Children's illustration finalists for GG Literary Awards

Brilliant and eclectic, detailed and thought-provoking: the five children's illustration nominees for the Governor General's Literary Awards talk to CBC News about their remarkable creations.

From a fantastical reimagining of a classic Canadian tune to an evocative book of "how to's" inspired by the vivid imagination of young ones, the children's illustration finalists for the 2013 Governor General Literary Awards are brilliant and eclectic, detailed and thought-provoking. The five nominees talked to CBC News about their remarkable creations.

Rachel Berman (Victoria), Miss Mousie’s Blind Date

Q: What were your inspirations or guiding influences for Miss Mousie's Blind Date?

A: I realized, working into the book, it was no longer about the issue of personal self-worth, it was more about humanity and how we deal with people. Whatever way God made you, you're fine as long as you live a moral and ethical life. That, to me, is the strength of Tim's book

It isn't so much about identity. It's more about just coming to terms with who you are and living a really well-rounded life.

As soon as I knew [Miss Mousie] was going to do dress up, I thought immediately of Gypsy Rose Lee and how would Gypsy spread herself around. And how would [my late partner] do it?

Q: What was your overall goal in your artwork?

A: All the book [was made] on paper: letters, sketches… McClelland & Stewart went through hoops to let me send things by post, not by email. Everything has been documented on paper — not on email, on a computer. I felt like this book had to be like that. Books are handmade: you hold them.

Gary Clement (Toronto), Oy Feh So?

Q: What were your inspirations or your guiding influences for your drawings in Oy Feh So?

A: My inspiration for these illustrations was my own experience growing in a family very similar to the one Cary writes about in the story. I grew up in a Jewish, middle class home in Toronto and actually had these two aunts — who weren't actually aunts, we just called them that — who came to visit on a fairly regular basis. The uncle in the book is kinda based on my dad.

Q: What was your goal for the pictures?

A: The goal, for this book as with any book I illustrate, is to first honour and complement the text. Beyond that, I feel like it's really important for the illustrations to carry the story along and entertain as they do so. I try to pack as much visually interesting stuff as possible into every picture.

Matt James (Toronto), Northwest Passage

Q: What were your inspirations or your guiding influences for the images in Northwest Passage?

A: There was an exhibition of Alexander Calder‘s work at the Art Gallery of Ontario. I was spellbound and still am by the art he made.

I tried for the longest time to fit something “Calderish” into the book, though in the end I had to give it up. I just don’t make art the way he does and in fact I’d be hard pressed to make any connection at all between the final book and his work, but still he was a guiding influence.

I made trips to both the AGO and the ROM with a sketchbook in hand and Stan Roger’s tune in my head. I looked at paintings by Canadian painters William Kurelek, David Milne, Emily Carr and so many others. I’m sure that each of these artists has had some impact, however small, on this book.

Q: Stan Rogers’s lyrics and the history of the Franklin are in the forefront, but what did you want to achieve?

A: I wanted to be true to Stan. I wanted to be careful not to put words in his mouth, so to speak. And I wanted to try if I could to match the scope of the lyrics and their subject matter. Stan’s song is epic. It covers so much ground lyrically. And when you listen to it, it’s very powerful and emotional.

Songs, once written, take on a life of their own. Through studio and live recordings, through performances in halls, bars and kitchens, they grow and gain meaning. That kind of meaning is something to strive towards, but it’s also a pretty daunting goal. I don’t think you can make a plan for that sort of thing, you just have stay loose and go for it.

Jon Klassen (Los Angeles), The Dark

Q: What was your guiding influence or inspiration for The Dark?

A: When I was doing the book, I was also working as a designer for an animation studio working on sets and props. The best way to sketch these things out is to do a layer that is just linear, showing construction, and then a separate layer underneath showing lighting. It's much easier to make changes to the drawing this way when you get notes. Also, the drawings themselves end up looking a lot like old Maurice Noble backgrounds from Looney Tunes shorts or mid-century jazz art.

For this story, though, a lot of the book is about light changing the space where the boys lives, so you want the light to feel like it's moving across these rooms, like it's disconnected from them. 

Q: What was your goal with your visuals?

A: I was pretty new to picture books when I started doing this one and I was still very excited about getting to use text inside the pictures. I loved the idea of the placement of the text being part of the narrative, instead of just wherever you could manage to fit it into the illustration. I also really like the idea of giving a simple visual idea new context. With the addition of the text, the dark spaces fill up with meaning, which is really what being afraid of the dark is all about. It's not about the dark itself, but what could be in it.

Julie Morstad (Vancouver), How To

Q: What was your guiding influence or inspiration for How To?

A: The inspiration came from my kids .When I started the book they were one, three and 12 years old. I was so immersed in their world of play and the way they see things at that time. Their imaginations are so rich and they don't need much to turn something we might not even see as adults into something else entirely

I love that and wish that as adults we could go into that state more. At the same time, some of the things in the book have aspects of my own childhood memories in them.

Q: What was your goal for the images?

A: The images came very quickly and naturally — the book could have been twice as long. It was kind of a joyful making process and I still wonder if there were different "how to’s” that I should have included. When I'm drawing and making things, I always want to indulge my love of colour, textiles and pattern, so I try to find ways to do that.

Interviews have been edited and condensed.