Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Varoom 21 Welcome to your Awesome Robot by Viviane Schwarz, Flying Eye Books

Here by popular request, ahem, is the short article I wrote recently introducing Viv Schwarz's new book, Welcome to your Awesome Robot published by Flying Eye Books (about which more soon!) followed by her answers to questions for the Association of Illustrator's quarterly magazine Varoom 21

By the way, Varoom is full of inspiring stuff for illustrators of all specialities and is on sale at a competitive price given the content - the newspaper format helps keep it affordable.  And I love the layout in general too - here's a snap of this spread in the mag,  with a few of Viv's illos  - kudos to the designers!  If you want something more kid friendly about Viv and interaction, then I can recommend Playing by the Book's post - fun!  
Anyway, here's my Varoom piece...

Illustrated children’s books seem to be happily breaking rules these days. You’ll find more and more books with unusual shapes, in formats that don’t conform to the classic 32 page picture book.  And these new books aren’t always guided by story. Many are hands-on spaces for kids to play and think as well as draw and make. 
Behind this, in part, are publishers like Tate Publishing,  Phaidon and now Thames & Hudson.  They began by importing choice books from across the Channel, but increasingly they are creating their own titles and selling more of these format-breaking books in an ideal niche market – the busy museum shop.
Nobrow too, is casting its net wider after establishing an innovative reputation for comics and graphic novels, and it has created its own set of rules, using distinctive and sustainable printing methods and playing with all kinds of formats, striking colour and paper stock.

This month (February 2013)  sees the launch of Nobrow’s Flying Eye Books, their new kids book imprint, which aims to counterbalance e books and apps, with beautifully designed books that will find a permanent place in the home or child’s bedroom. 
It’s fitting that Viviane Schwarz  (creator of the successful There are No Cats in this Book  published by Walker Books), has her latest rule-breaking book, Welcome to your Awesome Robot, coming out as the first of their new titles. Viviane Schwarz mixes genres effortlessly. This one is part comic story, part manual. And it’s a wholly engaging way to furnish kids with ways to think out of the box, literally.  Parents, by the way, are given rules to keep them quiet.
Viviane says she drew this book “digitally without detailed roughs, which was usefully awkward. A bit of awkwardness encourages people to join in creatively because they feel their own work compares well“.
It reminds me of something Matisse said about leaving an awkward chink somewhere in the painting, something  a bit rough that doesn’t quite fit in.  It’s this, he says, that acts like a kind of door into the painting,  to pull you in to really looking and interacting with it.    
I sense there a bit of loosening up these days in illustration approaches more generally. Perhaps it’s in reaction to the deadening polish of the digital tidy-up; a touch of awkwardness, a bit of rough that’s like raw, acoustic music.  It’s also another way of saying “hey come on in and play!”
Viviane Schwarz  Welcome to your Awesome Robot
An exciting picture book for NoBrow's new children's book imprint, Flying Eye Books.

You know when you climb into a cardboard box and it becomes a robot? You always need to explain it to people. Or maybe you need a manual to help you upgrade that robot until its awesomeness is beyond doubt. This is that manual.

Cintiq, Mac, drawing glove, Photoshop… plus a huge felt tip pen and an A3 sketch pad.

I started with some very early memories of my big sister who transformed herself into a vending machine for my birthday, and built on that - with cardboard and tape.
I asked friends who are makers how their childhood projects (or the projects of their children) were organised, and had them triple-check the book for mistakes, especially the workshop rules.

I drew digitally without detailed roughs, which was usefully awkward. A bit of awkwardness encourages people to join in creatively because they feel their own work compares well. A few elements are drawn with a monstercolors marker pen, scanned and sized down: clouds of steam, incidental graffiti, some of the lettering.

There were technical challenges - notably the need for colour separation - but they were enjoyable.

I am expecting the best insights to come when people I've never met start using the book. I know it causes robots, but not what kind, and I can't wait to see.

It's very hard to distract me from cardboard robots. I am quite sure this was the most focussed book project I've ever done.

3 colours - Red, blue, brown. I lost count of everything else involved. I lost count of pages at one point, which was alarming.

The tear-out sheet of workshop rules is the most important part of the book for me. These rules are not just to keep the children safe and everyone reasonably happy, but to keep the adults from taking over.

When I was a child, my parents encouraged me to be creative. They taught me to respect the tools and not to be wasteful, but they would always let me mess things up - learning was more important than "beautiful" results. I want to help others to have that experience.
And I want that manual to exist that I imagined as a child, the one that makes my robot awesome.
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