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.
In 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.
Outline 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 you 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