Recently I wrote about the Folio Society’s new edition of Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant and Other Stories. (Check out some of the book’s illustrations here http://bit.ly/1fMGzm0 and the story here bit.ly/18H9MuZ.) Greenaway Medal winner Grahame Baker Smith created the illustrations.
After my story went up, I wandered the Twittersphere until I unintentionally stumbled upon the illustrator’s Twitter handle. In 140 characters I asked him if he would discuss perfecting his craft, inspiration, and future projects. He agreed, and below is our conversation, happily unrestricted by character limits.
THE SELFISH GIANT Copyright © 2013 by Grahame Baker-Smith. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, The Folio Society, London.
Could you tell me how you prepared for this commission?
A couple of coincidences actually prepared me for this commission, not the other way around. In early 2012 I was reading Richard Ellmann’s biography of Wilde, (a fabulous work of literature in its own right) which chronicles the extraordinary and poignant life story of Wilde. At that time I also received a letter from a man named Nicholas Wilde inquiring about the illustrations I made for the 2011 Folio edition of Pinocchio. Nicholas Wilde is a book collector and he particularly enjoys illustrated editions. We exchanged a few letters before I finally asked if he was by any chance related to Mr. Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde. In fact, he is very distant cousin, and suggested that I ask Folio if they would like to do an edition of Oscar’s stories. Since the Folio Society is always open to suggestions they seized the opportunity.
What inspired your illustrations for this book?
The stories are what inspired me, it’s always the story and then – after lots of reading and making notes – I just start drawing and see what happens.
How long did it take to complete the images?
Each image took about a week to a week and a half, spread out over a period of about six months.
You are self taught. Can you describe how you became an artist?
I always loved art at school but didn’t get great marks for it (or anything else). I had a couple of jobs after leaving school but soon realised the ‘work’ thing wasn’t going to light me up! A period of unemployment became a time of complete obsession with drawing and painting. Sometimes it was very lonely, but my dream of doing this – and only this – became a powerful motivating force to practice, practice, practice and get good, something I’m still trying to do. So, I didn’t really become an artist – there just wasn’t an option to do anything else with my life! I still feel the same now, there is a cost in following your dreams but any other path seemed to me as a waste of life.
Do you have a favorite medium?
I have worked in most mediums at various times in my career – acrylic, watercolor, gouache, pastel, charcoal pen and ink. When I started using Photoshop five or six years ago I found it incredibly exciting to be able to mix virtually anything together. I still use a lot of drawing and other traditional methods, but usually it all gets filtered and composited through Photoshop. For example, I used Photoshop techniques in the Wilde illustrations. It’s a part of the process now, just as drawing or painting is.
What would you like to illustrate next?
I would love to illustrate some Edgar Allen Poe next, and do more fiction book covers, for some reason I don’t often get asked to do them. I’m also writing a novel for Templar (who published FArTHER) which will have black and white illustrations.
What are you working on now?
I have formed a company called MisFits with my wife Linda, who is also an illustrator and designer. It’s a family affair; our 17 year old son is a brilliant coder for iOS and is helping us tremendously. We are using MisFits to develop story apps for iPad. We create apps from the idea phase to story, plot the flow-through and wireframe it, create the interface, artwork and animation and then code in the function and interactivity – all in-house! This is a really interesting challenge and it is amazing to weave animation and sound into a story. In terms of the artwork, we maintain the same standards as are applied to print books. We are also actively finding other ways around the awful ‘page turn’ effect, a totally redundant feature in page-less applications.
I feel the creative possibilities are enormous but it seems a very natural progression to make. We want to make something beautiful and hopefully inspiring – that goal never changes.
I’m not turning my back on books though. I love books more and more as I get older and feel there is an awful lot more to do in print. I never want to give up illustrating books. To me, every day, it is a great joy and privilege to be involved in the world of story-telling.