Catherine Heard - Author
Where do you live now?
In an artists' loft in downtown Toronto
When did you start writing/drawing?
My mother says that when I was 18 months old I could put the eyes and mouth on a “happy face.”
What is your next project?
I'm working on sculptures and drawings for my next exhibition. I'm also teaching art and collecting ideas. Some of them might blossom into another craft book someday.
What is your favorite book?
Growing up, my favorite books were C.S. Lewis's Narnia series and E.B. White's Trumpet of the Swan and Stewart Little. I've re-read these books over the last few years and enjoyed them as much as I did when I was younger.
I read a lot of fiction in my spare time. One book I recently read that made me laugh out loud was Cold Comfort Farm. My boyfriend and I read it at the same time and spent a fair amount of time arguing about whose turn it was to have the book --- I guess we should have bought two copies!
Do you have any pets?
Unfortunately I'm allergic to cats, otherwise I would probably have one. I also love dogs, particularly miniature dachshunds.
What is your favorite hobby?
Reading, cooking and gardening. I also like going for hikes in the city or on the Bruce Trail when the weather is good.
What was your training or schooling?
I studied art at the Ontario College of Art. I also take French classes at the Alliance Française.
How did you get involved with children's books?
In 1985 and 1986, I worked for two summers in a Government of Ontario sponsored program called “The Young Canadian Writers Workshop.” The first year I illustrated children's books and the second year I was a coordinator for the program. We wrote and made children's books that were donated to a local library. One of the books produced in the workshop, called Boys Don't Knit, was published by a small Toronto press.
Do you have any tips for young creators?
The more things you make, the more ideas you will come up with and the more skilled you will become. When you are creating, one thing leads to another. So, even if you think the thing you just made didn't turn out the way you had hoped, it is still important that you made it. It will give you other ideas for things to make and might lead to something wonderful.
What is the thing you like the most about creating kids' books?
I enjoyed coming up with the characters of the puppets. It was a challenge to make nine characters that were completely different and that could also be adapted by the reader to create their own new characters. A lot of the puppets can be changed a little to make completely new animals or people. For example, the horse could be changed a little bit to turn it into a giraffe, a dog or even a rhinoceros; and the princess could be turned into a nurse, a circus performer or even a scary witch.
How do you research or create your illustrations?
In the initial stages of creating the book, Jill and I looked at as many other books about puppets as we could find and also at images from the picture files at the Toronto Reference Library. We also visited David Powell of Puppetmongers, who I met teaching a program called ArtsReach a few years ago. David is a puppeteer who puts on wonderful shows and he also has a collection of shadow puppets from around the world. He told us a lot about how the puppets were made and how the performances are staged in different countries. He also loaned us some of his puppets so that we could take pictures of them for the book.
Where do you get your ideas?
I get a lot of my ideas from reading and looking at pictures in books. I also like to go to the museum, the theater, the opera and to art galleries. When I get an idea I write it down in my sketchbook so that I won't forget it. If I don't have my sketchbook with me when I get an idea, I sometimes write the idea down on a piece of paper and glue it into my sketchbook later. This means my sketchbook is pretty lumpy, but I don't really worry about how it looks. The ideas inside are the important things. I fill up a sketchbook about every eight to ten months and I look back at the old ones regularly to remind myself of what is in them and to select ideas to develop further.
What materials do you work in? What is the difference between different materials?
As a sculptor, I work mostly with fabric, wax and other soft materials. But I also paint and draw. I like experimenting with new techniques and try to learn new things with each project. I think this is one of the reasons I enjoyed creating the shadow puppets for the book. Each one presented a new challenge to be solved.
What is your greatest childhood memory?
My summers up north at my family's cottage were very special times. We didn't have a television, so instead we spent a lot of time playing on the beach or building forts in the forest and visiting my grandparents who had a cottage next door. On rainy days we played Monopoly, read books or made things with clay in my father's pottery studio. Every week I looked forward to going into Burk's Falls to visit the library and choose new books.
When you were little what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was very young, I wanted to be a horse. I spent a lot of time galloping around our yard and jumping over things. Then for a long time I wasn't sure what I would be. It wasn't until I was about eighteen that I decided that I wanted to be an artist. I think the main thing that helped me make that decision was going on a student exchange to South Africa. The school that I went to there didn't offer art classes. When I realized how much I missed making things that year, it became clear to me that it was what I wanted to do after I left school.
What is the weirdest or most interesting job you've ever had?
I used to make props for television shows. One of the shows I worked for occasionally was “Goosebumps.” The props for that show were always fun to make because they had to look a little scary, but funny at the same time. One of the favorite props I made for them was a giant pile of glow-in-the-dark, green and purple skulls with jaws that moved. I made the jaws move by attaching them with springs and the kind of cable used in bicycle brakes, so that they could be operated from a distance, and it looked like they were moving on their own.