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Tell us about your professional background and current role as Art Director for independent publisher, Child's Play.
I studied Illustration at Strasbourg School of Arts in the early 80's and took the usual trip to Bologna Children’s Book Fair before graduation where I met English Publisher, Michael Twinn, who had founded Child's Play ten years earlier. There was an immediate connection between us and he offered me some commissions right there and then. Two years later I moved to the UK to join his publishing team. I got involved with the publishing process immediately, liaising with printers, designers, illustrators, authors whilst still illustrating my own projects. It was an amazing learning experience.
I have been in this art director role for the last 25 years and I still love it. I enjoy being part of a small but dynamic creative team totally committed to the Child's Play philosophy. My role consists of: creating new concepts for our novelty range; identifying new talent amongst the numerous submissions we get daily; briefing illustrators; designing covers and text pages and managing projects from concept to print. I rarely make decisions alone - the whole process involves teamwork with all departments involved, from the production manager to the sales and marketing team. We also have a team of external consultants, including schools and nurseries. My role has been challenging over the years but it has been very exciting and incredibly rewarding.
Could you describe the philosophy behind Child's Play?
At Child’s Play we believe that a child's early years are more important than any other and this is when they learn the most about the world around them. In our eyes, books play a vital role in building the foundations for learning and we think that exposure to quality books from an early age helps to develop an enquiring mind and a lifelong love of reading. Therefore, we fill our publishing programme with innovative books for 0-8 year olds that promote learning through play and reflect our diverse society in terms of heritage, disability, gender and family.
What does your workspace look like?
It's a large, open plan office, that I share with Sue, the editor, and Claire the production manager - with desks and shelves full of reference books (children’s and others), production samples, printers’ proofs and illustrators’ and authors’ submissions. There is a long flow table, with all our current projects displayed.
I spend most of my time using Photoshop or InDesign on the Macs and liaising with authors and illustrators via email.
To date, what have been some of Child's Play's most successful titles?
'The Old Lady who swallowed a fly' continues to be our most successful title, published over 40 years ago. We have had many other award winning titles such as 'Head, shoulders, knees and toes', 'Rabbityness' by Jo Empson and 'No' by Marta Altés.
As an illustrator yourself, how does that influence / affect the way you operate as an art director?
I think it has helped me tremendously. There are so many different working styles amongst illustrators that it's not always easy is to anticipate reactions and offer the best guidance. I guess that having experienced it myself helps me to empathize. We work with illustrators from all over the world so communication has to be friendly and empathetic but above all clear, consistent and precise.
Child's Play products aim to bring out the best in children. Which children's books from your own childhood do you feel made the most impact on you developmentally?
I grew up in France and I didn't have a television before the age of 10, so I avidly read everything that came my way. Babar and Becassine were my early heroes. During my studies at Strasbourg, I was probably influenced by the emerging new style of French illustrators like Daniele Bour, Nicolas Claveloux, Etienne Delessert and Claude Lapointe. Claude Lapointe was my teacher for 3 years on my illustration course and I worked for 3 months under the direction of E. Delessert, as a colourist, for his animated feature film, Supersaxo. And of course Tomi Ungerer, as a fellow Alsacian, is also one of my heroes.
Babar par Jean de Brunhoff
Becassine par Émile-Joseph-Porphyre Pinchon
Claude Lapointe -Tom Sawyer
Etienne Delessert -The Children’s theatre of the absurd
How important is it for any illustrator you work with to have problem-solving skills? Give us an example when these skills have been put to the test.
Halfway through a project, we sometimes have to re-assess the way a book feels or looks as a whole. We might then request adjustments to existing roughs or even colour images. We expect the illustrator to be able to step back from the project and address the issue which could involve the colour palette, consistency of style or characters, or the contrasts and compositions. It doesn't happen very often but when it does, illustrators react in various ways. Some are very resilient and eager to solve the problem whereas others panic and are reluctant to cooperate. It helps if the illustrator can be rational and not too emotional about the work he or she has produced. As an illustrator myself, I know how difficult it can be to part with your vision, but sometimes it’s necessary in order to overcome an obstacle.
What has been the most significant and rewarding project of your career?
My favourite moment is when I see kids reading and interacting with books that I have helped create, whether it's as an illustrator or an art director. There is one particular Youtube clip that I adore, where a little girl chuckles repeatedly while reading one of my puppet books, 'See you later Alligator!' ... A delight!
What portfolio advice would you offer illustrators looking to appeal to Child's Play?
We look forward to browsing many of the illustrators portfolios available on Childrensillustrators.com. We look for work relevant to the age group we publish for (0-8 years). Illustrations of human and animal characters should be dynamic and expressive so that we can see the illustrator's ability to represent movement and emotion. We also like to see characters evolving through a story or a sequence, either in an existing book or a study. We love browsing through concepts for novelty, board and picture books.We also look at the wider social context represented in the illustrations and particularly value inclusion. Seeing images that show diversity and are free of stereotypes makes us confident that the illustrator will embrace our philosophy when working with us.This includes a variety in ethnicity, gender roles, ability, age, family composition and sexual orientation. Too often, we see little girls in pink and flowery outfits, engaged in stereotypically quiet activities and boys dressed in blue, adventurous and physically active. We need to reverse this perception and illustrators have a big role to play in this.