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Whimsy & Seductive Tactility!!

Gillian Sze and Claudine Crangle talk about touching others when we communicate

Gillian: A successful collaboration always involves good timing, artistic kinship, and a little bit of magic or luck. At what moment when you were reading the manuscript did you know you wanted to take on this project?

Claudine: Probably from the moment I read the title!

Green is my all-time favourite colour, and – I know this sounds weird… but I actually have a COLLECTION of envelopes! When I read the main character was named Olive, I was hooked. The only thing getting in the way of saying yes to this project was my fear that I wasn’t going to do your story justice. I’ve never illustrated someone else’s work before so all my insecurity monsters came calling. A long chat with our publisher helped me see that you were both willing to let me play to my strengths.

Gillian: Oh, I love that you were already a collector of envelopes! What a great sign! I also had no idea that you never worked with an author before because we worked so effortlessly together over this last year. So, after speaking with Groundwood, what was the hardest part for you in making this book?

Claudine: My first challenge was figuring out how to make an animated envelope that didn’t feel cartoonish. How could I show its emotions and make it relatable - but still let it be an envelope?

One of the solutions was to make the people overtly paper as a way of bringing Olive and Little Green together. This made a few scenes more challenging, but overall, I think it added another fun layer to the story.

Doing roughs for this book was also a bit of a challenge and required a real leap of faith on everyone’s part. As I would be “building” many of the spreads for the book in 3D – my drawings were pretty rudimentary. There was one spread in particular, where Grandpa reaches for an envelope in the drawer that required MANY attempts both in design and execution. It’s a dramatic moment, and I had a lot of help getting that one just right!

Claudine: I’m thinking you must have cringed when you saw my initial pencil sketches. I tend to keep things pretty open ended at the early stages, as even I don’t know exactly how things will look when built. How was what you’d imagined as you wrote different from what I ended up creating?

Gillian: First off, what you created for The Little Green Envelope far surpassed what I imagined for the book! I remember seeing those sketches and was already curious and impatient to see how it would all be built!

When I was writing this story, I envisaged something two-dimensional and painterly. This was not really out of preference, but simply because I had no inkling that the art could be rendered in three dimensions. When we were at the stage of thinking of an artist for the manuscript, Karen Li [Groundwood editor] had just finished working on The House Next Door with you. She put your name (and your name only!) forward. Needless to say, I was blown away by the whimsy and seductive tactility of your paper creations. The Little Green Envelopecelebrates the materiality of communication, which is now lost with DMs, texts, and emails, and your approach and style fit the story perfectly.

Claudine: Your poetic language provided so many great creative opportunities.

Were there any surprises in what I added to the story with my visual translation?

Gillian: There were so many surprises along the way!

I love how your art takes advantage of what is communicated when it comes to the envelope. I named the character Olive, but I like how you pushed it further and thought about her friend’s name as well as street names and cities. I mean, of course this would all be written on the envelope! These sorts of details didn’t make it into my illustration notes, so it was wonderful to have someone like you thinking about them.

I connected the envelope character and Olive through the colour green, and you enhanced that when you used complementary colours to signify the friendship between Olive and Cora. Brilliant. And I love how you came up with their respective last names, Zhi (Chinese for “paper”) and Cartone (Italian for “cardboard”), to play up the materiality of the post as well as your own artistic process.

Finally, an envelope not only has an addressee, but also an address. You chose Cora’s street name and kindly invited me to choose Olive’s. There was this sweet parallelism between the characters in the book corresponding and the two of us collaborating. It was also neat to have a little personal “easter egg” in there, and I’m glad I could pay homage to a special street in my life.

Gillian: I’m always curious to learn how writers, illustrators, and book-makers in general find their paths. Your style of art is so arresting: charming, delicate, and elaborately constructed. Who created some of your favourite books from childhood?

Claudine: I was a picture book reader back in the early 70’s – so our local library was stocked with great works from the 1960s. Back then lots of books were still done with mainly black and white images and two or three spot colours, like Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham. I actually remember being impressed with how much they could do with so few colours. I also adored the sensitivity of the Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel. As I write this, I can see where my love of the colour green may have come from!

Claudine: You are a prolific writer, Gillian - you must have some great work habits! I’d love to know your secret. Where and when do you find you do your best work?

Gillian: I wish I had a secret! Since having kids I’ve had to change the way I work. Now I work on the go, while walking someone to school, or sitting on a bench at the playground. I think my favourite times are when I’m completely alone at home (rare moments!), but the most productive would have to be in that last hour before I have to stop everything and pick someone up.

visit Claudine's website

visit Gillian's website


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