I am delighted to be taking part in the Bear Child blog tour. Sanne Dufft, Bear Child’s illustrator, and I met five years ago through the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), at the time she was unpublished. She’s been incredibly busy since then and has written and illustrated several picture books, Bear Child, written by Geoff Mead, is her fourth book. I am so excited by Sanne’s success and love her illustrations, they’re absolutely beautiful.
The Story: Ursula sits on her Daddy’s lap and listens as he tells her about the bear folk. Daddy tells her that all bears are descended from the Great Bear of The Northern Sky. Ursula listens spellbound as Daddy tells a magical tale about relationships between bears and humans and explains how bear children can discover their ‘inner bear’.
Bear Child is a story with fairytale qualities which also conveys an important message, discovering your inner bear can inspire you to do amazing things. It emphasises that we all have different qualities and that however children develop they will all have extraordinary lives. It also introduces the concept of death and fact that nobody lives for ever. Sanne’s gorgeous illustrations complement the text perfectly and add a dreamlike quality to Daddy’s story.
Thank you for visiting Story Snug Sanne and congratulations on the publication of Bear Child. How did you become an illustrator?
Thank you Catherine. I’ve been following Story Snug for a while and I’m so impressed by all you’ve been doing for children’s books!
I always wanted to illustrate, already as a child. I loved everything Astrid Lindgren had written, and I loved Ilon Wikland’s illustrations of her stories. But as I grew older other interesting things came my way. So I lived abroad (in Northern Ireland) for a few years, trained to be a special needs educator, came back to Germany to study art therapy, met my husband, had three children… And rediscovered children’s books with them. When my youngest, who is eight now, started going to Kindergarten I decided that illustrating children’s book was what I wanted to do.
You are a member of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). How important is the organisation for helping you to develop your work?
I am so grateful I found SCBWI! I had just decided to pursue illustration as a career when I learnt about an illustrators’ retreat with Lisbeth Zwerger, one of my favourite illustrators, online. It was hosted by SCBWI Germany / Austria, an organisation I had never heard of. I took part and it was wonderful: I got to learn from an illustrator whose work I admired, and meet fellow illustrators, some, like me, at the beginning of their path, others who had already come a long way. It was amazing to see we were all grappling with the same questions, facing similar challenges. I had expected illustrating would be a somewhat lonely profession but I learned that, thanks to SCBWI, I had become part of a generous and warm community.
I’ve also found SCBWI to be a wonderfully supportive community and the support and friendship comes from members all over the world.
Do you have a favourite location or environment to work in?
I have a studio with a large window to our garden. It’s a very quiet working space, remote from family life.
Could you explain how you create the illustrations for a story? Do you draw by hand first or do you work digitally?
I work completely in traditional media, ink and watercolour. I love the sensual quality of my paintbrush touching the paper and I love never being completely in control of the outcome.
Our favourite illustration shows the bears coming down to earth ‘on threads woven from sunrays and moonbeams.’
Do you have a favourite illustration from the book?
I enjoyed making them all. I guess my favourite one is the one of Ursula and her daddy in Ursula’s bedroom. I like how it has come about: I had been somewhat insecure about painting complex interior scenes. It is the spread which required the most sketches, as the composition was a real challenge to me. The bears on Ursula’s bed are my children’s bears, which had to go on a little outing to my studio, so the scene feels very homey to me. And I just love the intimacy of settling a child for bed, so it was wonderful to try and bring this to life.
I love the idea of including your children’s bears in the story 🙂
Bear Child has been written by another author but you have also written and illustrated your own book, The Night Lion. How different is it to illustrate somebody else’s story?
It is a very different process. Illustrating someone else‘s story is very much a collaboration between the author, the editor, the art director and the illustrator. It is fascinating to be part of this process and to see how all these individuals create a new entity together. Seeing all those different viewpoints can be very inspiring, and I know I create images I would never have created in a different setting.
I loved illustrating Bear Child, because the story resonated with me very strongly. It is very close to my heart, and I love how it is both a timeless story about life, and a narration about a self confident little girl.
When I illustrated my own story, Magnus and the Night Lion, I didn‘t have the inspiration I would have gotten from someone else‘s story and from being part of a team but I had a lot more freedom. I love how my writing is often inspired by a scene I have painted, and my images draw inspiration from something I mght have written.
I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to do both.
We always like to know what authors and illustrators like to read. Do you have a favourite childhood picture book?
As a child, I was surrounded by a lot of beautiful picture books, but I don’t remember one being my favourite. Looking back, I remember being fascinated by one picture book by a Polish artist, Josef Wilkon.
I don’t really remember the plot, but I have very strong memories of the feel of his watercolour illustrations, which were tender and bold at the same time..
Do you have a current favourite picture book?
There are so many picture books I love for lots of reasons! Some I love for their story, others for their illustrations. But when I think of the perfect marriage between words and pictures, it’s always Sendak’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are‘
Can you tell us about any future titles or projects that you’re working on?
At the moment, I’m working on the final illustrations for a collection of fairy tales for a publisher here in Germany and on the sketches for another story I’ve written, ‘Paula Knows what to Do’, which will be published by Pajama Press in Canada in Spring 2019. So, once again, I have both: The joy of collaboration in one project, and the freedom of illustrating my own story!
Thank you so much for answering all my questions Sanne, it’s been really interesting to hear how you work. I’m so excited with the success that you’re enjoying, as an illustrator and as a writer.
Sanne Dufft was born in Darmstadt, Germany. She studied Art Therapy in Nürtingen, Germany, and worked with children with a variety of special needs (and special gifts) in Northern Ireland. Back in beautiful Tübingen in the south of Germany, where she lives with her husband and three children, she has embarked on the adventure of illustrating and writing children’s books.
You can read more about Sanne, Geoff and Bear Child on the other blog tour posts.