Tackling an Icon
Sarah Ellis and Nancy Vo
talk about Glenn Gould,
visualizing music, and favourite biscuits.
Sarah: At what moment when you were reading the manuscript did you know you wanted the job?
Nancy: When Nan (at Groundwood) sent the email to see if I would be interested in illustrating your manuscript, I said yes right away. Then I worried immediately afterward because I have no musical background and thought that this might hinder the interpretation of the story. Nan assured me that it would not be a problem – they trusted my vision and research abilities.
Sarah: You've got your own texts to illustrate. What made you say yes to this project?
Nancy: That’s easy. I would not have come up with an idea to make a book about Gould if it were not for your manuscript. It was really a gift to be able to solve the problem of how to complement your vision with the right images, and to also add another layer of interpretation, which was the idea that as Glenn was growing up, Canada was also coming of age as a nation.
Nancy: How was the character in your imagination different from the one I created?
Sarah: I think I'm a gift for an illustrator because I don't really imagine what my characters look like. I often don't know what colour their hair is, for example, because I don't really care. What I care about a lot is how they sound. Which makes it handy for me to do the words and leave the pictures to somebody else! As soon as I saw your pictures of Glenn, that's how I imagined him, with his skinny legs and sweet mouth.
Nancy: Are you tempted to pick up a pencil and start drawing?
Sarah: Always, but it’s just doodling.
Do you like or not like hearing an author’s opinion of what might be in the pictures?
Nancy: Sarah, you have tremendous trust in this process because there wasn’t a single illustrator note. In fact, you tweaked the words of the manuscript to accommodate a certain image that I had in mind – remember the Eaton auditorium spread?
Nancy: Can you name a nice surprise or two in what I added to the story?
Sarah: The motif of the wave, the subtle touches of collage in the backgrounds, the use of gold as an accent colour and, most especially, the clever way you placed Glenn in his historical context.
My favourite spread is Glenn in his boat on Lake Simcoe. The composition, with its explosion of fleeing fish, is just lovely.
What is your favourite in the final book?
Nancy: I really like the cover with Gould’s childhood home on Southwood Drive and the first bars of the Aria represented by the birds on the telephone wires. I tend to like the image that was the most difficult to solve.
Sarah: What was the hardest part for you in making this book?
Nancy: Wondering if I could pull it off well. How about you? The hardest part?
Sarah: Amassing the confidence to tackle such an icon. Do you think you would have liked Glenn in real life?
Nancy: Yes, I think so, although he might have found my lack of musicality a bit confusing.
Rumour has it that he only ate one large meal a day; other times he had biscuits. What is your favourite biscuit? Mine are digestives! And those airplane biscuits “Lotus.”
Sarah: I share the enthusiasm for dark chocolate digestives and I also like Hob-Nobs. And (I say it as shouldn’t) my own home-made chocolate cranberry poppy seed bikkies are excellent (I notice that we’re all using “biscuits” in the British sense, which must have been how GG used it. I don’t think he was eating baking powder biscuits all day).
Sarah: Where and when do you do your best work?
Nancy: Under Pressure (yes, just like the song).
Sarah: For a picture book text the best place for me to work is on a long solitary walk. I need the rhythm.
Nancy: If you could live in ANY house in ANY children’s book, which would you choose?
Sarah: Mr. Badger's house in Wind in the Willows. “The ruddy brick floor smiled up at the smoky ceiling; the oaken settles, shiny with long wear, exchanged cheerful glances with each other; plates on the dresser grinned at pots on the shelf, and the merry firelight flickered and played over everything without distinction.” I'm a sucker for hygge.
Nancy: Who wrote or illustrated some of your favourite books from childhood?
Sarah: The illustrators I remember with most affection are Garth Williams, (especially in The Little Fur Family) Ernest Shepard (Pooh obviously) and Louis Slobodkin (who was the illustrator for our edition of Tom Sawyer).
Nancy: For me, there are so many to choose from, but to this day, I still love Quentin Blake’s illustrations in Roald Dahl’s stories.
Nancy: Glenn Gould's favourite colours were Battleship Grey (#848482) and Midnight Navy (#364450). What is your favourite colour?
Sarah: My favourite colours are Pantone 279, half-way between blue and purple and Pantone 557, half-way between green and grey. I like colours that don’t declare themselves too obviously.
Nancy: Mine are orange and yellow! No specific shades.