In November 2021, we launched The Picture Book Gallery as a way to generate funds for Canadian Children’s Book Week, which connects Canadian creators with children and teens across Canada. The Picture Book Gallery supports our annual tour that allows 28,000 young Canadians to participate in over 400 readings and workshops in a single week. Illustrators set their own prices, with 60% of the value of their art sold donated to Book Week. This event is a great opportunity for illustrators to showcase their work to a wider audience, all while generously contributing to a love of reading in children across Canada.
Marie-Louise Gay is one of the esteemed artists featured in the Picture Book Gallery. She's a children's writer and illustrator, and has received numerous awards for her written and illustrated works in both French and English, including the 2005 Vicky Metcalf Award, multiple Governor General's Literary Awards, and multiple Janet Savage Blachford Prizes, among others. Since it's Canadian Library Month in October, we're featuring her "Public Library" piece.
What was your overall artistic approach for the book the illustration is from, Houndsley and Catina at the Library?
Houndsley and Catina at the Library is the sixth book in the series written by James Howe. So the overall artistic approach was explored in the first book: Houndsley and Catina.
As the creator of the visual world of H&C, I had many decisions and choices to make: Should the animal characters be dressed? Where should they live? Should I create a contemporary landscape with cars and buildings? James Howe's manuscript did not give me any visual clues, but I was inspired by the cozy, gentle and sweetly humorous stories that he wrote. They reminded me of Toad and Frog and The Wind in the Willows.
I decided on a bright and cheerful watercolour palette with contrasting subdued colours. I also chose to dress the characters in patterned collage papers, which offers a different depth to the illustration. Since these are early reader books, I alternated between spot illustrations with ragged edges and full-page images to accommodate the text.
How much of a role did colour play?
Colour plays a vital role in any book that I have illustrated. Colour reveals the mood, the atmosphere, the emotions of a story. It plays with light and shadow. It illuminates parts of the story, directing the reader's gaze to notice certain important details. As I begin illustrating a book, I spend a long time choosing and exploring my palette of colours.
Why was it important to you to feature the white space so prominently in this piece? Was it encouragement for children and adults to imagine their own creations in that open space?
Since the very beginning of my career as an illustrator of children's books, I have relied heavily on the use of vast expanses of white space. I find the contrast of empty white areas beside colour-filled sections makes the colours glow as if they were lit up from the inside.
The white space offers room to breathe. Room to imagine. In this piece, it is also a combination of the need to have room to place the text, as well as the lovely opposition of white light coming in from the open door and the cozy, warm, jewel-like colours of the library reading room.