We had the chance to chat with award-winning illustrator Joe Todd-Stanton about his beautiful book ‘The Secret of Black Rock’; the third book penned and illustrated by Joe. Nominated for this years Children’s Book Award, hosted by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups and sponsored by BookLife Publishing, Joe discusses his inspiration, childhood and passion for storytelling.
Why did you choose to become an illustrator?
I was very lucky growing to have two parents who loved and made their own art. So from a young age I was encouraged to draw and paint. As I grew up I wanted to become an animator or a comic book illustrator but after I was given the opportunity to make my first children’s book with Flying Eye the experience was so rewarding I knew illustration was what wanted to pursue above everything else.
At what age did you start illustrating?
My mum still has sketchbooks that as a four year old I used to obsessively fill with pictures of Batman. I think I never really stopped drawing in one form or another from then until now.
Please give us a brief description of your book which has been shortlisted for this years Children’s book awards.
The Secret of Black Rock is about an adventurous young girl called Erin who wants to get the bottom of a local legend; A huge black rock that is destroying fishing boats. When Erin falls into the water after crashing into the rock she discovers there is a lot more to it than meets the eye...
What inspired you to write/produce this book?
I came across an image years ago of something called the Old Man of the Lake. It’s a log that floats upright in Crater lake in Oregon. It was tracked in 1938 and travelled 60 miles in 3 months. I imagined what could be below the surface and I ended up drawing something like Black Rock. Then years later I was in Canada and on holiday and was inspired to draw some of their amazing lighthouses. The two images ended up combining in my head and from that final image I worked backwards to make the rest of the story.
Where do your ideas for new books come from?
It’s very loose. I normally try and spend lots of time in libraries or museums were I am exposed to new things and ideas and then just hope something catches my eye or creates an image in my mind.
What does it mean to you to know that your book was voted for by so many children for this year’s award?
It’s absolutely incredible. The main thing you hope for your book is that it will resonate with the children that read it. So to know that so many not only enjoyed it but chose it for this award is amazing.
Which books or illustrators have inspired you throughout your life and who are your favourite illustrators now?
Maurice Sendak will always be my number one. Not just because of the amazing work he made but he was also an inspirational person. Interviews with him really show how caring and passionate he was about childrens illustration and not making books that were dumbed down or obvious but innovative and touching. In terms of modern illustration I love the work of Emily Hughes, Isabelle Arsenault and Emily Partridge.
Where and when do you choose to create your books?
Up till now I have always worked out of my flat and am definitely more of a night owl when it comes to my working hours but I am trying to change that a little. I now have more of a portable studio so occasionally I work in cafes, museums, libraries and parks (weather permitting) but every now and again I still like hunker down at home for a few days and really get lost in my work.
If you were to offer a child who likes to illustrate stories a piece of advice – what would it be?
That’s a tough question. If I could give one piece of advice to my childhood self I would say to be less precious with your work and just go for it. Try and different styles and make quick little books, paintings, zines. Not everything you make needs to or should be a masterpiece. It’s all about learning new things.
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Joe Todd-Stanton's The Secret of Black Rock illustrations
See the wonderful illustrations of The Secret of Black Rock by Joe Todd-Stanton