How did the Idea for your children’s book come about?
The idea for Gertrude came while myself (Jessica Dean) and Marc Eiden were preparing a pitch for an animated music video. The clip fell through, but the idea wouldn’t let go, so Jessica set to writing a first draft.
Marc and I have worked together many times over the years - on animations, short films, video clips and other writing projects - but I always had a desire to create a children’s book.
Once the story was a solid first draft, Marc began drawing the illustrations and then the pair set to bringing his images into the computer and to transform them into their final form.
A major consideration was how all three elements: story, illustrations and design could come together - it was important that all elements of the book really sing and that was where the broader collaboration evolved, including Sean Hogan and Kim Aleksandrowicz of Trampoline Design.
Being a non-writer myself, I am always intrigued as to where you would start in writing a book?? The mind boggles – did you already have the story in your head?
When I write, my ideas always start with images. Then I think about how I can interpret what I’m seeing in my head and transform it into story. In the case of Gertrude, the story needed to be compelling and exciting and create a world that children would want to explore. It is not a traditional picture book in the sense that it’s quite a long story and there are some ‘big’ words weaved in - but I don’t think you should ever dumb things down for children. Learning is a wonderful experience and getting lost in a book is one of the best things going. I really do hope children and grown-ups enjoy it.
Marc your illustrations are amazing!! Can you tell me a bit about your process and your technique ‘visual sampling’ – what’s that all about?
From the get go, I really wanted the images to be tactile, textured, to feel alive and jump off the page.
For the artwork I worked with Jess, which was great to bounce ideas and also it was great to collaborate, share ideas and the workload and it was great to see what Jess had come up with.
Every element of each character and all the backgrounds are made up of photographs of textures. You can easily see the textures in some of the images, but not all and I hope kids try and guess which textures were used and have some fun with it.
I come from a background of art and hip hop and the artwork for Gertrude was very similar to traditional sampling. We took little bits from all over the place and it took time to find all the right elements to make it work, I guess it was like a kind of visual sampling. It’s taking the traditional collage technique that was used so well in books like the hungry caterpillar and turning it up to 11.
The thing I love most about Gertrude is that all the elements appear to work seamlessly together. I know this is something you were working hard to achieve. For this you brought in a professional designer Sean Hogan from Trampoline Design. How did this work to create the look you were trying to achieve?
The job of the designer is to compile the total book and make it whole. The task was two fold: to compile the illustrations and make sure they read succinctly in the layout and also design the typography so it equaled the illustrations.
They key is to get a marriage between the illustration and typography right. I wanted the typography to be another character, another illustrative part of the book. Typefaces have voices and character and are kind of imbued with their own history.
I developed a series of rules that I applied throughout the book and very quickly the typography started to bounce around and have it’s own voice - in a concrete poetry kind of way. But I also wanted it to retain some timelessness – an echo of classic children’s books.
The best part is that we’ve put our own individual thoughts of what Gertrude should be, but its been a true collaboration where the product is the most important thing, not just each of our opinions. The second you remove ego from the equation, is when you are all working towards the same goal, no matter what the process or what’s required for you to do.
You decided to self publish Gertrude. To do this you pulled in Kim Aleksandrowicz from Trampoline Design – what have you learnt from this collaboration?
Save your money. And plan as much as you can. It’s always much more difficult to work on the fly and try to put out fires all the time. If you have an idea in your head, it’s much easier to take those steps and project in the future what you need to do. You need to do your research and you need to be flexible.
Collaboration seems to be integral to your process. How do you feel this has added to your work?
Marc and I have worked together many times over the years and we bring different things to whatever project we work on but a commonality is our desire for quality and difference. Marc has such an open mind and he is so full of ideas. 90 per cent of the collaboration for Gertrude was with Marc and without Marc the book as it is just wouldn’t exist.
I also had the privilege of working with Sean Hogan & Kim Aleksandrowicz of Trampoline Design and Gertrude has benefited hugely from their ideas, influence and dedication.
We had a really clear idea of what we wanted the book to look like, but Sean was instrumental in guiding us through the process and taking the project to a higher level, so we ended up with such a beautiful end product.
Kim has also been integral. Her advice and knowledge guided me in all the right directions and thanks to Kim the book is printed on the stock it is – which has just come up so beautifully.
I was really lucky to collaborate with such talented people who came onto this project with a lot of generosity and honesty. Working with them has been absolutely brilliant. I think when you collaborate you do need to work with people you trust and respect. It can be a tricky thing, but for me it was about giving them as much freedom as I could because it had to be an enjoyable process for them also.
I feel very privileged that everyone was willing to give huge amounts of their time to my story and take it beyond me and make it something that belongs to all of us. We all created it. It’s a very rare and powerful thing and I’m very humbled.