Q&A with Helen Borten
Helen Borten, creator of books such as Do You See What I See? and Do You Hear What I Hear? was kind enough to answer a few questions about her methods and inspirations.
Did you set out to create concept books deliberately, or did you start with some observations and then develop the content from there? I set out to write one book. My training was in art and, at the time, my primary interest was in illustration. As an illustrator I had already won acclaim and for my first children’s book as author I was searching for an idea that would give widest scope to what I liked to do. Storybooks do not allow the kind of variety I was after, one must draw the same characters over and over. I hit on a concept taught to me by an art teacher before I was in my teens. Do You See What I See? was the result and an instant hit with buyers and critics – and my publishers wanted more! So the idea of a series was born.
When you are working on a manuscript, do you work on the text separately from the illustrations, or both at the same time? (Obviously you would be doing rough sketches and then go back to do the finished artwork later. But do you sketch as you work on the rough draft of the text?) The text always came first and not until it was completed did I even think of the illustrations.
What process did you use to make the printed part of the illustrations? (blocks, screen printing, etc.) The first two in the series were done as monotypes – prints taken from painted glass – with acetate overlays for solids (as opposed to the texture of prints). In later books I added collage to the mix.
Were you limited on the number of colors you could use? Yes. All of the books were limited to 4 colors (including black as one).
Did you conduct any research on the topics, or were the books written from within your own experience? No research. Just the mixture of logic, experience, invention and imagination we call thinking!
What sort of books did you enjoy when you were a child? What were your favorites - titles or authors? Before I could read I was rarely read to and remember no titles from those years. My reading life began with fairy tales. I was passionate about fairy tales, mad about the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, I gobbled up the Red and Yellow and Blue
and whatever-other-color Book of Fairy Tales until there were no more on the shelves of the library.
What advice do you have for young readers who are interested in being authors or illustrators when they grow up? Alas, I have no advice – except keep on reading, writing and drawing and your own self will tell you what to do!