting cover. What is the hardest thing for you about illustrating picture books? How about with Hello, Rain!?
Visually the hardest thing is just coming up with a concept. I’ve only done a few books but I want them to feel different and specific to the stories that are being told. With the National Parks book I wanted it to feel like those old silkscreen printed posters that were created for the Park Service.
For Hello, Rain! I wanted it to feel more like watercolor, with lots of drips and splats of ink everywhere. Since I’m not used to doing that it was hard to find the right balance of texture to give it that affect, while still staying true to my own personal style as an artist.
I really think you've succeeded with both books. You've worked on both fiction and nonfiction books. Do you find one genre easier than the other?
I actually find non-fiction easier! It’s hard to create a through-line of imagery in a narrative picture book for me. With the Parks book, I was able to create an illustration as more of a one-off piece of imagery. But with Hello, Rain! I had to think about how all the images worked together.
Now the universe is going to give you a narrative nonfiction to illustrate. (*smiling*) Kyo, where you surprised by anything in the illustrations when you first got to see them? What is your favorite spread?
Text © Kyo Maclear, 2021. Image © Chris Turnham, 2021.
KYO: Chris is a genius. I love a book that models its subject and Chris has modeled rain and the textures and movement of water on every page. Amazing. The art feels very fluid and alive. It’s really hard to choose a favorite spread but I might go with the aerial spread of the garden. It’s such an unusual and enchanting perspective—we, as readers, suddenly sit where the rain cloud might be—and I love how Chris captures the plants, flowers and soil soaking it all up.
Kyo, I totally agree with you. This book is filled with amazing illustrations! Chris, is there a spread that you were especially excited about or proud of? Or do you perhaps have a favorite spread?
Text © Kyo Maclear, 2021. Image © Chris Turnham, 2021.
CHRIS: I love the spread of the umbrellas blooming; that was one of my original pitch images that I changed to match the style of the book when I finally found the style.
What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (either as a child, now as a writer, or both.)
I love mid-century illustration. I also come from an animation background and there are many artists both alive and gone in that field that continue to inspire me.
How are you staying creative these days? What are you doing to “prime the well”?
I create my own prints whenever I have time (which is rarer these days!), and I sell them online and at trade shows. It’s a great way for me to just make art that I want to make without any restrictions.
You have to check out his prints (see the store link below)! Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
CHRIS: I have another picture book coming out next year called The Poem Forest, about the poet W.S. Merwin. And after that who knows — I might dive back into the National Parks for another journey.
Note - Kyo is working on The Big Bath House (Random House/Schwartz & Wade 2022), “a story inspired by the author's memories of childhood visits to Japan where she accompanied her maternal grandmother to the public baths. And The (In)Activity Book, about the neglected art of occasionally doing nothing.”
What is your favorite animal? Why?
CHRIS: Will always be dogs! But I guess when I was growing up I loved zebras too - their stripes enchanted me.
KYO: I love cats because I grew up with them and I feel a bit like a cat myself. But I have plans to adopt a dog one day and perhaps I’ll discover a new allegiance.
Thank you Chris & Kyo for stopping by to share about yourselves and your newest picture book collaboration.
Be sure to come back Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Hello, Rain! .
To find out more about Chris Turnham, or get in touch with him:
To find out more about Kyo Maclear, or get in touch with her: