The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Paddy Donnelly
Paddy Donnelly is an award-winning Irish author and illustrator of picture books. Now living in Belgium, he works in a range of illustration styles and his debut author illustrated picture book, The Vanishing Lake, won the Gold Medal in the Picture Books category of the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2021. He was nominated for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal for his picture book with Jeanne Willis - Hom. He wishes Pluto was still a planet.
He is the author/illustrator of The Vanishing Lake (2021) and the illustrator of Hom by Jeanne Willis (2021), Here Be Dragons by Susannah Lloyd (2021), The Last Seaweed Pie by Wenda Shurtety (2021), The Astronaut's Atlas (2021), A Sea of Stories by Sylvia Bishop (2019), and Jack and the Jungle (2019).
His second author/illustrator picture book Dodos Are Not Extinct, releases February 8th.
Welcome Paddy, tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write or illustrate? How long have you been writing or illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate?)
I'm originally from Ireland, and have been living in Belgium for over 13 years. My background is in graphic/web design. I never studied art or illustration at university and only got into illustrating when I created a few iPhone apps for kids a number of years ago. I entered the picture book world in 2018 and my first books started to come out in 2019. There are a number of things I love to illustrate, including the sea, dinosaurs, birds, jungles and mysterious islands. Wow! That's amazing. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
Watership Down by Richard Adams is still one of my favourite books all these years later. One of my favourite picture books as a kid was Full Moon Soup by Alastair Graham.
Your newest author/illustrated book has such a fun & funny premise, what was your inspiration for Dodos Are Not Extinct?
I absolutely love extinct animals. Maybe ever since I read Dodos Are Forever by Dick King Smith. I think it might have been the book that introduced me to the dodo. I actually called one of the characters in my picture book after one of the characters in Dodos Are Forever. Dinosaurs and mammoths are also some of my favourite things to draw, so based on all of that I tried to come up with a picture book that would allow me to do just that. I think a sketch of a dodo sitting on a telegraph wire with a bunch of crows sparked the idea of extinct animals hiding out in plain sight, but in quite a silly way. Okay, so how many drafts did it take for you to get from idea to publication? Which had the most revisions – the images or the text?
Hmm, that's tough to say because when you're creating both the words and the illustrations it's a real back and forth process. When I'm illustrating someone else's story, then usually the words are quite final and I don't really have an effect on them. When I'm doing both parts then I'm constantly tweaking words to match the latest illustration ideas, and vice versa. I don't think there were many major iterations from the first story idea. Just lots and lots of tiny tweaks. Is there something you both want your readers to know about, or take away from, Dodos Are Not Extinct?
I hope they will first of all have a few laughs at this one, but more importantly I'd love for it to open up kids' minds to the whole world of extinct animals. There are just an endless number of interesting extinct species to discover once you start looking. Even just take one species like the elephant and go look at how many amazing different types that used to walk around on the earth, with amazing tusks and trunks like the Stegotetrabelodon, Deinotherium or Platybelodon. So, I'd love for it to kickstart some kids into checking out a few books on dinosaurs from the library. And in the long run hopefully they would take a real interest in discovering the wonder of the natural world and caring for it. I think the laughs are pretty guaranteed! And I hope it sparks further interest, too. Many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Dodos Are Not Extinct? Could you share one or more with us?
In this book, I made sure that all of the child characters were always looking a little quizzically at the animals, as they started to suspect something was up. Of course, all of the adults in the book are completely oblivious and don't notice a dinosaur driving a taxi.
I most enjoyed the creative disguises but I loved that the adults never caught on! What is the hardest or most challenging thing for you about writing and or illustrating children’s books? How about for Dodos Are Not Extinct in particular?
I guess coming up with the idea is the most challenging aspect, but once you hit upon something that excites you then you're off running with it, exploring every potential direction. And hopefully it ends up in a good place. Illustrating any book is a ton of work, so I do find it tough when you get to about 75% complete. That last stretch to the finish line can be quite challenging. Interesting to know. Is there a spread that you were especially excited about or proud of? Which is your favorite spread?
© Paddy Donnelly, 2022.
Ooh, that's always tough to choose. I think this one with the mammoths shaving off their hair and hanging out with the regular elephants is pretty fun. I loved slipping in details like one of them putting on suncream and the various hairstyles. Here you can see the rough plus the final artwork for this spread.
Thank you for sending along the rough draft. It's so fun to see the evolution of the images. How are you, or have you been, staying creative these days?
I'm lucky to be able to work on a wide variety of picture books, as well as middle grade book covers, so I've always got plenty of things on to keep me creative. I love my work! Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I've just completed the artwork for my third author illustrated picture book, which comes out later this year. It's about foxes... Ooh, that's exciting! Can't wait to see your next book! Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
Hmm, I do really want to go back and visit Rathlin Island, which is close to where I grew up. It's a fascinating place with a beautiful landscape and amazing birdlife.
It looks like a gorgeous place to go birding. Thank you Paddy for sharing with us a bit about yourself and your newest picture book.
Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Dodos Are NOT Extinct!