A Visit with Chris Haughton,
Whom I May Quite Possibly Serve Cake for Breakfast

h1 March 21st, 2012 by jules

To say that designer and author/illustrator Chris Haughton (Ireland-born, but now living in London) has a no-nonsense artistic style all his own would be an understatement.

Back in January at Kirkus, I wrote about Haughton’s latest picture book, Oh No, George!, released by Candlewick this month. Haughton’s debut picture book was called Little Owl Lost (Candlewick, 2010), and—as I wrote in that Kirkus column—in both books, his digital illustrations are very stylized. These are child-like shapes, minimal backgrounds, quirky characters with ginormous eyes and a limited palette, all initially created with pencil.

And his books make me laugh.

In 2007, Chris was listed on TIME magazine’s “Design 100″ list for the work he does for People Tree, which he discusses below. He has also taught illustration in Ireland, Hong Kong, Korea, and India.

Right now, Chris is in the midst of a global blog tour, courtesy of Candlewick. He’s stopping by some cyber-homes in both the UK and the U.S. (You can see the entire list at the bottom of this post.) I’m happy that one of his stops is here at 7-Imp today. I pulled out some of my best (and, ahem, better-designed) coffee mugs for our chat. And I’m sprinkling some of his illustrations and design work into this post, some of them editorial illustrations.

I thank him for stopping by.

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Jules: What made you want to tell George’s very funny story?

Chris: I wanted to draw pictures of accidents happening. Before and after. It was one of the most engaging things I could think of for the very young. I was looking at ways of making a story around it. It was originally going to be called Oh No! about cause and effect. I drew George, and it seemed funnier to have a character to blame. It’s his character that pulled the story together.

{Editor’s Note: For those interested, Chris blogged in more detail about this book’s making-of over here at his site. Below are two early sketches/drawings from the book.}


Jules: What is as tempting to you as cake is to George?

Chris: Staying for one more drink is always very tempting, sleeping in, lots of things; in fact, most things I do could probably do with a bit more self-control. One of the things I get most annoyed with myself these days is finding something really interesting on the internet when I should be working.

Jules: Tell me about your studio or where ever you make art. Do you listen to music while you create your illustrations?

Chris: I live in my work studio, rather than working from home. For the last seven years, since I went freelance, I used to live with 3-4 others in a warehouse in east London, and it was a nice mix of artists and film-makers. But I have recently moved with my girlfriend next door, and I am appreciating the calm. The whole building is a nice mix of people, and I would find it hard to move out of that environment. Freelance work is quite hard sometimes, and it’s nice to have others in a similar situation around — and good to be able to collaborate.

I listen to music about a third of the time. When I am coming up with the story or animating or something that requires concentration, I usually have no music. Coloring or working on the characters, I can work with only half my brain, so I like to listen to music or podcasts.


“Harry is going out. ‘Will you be good, George?’ asks Harry.
‘Yes,’ says George. ‘I’ll be very good.’”

Jules: Publishers Weekly noted your “carefully disciplined visual and verbal economy” in one of their reviews. How long does it take to achieve that economy? You start out with pencil, yes? Do you do tons of sketches for each illustration?

Chris: Yes! The pacing really does take a very long time and lots of back and forth. The actual illustration doesn’t really take that long to do. The thing that takes ages is working out how to tell the story visually across the page and with the right text and trying to make it so that there is something engaging working on each page.

Jules: What picture books did you read, if any, as a child, and which illustrators did (or do) you find most inspiring? (Or which were the most influential on your work?)

Chris: I was obsessed with the Muppets, and I had a Muppet annual from about 1980, which was read to me over and over. We also had quite a few Mr. Men books. I also remember a little golden book, called Tuffer (Betty Ren Wright), about a deer, which had really nice, brightly-colored illustrations of forest scenes, which I think I was subconsciously referencing for Little Owl Lost.

These days I like Leo Lionni for his simplicity. Whenever I feel I’m overcomplicating something, I will look at some of his books and see how it can be done more simply. I really love Kitty Crowther’s and Beatrice Alemagna’s work for their drawn details and patterns. I love the humor and subject matter of Dr. Seuss.

Many of my favourite illustrators are French: Chamo, Marc Boutavant, Olivier Tallec.

Jules: On that note, are there specific experiences that formed the essential basis, the fundamental building blocks, of your artistic vision? (And I mean things such as, books, movies, artists, events, images, etc.)

Chris: Reading Naomi Klein’s No Logo and other books, while I was studying a course in graphic design, really turned me off a lot of graphic design.

Teaching very young children in Hong Kong, I think, helped me get an idea of what would and wouldn’t be engaging. I often find myself thinking back to that classroom and imagining the class reactions to the story when I am trying to write. I had an art and drama class, and we used to read picture books and then act them out. We would choose our characters from the stories and rehearse them and then record ourselves on a tape recorder, which was great fun. Some books worked much better than others, though, and it became easy to tell which ones would work.

Jules: What do you, as an artist, find most challenging and satisfying in the creative processes you employ?

Chris: I never thought I would say this, but I find coming up with the stories the most satisfying now. Previous to writing Little Owl Lost, the thought of writing made me very uncomfortable. Now I find it the most fun part of the process, because you really don’t know what will happen. I think now, once the idea is in place, much of the rest is quite predictable to some extent, so that takes some of the fun out of it.

Jules: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?

Chris: I really want to do nonfiction. I have an idea to explain ideas and histories with nice infographics and little ant-like characters. It would be a little like a cross between Richard Scarry’s busy world with Edward Tufte’s infographic books. I had the idea to do that before I came up with the idea for Little Owl Lost, and I want to follow up on that soon. I loved nonfiction as a child, especially anything with diagrams and maps. I think there would be room to do a series of nicely-designed books of engaging infographics for young readers; it’s the graphic designer side of me that gets very excited about it.

Jules: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you? Feel free to ask yourself here.

Chris: I’m always happy when I’m asked about the fair trade work, because I’m very proud of it. I’ve been working with the fair trade company People Tree and others for the past eight years, and I think the work they are doing is really fantastic. They work with women’s shelters and other development projects around the world and try and provide income to disabled/illiterate or other disadvantaged peoples. Many of their products are bought as gifts, so the design is important. It is a very satisfying thing for a designer to be involved in.

Jules: What’s next for you? Any books you’re working on now you can tell me and 7-Imp readers about?

Chris: I’m very proud of my next book, Don’t Worry, I Have A Plan!, which is about three clown-like characters trying to catch a bird with a net. The entire book is monotone, except for the bird, which is very brightly-coloured and hides in the monotone forest. They never catch the bird, so I suppose it’s a little like the Road Runner cartoon, but it’s done in a very graphic way—more graphic than my other two books—and it’s a lot of fun to draw.

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OH NO, GEORGE!. Copyright © 2012 by Chris Haughton. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

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Here’s the rest of Chris’ blog tour schedule, for those who want to read more from him:



 

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Here are George’s struggles caught on camera:

 



 

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OH NO, GEORGE!. Copyright © 2012 by Chris Haughton. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

All other images/illustrations used with permission of Chris Haughton (with the exception of the No Logo and Tuffer book covers).

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14 comments to “A Visit with Chris Haughton,
Whom I May Quite Possibly Serve Cake for Breakfast”

  1. I have been waiting to see what you’d ask Chris ever since I saw you were a stop on the tour, and I’m not disappointed. Very interesting to read the writing the stories is now the most satisfying part of the process for Chris.


  2. Oh, boy, the kids are going to love this book. I can hear them laughing already. Thanks for a great interview.


  3. Great interview. I love Oh No, George! and enjoyed how you addressed Haughton’s reduced colour palette


  4. I love this interview, and the book looks so great. It will definitely be a hit.


  5. making every page engaging is the blessing and curse of a designer/author/illustrator…definitely lots of thinking going on (maybe i need to play less music and use more brain power). lol. smiles!


  6. I can’t wait to read Oh No, George! I was just talking with a group of fourth grade teachers today about using picture books to teach reading comprehension strategies. Sounds like Oh No, George! needs to go on their list for cause and effect!


  7. Can’t wait to read OH NO, GEORGE. His expressions made me laugh. Love what he said about the writing and initial idea being the most fun.


  8. Thanks, all.

    Stacey: YES! Wonderful idea.


  9. Just reserved both of these at the library. Can’t wait! Thanks for the excellent interview.


  10. Chris, I love your work. My ten-year-old son and I howled at Oh No George! and I encourage you to get to work on your nonfiction idea, it sounds really interesting and my son is a huge nonfiction fan. I haven’t encountered the word “infographic” before, very intriguing! Thanks for the interview.


  11. What a wonderful and insightful interview.

    i think it shows through in Chris’ books that he had taught children. I’m really pleased to learn that he thinks about his class when working on a book.


  12. Just saw Oh George this past week and totally loved the story and art — that bold graphic look. Thanks for the interview and showing me more about his art. Off to visit his website now.


  13. Oh No, George came in to my library this week and has quickly become a staff favorite (as in my coworkers are all passing it around and reading it to each other). I put some more copies on order, and I’ll be reading it in my storytimes next week. I’m really looking forward to the kids’ reactions.


  14. I ADORE Chris’ work. He’s also a really lovely genuine fellow.
    I watched UP again last week and wondered if George was at all helped along by the dog in it called Doug ( the way it thinks out loud and announces the way it is feeling and what it’s going to do next ) I’d be interested to know


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