Eric Fan & Dena Seiferling
talk about owls - of course - along with
food trucks and the tricky bits of illustration...
Eric: At what moment when reading the manuscript did you know you wanted the job?
Dena: Pretty much right away – the nocturnal setting and the unexpected twist in the story that takes place between the owl and mouse had me hooked. It was exciting to see how timeless and metaphorical the story felt, but it also revealed something interesting about history – modern day food trucks got their origins from the late 1800’s! On an emotional level, it felt reminiscent of a combination of my favorite childhood books.
Dena: What were your favorite books as a child?
Eric: Some of my earliest memories are having Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak read to me as a bedtime story. Books you love as a child are more than just stories, they fuse with your imagination in a profound way and become an inseparable part of you.
It was the story I wanted read to me literally every night, and every time it reached the part in the story where “ I would feel the same shiver of excitement and possibility. It taught me at a very young age just how transporting and magical a book could be.
Dena: There are many characters in this book. Did you imagine any of them differently from the ones I created?
Eric: When I was originally imagining the story, I was always picturing the owl character as a great horned owl, or the kind of “central casting” owl that usually appears in picture books. It was a nice surprise when you opted to draw a barn owl instead. There’s something a bit more remote and mysterious about barn owls, which added a whole new dimension and atmosphere to the story that seemed less clichéd. It shows the power of collaboration – that sometimes the other person will contribute something you wouldn’t have thought of on your own, which ends up being perfect for the story.
Dena: Thanks, Eric! I remember looking at photos of the original food carts and they had a barn-like shape to their roofs and I think this influenced the barn owl exploration. Barn owls are pretty fascinating. I read that they have the best hearing of any predator ever tested which makes them a little intimidating. I did try sketching a few different possible owl varieties – smaller, larger, narrower, puffier, bigger and smaller eyes etc. I had one owl that looked David Bowie-esque (magical) but, in the end, I also felt that the barn owl had the most mystique and sophistication.
Eric: I love that! As for your illustration process, do you like hearing or not like hearing an author’s opinion of what might be in the pictures?
Dena: I think it can be nice to hear of elements that are important to include and especially with you, Eric, also being an illustrator. Your feedback was very valuable to me. With Night Lunch, I felt like I was given a nice amount of feedback. Tara Walker sent along articles you had read about the original food trucks. This was really helpful reference and also inspiring to see where the spark for your story came from. I remember there being a few specific animal characters you wanted to see in the book in the original notes. For example, the construction crew dining on cinnamon rolls and biscuits inside the lavish Victorian food cart was your suggestion! You had requested a raccoon in homage to the infamous Toronto raccoon community. Our editor suggested including Lunar Moths in the story and I’m so glad because they are some of my favorite characters.
Dena: What is your favourite spread in the final book?
Eric: That’s a tough question because there so many wonderful spreads. One of the first completed spreads I saw was the spread of the night lunch cart itself, surrounded by hungry patrons. That’s remained one of my favorites, just because it was so close to how I had been imaging that scene, it was eerie. I’ve always thought how cool it would be to have a machine that could record your dreams at night, and seeing that spread felt like that, like I was peering into a magical dream. One of my art directors has always said she knows a piece of art is working when she gets goosebumps seeing it for the first time, and the art you did for Night Lunch definitely gave me goosebumps. Two other spreads I love (well, I love all of them) are the spread of all the animals all sniffing the air, and the spread towards the end when the owl first notices the hungry mouse out on the street.
Dena: Oh, that’s so interesting to hear! I think my favorite spread was the owl and mouse dining together at dawn. I was happy with the looseness of this illustration and it’s sense of atmosphere to showcase the overarching theme of antithesis.
Dena: What was the hardest part for you in making this book?
Eric: The hardest part was probably deciding whether to make it a wordless book, or to include some text. As you know, there were two versions of the manuscript and one of them was wordless. There were things I liked about it being a purely visual story, but ultimately, we decided to go with the text version. It was also a new style of writing for me, since I wanted it to be rhythmic and also very spare to give the illustrations a lot of space – so that was another challenge.
Eric: What about you? What was the hardest part for you?
Dena: Aside from being really hung up on how to draw a skunk face at one point, the hardest part, but also the most fun, was The Night Owl food truck. I spent a lot of time developing its character and designing it through research and sketching. It needed to make sense and be spatially consistent as it appears throughout the story from different angles, interior and exterior. When I’m drawing, I take an approach like I do with writing, I don’t edit the first draft at all for details like consistency but I do end up having to refine and catch things later in the process because of this.
Eric: Yeah, I find the same thing with the books we’ve illustrated; it’s always tricky when you have to draw an element (or character) repeatedly and from different angles, vs a stand-alone illustration.
On the subject of process, where and when do you do your best work?
Dena: The fact that I am a bit of a night owl and my schedule revolves around my two energetic young boys means I work some pretty odd hours and have to stay flexible. I do need a guaranteed amount of uninterrupted time to focus so I find tasks that require this work best during late night hours. I have a studio that I work in most of the time (at my desk and tablet) and sometimes I’m working in my garage where I can be really messy.
Dena: How about you, Eric?
Eric: That’s interesting. I’m kind of the opposite. I feel like I’m most creative in the morning, for whatever reason. Unfortunately, my sleeping schedule is a bit wonky, but whenever I manage to wake up very early I tend to get more work done. There’s a feeling of generosity and promise to mornings, and you have lots of time to sit with your imagination. As the day wears on it feels like a clock running down and by the time night comes I feel more anxious and it’s harder to focus on creative stuff. I know it’s probably the opposite for a lot of creators; I can understand how the uninterrupted quiet and solitude of the night would be a nice refuge from a hectic day. I don’t have a separate office or studio, so all my work is done at my desk which is basically my living room.
Night Lunch is published by Tundra Books , September 27, 2022
Eric Fan website
@thefanbrothers on Instagram
Dena Seiferling website
@dena.seiferling on Instagram