Doodles and Drafts – Making merry with Gabriel Evans

Profile (studio) - Gabriel Evans small (507x640)You may already be familiar with Nutmeg, Bay and Saffron but not in a spicy culinary sense. These are of course, the mouseling children of the Woodland Whiskers family who first crept into existence in 2013 when illustrator, Gabriel Evans expanded his creative prowess to pen the Woodland Whiskers series. His illustrating career begun some years before, however at the tender age of 17. With a level of professionalism and artisanship that belies his age, Gabriel is the artistic force behind my Stocking Stuffer Suggestion # 4, The Mice and the Shoemaker.

In a world where more and more is expected for less and less, The Mice and The Shoemaker is a beautiful acknowledgement of the classic fairy tale, The Elves and the Shoemaker, a tale of kindness begets kindness.

The Mice and the Shoemaker CoverIn this retelling, The Whiskers family tragically find themselves without a home just before Christmas. Grandpa Squeak comes to their rescue, allowing them to board with him under the floorboards of an old shoemaker whose acts of kindness have enriched Grandpa’s life for years. In an act of selfless humility, the Whiskers family decide to repay the shoemaker on Grandpa’s behalf (he’s too wheezy to do it on his own anymore) and in doing so, are rewarded with the best Christmas ever.

With a gentleness that warms the heart more effectively than a cup of eggnog and pop-up illustrations that defy belief, this is a true picture book Christmas keepsake. Luxuriously large page spreads, roomy enough to share with your own cluster of mouselings, depict scenes of glorious measure and infinite detail. Action and spirit abound without a hint of pretention or noise. I think it’s this intentional subtly that I find so alluring. I could not imagine the time and discipline Gabriel invests in his projects, so I invited him to the drafts table to delve deeper into his finely crafted world.

Gabriel is a 24 y/o illustrator creating imaginary worlds through a paintbrush. He’s illustrated over eighteen books. The Mice and the Shoemaker is his third in the Woodland Whiskers’ series.

Who is Gabriel Evans? Describe your illustrative-self.

I’m an illustrator working in a studio full of creative clutter.

I paint in watercolours, gouache, ink, pencil, and any other material I can lay my hands on.

When I’m not drawing pictures I’m growing trees and playing catch with my dog.

Woodland Whiskers The PartyOutline your illustrative style. Is it difficult to remain true to this style?

My illustration style changes all the time depending on the project. However, as soon as I start a ‘style’ for a book I find it easy to maintain that look throughout. I normally achieve this by working on all the images collectively.

The Mice and the Shoemaker has a very classic feel to the illustrations and is in fact the first style I taught myself after growing up on the classic illustrators including Arthur Rackham and E. H. Shepard.

The Mice and the Shoemaker revisits a classic Grimm’s fairy tale (The Elves and the Shoemaker). What compelled you to take on this re-telling?

This story has a very positive message of offering kindness to others without being asked.

Hopefully it will make children realise that helping others can make for unexpected and positive return.

How does it differ from the books you have illustrated before?

Pop ups! All my previous books have been 2D. But this book has the 3D component of pop-up. Suddenly I’m having to paint three layers for one scene. Then enters the clever paper engineers who compile the layers into a 3D pop up. How they do it I don’t know, but it looks awesome!

Do youRoses are Blue enjoy the author / illustrating process better than simply focusing on illustrating someone else’s stories? What excites you most about what you do?

I enjoy both scenarios.

When I write the story I have much more creative control. I write stories from a visual point of view. Normally the picture enters my head before the text does.

Illustrating stories for other authors is equally rewarding. I enjoy the challenge of interpreting an author’s idea.

You artwork is intricate in detail inviting exquisite scrutiny. How does technology influence and or enhance your illustrations?

All my work is created traditionally using watercolours, gouache, inks, and pencils. I love working hands on in my illustrations and haven’t yet found a need to introduce a digital component to my art.

What tip would you give kids eager to embark on a career as an illustrator?

You don’t have to wait until you’ve ‘grown up’ to start your career as an illustrator. Start now. Enter drawing competitions, put your work into school papers, and contribute work to art exhibitions.

What’s on the drawing board for Gabriel?

I’ve recently finished the illustrations for a pirate picture book with Walker Books. The author is Penny Morrison.

Presently I’m mid way through illustrating a picture book for Koala Books.

Just for fun question (there’s always one); if you could be a character in any fairy tale, which one would it be and why?

Umm, I would have to say the Little Pig with the straw house. Sure, it gets blown down by the Big Bad Wolf, but I think this pig was eco friendly and trying to reduce his impact on the environment by building with straw. I don’t think he was considering the slim chance of a grumpy passing wolf with epic lung capacity.

Plus as a pig I’d imagine he’d wallow in mud. I can’t think of a more pleasant way to spend an afternoon!

Me neither, glorious! May any wolves that turn up at your door, Gabriel have sustainable intentions and small lungs. Cheers!

Be enchanted by more magical picture books like The Mice and the Shoemaker by visiting Boomerang’s Kids’ Reading Guide 2015 / 2016.

The Five Mile Press September 2015

 

 

Why I Love Heston Blumenthal (Reason #3853764)

He loves fairytales as much as I do.

If you were one of the fortunates to tune in to SBS last night at 8:30 pm, your mind would’ve been blown – as mine was – by the Pumpkin Carriage amuse bouche, the Golden Egg entree, the Boar’s Head main encased in a book of Snow White; or the ‘piece de resistance’, an entire Hansel and Gretel edible house to round off dessert. If your house was on fire or the kids refused to be sent to bed, you may not have seen it – so lucky for you Heston’s latest book:  Heston’s Fantastical Feasts contains all the stuff I, the rest of the foodie nation and the guests themselves were drooling over.

Heston said that his reason for this theme was so that he could ‘re-create the wonder of childhood’, which once again prompted me to think: Why don’t we have more fairytales for adults?

One of my latest reads has been Susanna Clarke’s followup to the brilliant Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell , titled The Ladies of Grace Adieu. Aside from the fact that I was instantly drawn to the cover itself, the filling inside is just as tempting.

Imagine a place very much like Victorian England, with the same social mores and stuffy costumery, but with fairies. Perhaps it existed sometime in history for you (do you believe in fairies?) or it is entirely fiction, but nonetheless Susanna Clarke does a super job of making fairies seem integrated into the Victorian environment, if not society (the fairies tend more to dilly-dally around the edges).

The fairies themselves, interestingly enough, aren’t happy little joys the size of your forefinger who go spreading fairy dust everywhere – they’re more likely to be six-feet-tall, and followed around by imps and goblins. They have all the passions, jealousies and hatreds of the human being magnified tenfold – if you cross them prepare to suffer strange and unusual consequences: perhaps they have a mind to turn you into a tree, or fill your ears with a shrilly ringing so you’ll never think straight again. It’s a thoroughly proper collection of short stories full of wit and whims and fairy trouble, and you can read my full review here, if you’d like.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu really is a gorgeous book to curl up with on a rainy day when the world outside seems like a strange, electric place. And the devotion to 19th century language throughout the book makes it perfect for a recommendation at your next High Tea gathering. Just be sure that none of the other ladies and gents begin to cough into their handkerchiefs or eye you strangely, or you may find you’ve just made yourself a willing target for an undercover fairy who fears being found out.

The Myth of the Children’s Book (Part 2)

“Some day, you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” -C.S. Lewis.

You might (or might not) be surprised to learn that the beloved fairy tale was originally meant for adults as well as kidlets.

Storytellers such as Perrault had Rapunzel pregnant by her hair-climbing paramore; the story of Snow White is said to be the historical real-life story of a girl poisoned by the Queen when the poor girl caught the eye of the King. Truly delightful stuff.

My love affair with the fairy tale goes further back than my swiss-cheese memory can account for. I can’t remember the first time I read Grimms’ version of Cinderella, where her ugly stepsisters cut their heels and toes off to fit the famed glass slipper, or when I first learned that the price to pay for loving a prince is your tongue cut out and an eventual suicide (a la Anderson’s The Little Mermaid).

Eventually I graduated to that masterpiece Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, but it wasn’t until Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Kids, by Jamie Rix, that I was taught some valuable and thoroughly modern lessons in life. Thrills and chills ran down my spine at the mere thought of The Spaghetti Man, who would turn children into macaroni, penne, or even the dreaded linguine! If children’s picture books help us to identify colours and language, fairy tales further develop a burgeoning imagination and a sense of reason. At the time, I lost countless nights of sleep to that burgeoning imagination, but it did have some positive effects for my parents: I forever after gobbled my spaghetti to the last limp noodle, for fear I should hear the scrape of those uncooked spaghetti fingers dragging along the floor towards me…

As for modern fairytales that are less ‘child’s play’, more ‘adults only’:

The Book of Lost Things, by John Connelly, is similar in story to Guillermo Del Toro’s gorgeous film, Pan’s Labyrinth and it’s a truly chilling read. After reading this book I needed some serious Disney movie therapy, to stop me thinking about Little Red Riding Hood spawning werewolves after laying with the Wolf. Nice. And if you haven’t read Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels (a retelling of Snow White and Rose Red) then you are missing out on some seriously beautifully-crafted language.

To finish off – a Mr. Chesterton (poet, essayist, novelist) once said:

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

So you’ve had a rough day at work – your boss has been an absolute dragon, and your mother-in-law can’t resist telling you (for the thirtieth time) how to raise your kids. Now imagine slaying that dragon, or watching a witch with your mother-in-law’s face dancing over red-hot coals – ouch! I don’t know about you, but when I perform that cathartic little exercise, my day feels a helluva lot brighter.

[Disclaimer: In no way am I condoning real-life violence… but gosh, when you really need it to get through a crappy day, isn’t the imagination a marvellous thing?]

Once Upon a Time, There Lived a Book Blogger…

Well, this is exciting.  My very first post in this wonderfully cozy corner of the blogosphere, talking about one of my favourite pastimes in the whole, wide world – books.

About the Blog

‘Poisoned Apples and Smoking Caterpillars’ is geared towards all things fantastical, so this blog’ll include high fantasy; science fiction; gothic Victorian fiction; paranormal fiction; historical and historical fantasy fiction; urban fantasy fiction; fairytales, myths, legends and their retellings… anything magical or removed from our current reality, basically. Fairy godmothers optional, orcs preferred.

The Philosophy Behind the Name

The blog title ‘Poisoned Apples and Smoking Caterpillars’ marries two famous motifs from my all-time favourite tales: no prizes for guessing that ‘Poisoned Apples’ belongs to the Grimm Brothers’ fairytale Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; the ‘Smoking Caterpillars’ part hails from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll (now more commonly known as Alice in Wonderland).

Make no mistake, however – this isn’t a blog specifically about children’s books. Nor is it specifically a young adult focus. This is a blog that will feature the prim, the pretty, the ugly and the bloody, the innocent and the experienced, in equal measure. Apples and caterpillars are fine by themselves, but if they’re poisoned or smoking…well, it’s a whole different matter, isn’t it?

The Authors  I Tend to Gush About

Philip Pullman’s one of them. C.S. Lewis is another. In terms of Australian authors, I pretty much worship Markus Zusak and Margo Lanagan…and if Tim Winton ever decides to write a fantasy, I’ll gush about him on here too.

The Ideal Blogger-Reader Relationship

If I have any choice about it, I don’t want to be the lone voice echoing inside some endless cavern. I’d love to hear your opinions on what I write; criticism (provided it’s constructive); suggestions for future books; book news and gossip; random stories, and anything else you feel like typing in the comments section. Consider this blog a modern, almost entirely democratic version of the Roman Senate – without that whole ‘betrayal of Caesar’ thing…

A Final Confession

To tell you the truth I was a little nervous, writing this first post. It’s a lot of pressure, particularly as I want to be the best blog hostess I can be. I needn’t have worried – if you’ve ventured here in the first place, it’s likely that you love books just as much as I do.

I think we’re going to get along just fine.