I set myself to interview children’s book illustrator Hannah Sommerville at here home at Milton on the NSW South Coast, at the Village Green. The sun fills the park and a rotunda cuts an octagon in the afternoon. She comes down the footpath. As she gets to the gazebo,
she moves to a place on a seat at the other side of the picnic table. I’ve put one of Hannah’s books as a centre piece: Grandma, the Baby and Me, co-created by writer Emma Allen. The cover shows a grandmother holding her grandson; together, they sit on the floor.
I want to know about the conception of her pictures in relation to the words. How does her craft respond to the written word? Is the role of a children’s book illustrator to occasionally undermine the written text with pictures? I think for a second and now I’m leaning towards the idea of the pictures as a complementary, sometimes subversive, language positioned alongside words.
“You have to read between the lines when you’re trying to come up with a concept. You don’t just want to repeat what the text is saying in image. You want to put more of a narrative in illustration,” she says.
“Did Emma at any point sit you down and say this is what I want you to do?” “No. You generally don’t have much to do with the author, the writer I should say. I think a lot of people have the misconception that writers tell illustrators what to draw,” she says. “I think it is a bit of a shocking moment to understand that an illustrator is a sort of storyteller as well.”
“I understand you have children,” I say. “Do you often model your drawings on observations of your own children?”
“I do. So I think about the way they behave and try and capture that in illustrations.”
Ms Sommerville has two books published this year: in January was My Friend Earnest, (also with Emma Allen) and she recently worked on a book with actor Kate Ritchie, which Ms Ritchie was inspired to write after her first child was born. Ms Sommerville takes I Just Couldn’t Wait To Meet You from her folio. “So this has a lot of little hidden messages from my own pregnancy. I really drew from the experience of having children,” she says. “I notice you don’t erase your lines of movement and construction. I really like that.” “I really like those too.”
Ms Sommerville’s father was a potter who taught at TAFE – “which I was very proud of,” she says. “I thought that was the best job in the world.” She says he was probably a very strong influence on her, and her sister, who is also an artist.
“I always wanted to be an artist. Sometimes success is so incremental that I think each stage comes and goes in such a small step that there’s never really that moment of excitement.”
Hannah Sommerville and Emma Allen will read at Storytime Clubhouse at the Bureau of Artistics, Pier 4/5, 11-11.30, on Sunday, May 22