May 27, 2013

A spark, a robot, a whirlpool and a card.

When the new stationery layouts landed in my mailbox a few weeks ago, I knew the "Thank You" card was trouble. I can't say why, but while the rest of them had little sparks of inspiration all over the edges, this card was a big, blank space. I left it for last and moved on with the rest of my work…

If you follow me on Twitter, you know I have a son, Elia or E. as most of my online friends know him. He will be 8 in July. He's curious, imaginative and won't take an easy answer. His questions demand spectacular revelations or something vague and mysterious enough to leave him thinking for a while.
You don't have to be a parent to work as a picture book illustrator. I've always lived the two things separately. For a long time, the illustrating process was just my own big ego trip. It was me, my 6 year old-self and sometimes, a more feminine version of Gaia appearing in my drawings. Then as E. grew older, I started to listen more. Not only he has a lot of questions, but has opinions, plans and most of all, stories!

Two weeks ago, I was finishing a big illustration and part of it was the image of a cycle. I won't go into details, but I had this flat circle and I was trying to avoid using arrows, while giving the idea of movement. Another blank space, no spark at all…
E. asked what it was and I told him the blue circle was water with different life stages of a sea creature. He looked at the screen for a while then pointing his finger and moving it around, said: "Like water in the bath tub." Boom! It was under my nose. A whirlpool!

As I solved this puzzle, I also had an idea for the Thank You card. The old robot needed new batteries and a new spark. A small explorer arrived to help. I had more fun designing this, than any other card in the group. I wasn't reaching out to the princess I've never been as a child, but to a little boy with golden wings.

There are so many things I don't do anymore, now that I am a parent. In the past I used to travel a lot and everything was a little bit easier and more adventurous. I could take risks. These thoughts only lasts a little minute though. Most of the time I'm too busy finding a good answer to the many questions I receive:

- Is a "brown dwarf" a sad star? The guy on tv says it's a star without light, a failed star...
- Is Mercury cold or entirely covered with olives? Not trees, just olives.
- If Mothra lands on our house, will my Flytrap plant be enough to fight it off?
- I think Dante the Elephant has a small phone book, do you know why?
- Do you keep cosmic piranhas in your socks drawer?
- Do you know the cartoonist who draws this comic? Really? Let's send him a note saying "Dude, you're awesome!"
- Would you rather have a daimon or a backpack with tentacles? Answer carefully, both are very cool, but you can have only one!

I don't think you must be a parent to illustrate or write picture books, but if you have one of these creativity bombs walking around your house, listen. Give answers, ask questions, but mostly listen. They have opinions, unexpected solutions, silly plans and most of all, they love a good story as much as you do.


Matt Baldwin said...

Hello Gaia @_matt_baldwin here. Thanks for a terrific blog post. As you know from our tweeting together I have a son Oliver (almost 3). Reading your post I couldn't help but wonder and look forward to what questions my little man is going to ask me as he approaches E's age. E's questions are all awesome, especially his comment on Cosmic Piranhas!

Gaia Marfurt said...

Elia è un portento! :)

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post and a beautiful post!!