Have you had the opportunity to read Saint Felix and the Spider yet?
It is a wonderful picture book written by Dessi Jackson and illustrated by Lydia Grace Kadar-Kallen and made its debut a few months ago back in November 2013.
Well, today I have the long awaited, much anticipated interview with the book's fabulous illustrator who was kind enough to answer a few questions about herself and the process of illustrating her first publicly available picture book.
It is with great pleasure that I share with you this interview with Lydia Grace.
Let's start off with you telling us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Lydia Grace Therese Kadar-Kallen. I have been homeschooled all my life and graduated from high school in 2013. I like to draw, paint, scribble, scrawl, watch birds and read books. I am a native Pennsylvanian and therefore, my heritage is the Liberty Bell, Shoo-fly pie and the 28th Infantry Division. On the other hand, I am half Hungarian and therefore my heritage is eating piskota, paprikas and purple cabbage.
Saint Felix and the Spider was a delight to read! I was especially captivated by the detail of your illustrations. Tell us about the research you did in order to accurately portray the story's location and time period.
I did research on Roman villages, houses, clothing, headgear, Italian birds, etc. For instance, I figured out what kind of spider I thought Fidelis could be and did research on Araneus diadematus and web building, looked up pictures, and observed the local spider population on the windows.
For the soldiers, I had a page on the computer with Roman helmets and armour from different times. I had on hand while I was painting three piles of reference books: animals (birds, goats, chickens, cats, arachnids), plants (mainly for roses and trees), and Romans (a book on Roman life, books with paintings from the Great Artists on saints and early A.D. scenes for costumery). I also had a bird magazine with excellent photos of a cave.
Tell us about the process of interpreting author Dessi Jackson's words into pictures.
I started by reading the story slowly and watching the pictures come a'leaping into my head. We divided up the text and printed it out life-sized. Then I cut it up into text blocks for each page. I made loads of sketches of all sizes to get the composition right to my liking with room for the words.
Meanwhile, I thought about lighting and making each picture get the right feeling and making it noisy or ominous or a happy peaceful morning frying bacon. I proceeded to pencil sketch on the real paper and then paint. Oh, and then I redid a bunch of pictures more than once. I had my sisters pose for me doing things like wearing robes, holding brooms and cooking over an imaginary fire.
What media did you choose for the story and what is your favorite media to use in general?
Watercolor, because it's just about the only one I use most of the time and also my favorite.
What aspect of illustrating did you find the most challenging and why?
Composition. It was hard to make the pictures do what I wanted in the allotted space. I also was always trying to make sure Fidelis the spider was big enough in the pictures that you kept noticing her, but trying to make sure the story was also about Saint Felix.
Who are some of your favorite authors and illustrators whose work has inspired you?
Authors: Tolkien mainly. Rosemary Sutcliffe's novels were good for Saint Felix and the Spider because they make Roman times wake up and do things. Walt Whitman and A. Lincoln, which I was reading while (supposedly) illustrating.
Illustrators: Trina Schart Hyman, Garth Williams, Alan Lee in particular because he does watercolor and proves that it can be done. As to artists and illustrators outside of picture books: L.A. Fuertes, Roger Tory Peterson, Norman Rockwell, Jason Tako, J.J. Audubon, 18th Century Americans like West, Peale and Sully. Ned Smith. Pre-Raphaelite artists and the Hudson River School.
I don't know how much this has to do with illustrating Saint Felix and the Spider but a whole throng of artists combined results in a starving after a huge idea of 'good art.'
What keeps you focused while you are illustrating?
Listening to music helped. It was usually celtic harp.
Anyone who is a long-time reader of your family's blog Pondered in My Heart knows that you all are big tea drinkers. What is your favorite beverage and snack of choice while you are illustrating?
Chocolate while thinking up compositions and tea while painting. While working hard on a painting, I'd forget everything else and absentmindedly dunk the paintbrush into the cup of cold tea. I always have to use non-toxic paints. That's a good thing about watercolor. You can drink it and it tastes harmless. If you get acrylic paint in your tea, you have to dump the whole cup.
Thank you, Lydia Grace for this interview and for providing photos of your illustrating process.
I can't wait to see more of your projects in the future!
The Kadar-Kallen family has generously offered to give one copy of Saint Felix and the Spider, signed by Lydia Grace, to one blessed reader.
Feel free to come back before then though. We would love to have you around. :o)
Go behind the scenes of Saint Felix and the Spider at Quis Ut Deus Press.