Janet Perlman - Author/Illustrator
Janet Perlman lives in Montreal and is a writer and director of short and funny animated films. Her work has received international acclaim, including an Oscar® nomination and many festival grand prizes. She has worked extensively with the National Film Board of Canada, and now has her own production company.
She is also a writer and illustrator of children's books, some of which have been based on her animated films. Cinderella Penguin, The Emperor Penguin's New Clothes and The Penguin and the Pea are all "penguinized" versions of well-known fairy tales. Her latest book, The Delicious Bug, will be published in 2009, and is based on her award-winning film, Dinner For Two. It is not about penguins.
As a child Janet wanted to be a geologist or a stewardess. Her first job consisted of putting scented plastic roses into plastic bags. None of this portended a career in books and animation, but as an art school student she found that what she liked to do most was tell stories and draw. Janet now works in her home studio, where she creates most of her artwork on the computer.
Perlman has given workshops in animation all around the world, and has taught animation at Harvard and at the Rhode Island School of Design.
Where do you live now?
Do you have any pets?
A black-and-white Portuguese water dog named Felix Perlman
What are your hobbies?
Dancing --- jazz and African
What is your favorite movie?
The Wizard of Oz.
What is your favorite animal?
Do you have any tips for young creators?
Draw, draw, draw and/or write, write, write.
How did you get involved with children's books?
I have been drawing all my life, and I started making animated films in art school. Kids Can Press contacted me after seeing one of my films --- The Tender Tale of Cinderella Penguin, made for the National Film Board of Canada --- and suggested that I adapt it as a book.
Where do you work?
In my home studio in Montreal.
How do you create your artwork?
I start out with a small sketch of the page, called a “thumbnail.” Once I am satisfied with the sketch, I draw it full-size with pencil and paper. Then I scan the pencil drawing into the computer, where I do all the final color.
How do you research or create your stories?
When I start anything new, I spend a lot of time gathering information about my subject from books and the Internet. For the “penguinized” fairy tales, I also went to the zoo to observe some real penguins. To retell a well-known fairy tale, I read as many versions of the story as I can find and I learn the history of the original story. I try to tell it in my own words, and make changes and add interesting details wherever possible. For the visuals, I refer to the paintings, costumes, furnishings and architecture of the period in which the story takes place.
Where do you get your ideas?
Some of my humorous ideas come from putting characters in unlikely settings, such as penguins in a fairy tale set in the Middle Ages. Sometimes it's a struggle to come up with new ideas that I like. I have to rack my brain, day after day, staring at blank pieces of paper. Other times, without warning, a complete idea just pops into my head. Once an idea sticks, I do a lot of research, and I develop stories then by drawing from observations of everyday life.
You both write and illustrate your books. How does that work?
Actually, I think of myself as a graphic artist first and a writer second, and sometimes words are not even necessary for me to tell a story. When creating the book, I think about the artwork and the text at the same time. I start by writing the text, but I always have the images in my mind. As I develop the images, the text may change as well.
When did you start writing?
I always loved writing stories in school. Mostly silly, funny stories. When I was eight, I started drawing and writing my own newspaper --- one copy at a time! In art school, I began making animated films, which is a good way to draw pictures and tell stories at the same time.
What was your training or schooling?
I took art classes every year in school, and my parents were very supportive of my art interests. I was fortunate to have some excellent art teachers. After high school, I studied painting, drawing, photography and animation at the School of Art and Design of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
What is the thing you like the most about creating kids' books?
I especially like the process itself --- the writing and the drawing. It's also a thrill for me to see my work come out in print and to hear from people whom I have never met who've read and enjoyed my books.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A stewardess or geologist
What is the weirdest or most interesting job you have ever had?
One summer I put scented plastic roses in plastic bags. That was the whole job.
Do you have any special secrets or insights about one of your books or characters?
Using penguins as characters can be a challenge. Putting expressions on their faces when they have no eyebrows or chins is tricky. So is drawing penguins doing regular activities such as climbing stairs or dancing, when they have no knees, waists or elbows!