Interview and Photos Written and Compiled by Jasmin Thankachen
David Litchfield is an illustrator of many books. His award-winning picture book, The Bear and the Piano, was his first author/illustrator children's book. This beautifully drawn narrative tells the story of a bear who discovers a piano in the woods and has a subsequent adventure traveling to the city, then finding his home, the place where he truly belongs. PopUp StoryWalk had the good fortune of interviewing this author who had amazing things to share about his work. Read more about Litchfield's drawing process as well as how he came up with The Bear and the Piano story. Take the trail at Brightwater Park in Woodinville to experience our StoryWalk with Bear through the woods!
Be sure to check out David Litchfield's Facebook page: David Litchfield Illustration and his website: davidlitchfieldillustration.com. His latest book, The Bear, The Piano, the Dog and the Fiddler will be published on September 6, 2018. Visit your local bookstore or our partner The Neverending Bookshop to purchase your copy.
1) How did you come up with the idea for The Bear and the Piano? Why was it important for Bear to return home?
I sketch all of the time in my sketchbook and one night I happened to draw a really scary looking bear playing the piano. Once I drew it, I wanted to know the story behind it and that's where the main narrative came from. Also, the idea of the bear going out of its natural habitat and following his dreams, even though it was really scary, was something that I felt could resonate with a lot of people.
I think that it's important that he come home to the forest and sees that no matter how far away he travels he will always have that support and love to come back to from time to time.
2) What motivates you to write and illustrate children's books and not other genres? What is it about children's books that make it so exciting for you?
I love the form of children's books and how you can just let your imagination run wild. Children are much more willing to go with a story and find out where it takes them. I love that. We can start a book with 'One day a Bear finds a piano in the woods...' or 'There's a secret Giant living in our town and no one can see him...' and kids will accept that they are in this magical new world and go with it.
3) How did you know you wanted to be a writer/illustrator? And what did you do to launch your career?
I have always drawn since as far back as I can remember. We didn't have computer games in my house or much of anything so my mum bought home tons of blank paper from work which would keep me entertained for hours on end. I would create comics for my older brother and sister or just draw characters and scenes and I just had the most amount of fun. Anyway, it wasn't until I was much older that I realized that I could actually do that as a job.
When I really committed to becoming a full time illustrator, I really thought about what area I wanted to focus on. I kept thinking back to the joy I felt getting lost in the artwork of 'Where the Wild Things Are' and 'The Moomins'' and how much these books inspired me when I was really young.
I thought about how great it would be to be given the opportunity to create my own picture books and I still pinch myself and can't quite believe that I am actually doing that now. There is so much scope to let your imagination really fly within children's books and the limitless visual possibilities really drew me in.
4) Who are your literary influences, favorite authors, and what is the last book you read?
I think I do subconsciously Uderzo, Sendak, Herge, Tove Janson etc were all so influential in my childhood. Not just from copying their drawing style when I was young, but also just from their books just being around and me devouring their artwork so much.
But another great influence on me growing up were films. Films were another thing that both me and my brother obsessed about. As a child of the 80s I was prime age for the VHS generation and again my mum would let us watch films to keep us entertained for a few hours. In fact, Steven Spielberg is probably one of the overall biggest influences on my books to be honest. His use of light and how the shots are framed in his films very much inspire my drawings.
In fact the last book I read was Lynch on Lynch which is interviews with the great film director David Lynch.
5) What was your inspiration behind the beautiful drawings in The Bear and the Piano? What is the process in creating such eye-catching spreads?
I make lots and lots of water color washes before scanning them into my computer and then combining them in Photoshop. These generally become the background. I then draw out all the characters etc and place them over the water color washes.
I tried to make the spread in the forest feel as natural and warm as possible. So used lots of browns, yellows, and greens. Then when he's in the city the colors and textures are a bit more harsher and unforgiving. I think a lot of the story can be told through visuals and it's important to consider colors and light and textures as another important factor in moving the story forward.
6) What is your favorite memory of the outdoors?
Near where we lived in Bedfordshire, England was a place called The Spinney, which was basically a stream running through a small wood but that was the setting of many epic and daring adventures between me and my friends. I try to get into nature as much as possible and myself and my family will go on long walks in the woods or bike rides as much as we possibly can.
7) Many children will be walking the trail to read your book. They will be inspired by your story and your work. What would you like to tell them?
This is such a lovely thing to hear. I still can't quite get my head around the fact that the book I drew and wrote when we were living in our cramped little apartment in our small British town is now read by kids all over the world. It's a real dream come true. My advice to them is to follow your dreams and see where they can take you. And also try and have as many different adventures as possible :)
Early illustration of The Bear and the Piano taken from Litchfield webpage