Bill Slavin - Author/Illustrator
Bill Slavin was born on February 12, 1959, in Belleville, Ontario, as the seventh of eight children. He illustrated his first book, “The Adventures of Zok the Caveman,” when he was seven years old. It was published in an edition of one. He has been writing and illustrating ever since. He has illustrated over one hundred children's books, fiction and nonfiction, including Stanley's Party by Linda Bailey, winner of the 2004 Blue Spruce Award, the Christie Harris Illustrated Children's Literature Prize and the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator's Award.
He also co-wrote (with his brother Jim Slavin) and illustrated Transformed: How Everyday Things Are Made, which won the Norma Fleck Award as well as the Children's Literature Roundtables of Canada Information Book Award in 2006. In 2014, he completed his Elephants Never Forget graphic novel trilogy, fulfilling a lifetime desire to return to the world of comic books that he had inhabited in his youth.
Bill lives in the village of Millbrook, Ontario, with his wife, Esperança Melo, who is also an artist and the co-illustrator of Drumheller Dinosaur Dance, winner of the 2005 Blue Spruce Award. They have lived and worked in this community since 1990.
February 12th, 1959.
Where do you live now?
When did you start drawing?
I've been drawing ever since I can remember. I always date my career back to that day when, as a child, you pick up a crayon, look at that big blank wall in the house and think, “That could use some color!”
What is your favorite book?
The Strictest School in the World.
What materials do you use to create your illustrations?
I do my initial roughs (or sketches) in pencil. Final artwork is executed in either pen and ink, pen and ink and watercolor, watercolor only or acrylic paints. Pen and ink is just what it sounds like, and is used for black-and-white illustrations or illustrations where I want a strong outline to color. Watercolor is used when I want a softer, more suggestive illustration, and acrylics (which are opaque, which means one color can cover up another) are used when I want a bolder, brighter illustration. My favorite medium, since I was in grade six, is pen and ink.
What was your training or schooling?
Almost two years at Sheridan College, in a strange course called Cartooning and Graphic Story Illustration, which wasn't even in the art part of the college! It ended the year after I left (coincidence).
How did you get involved with children's books?
I've always wanted to illustrate children's books, even as a child. I spent about ten years working as a graphic designer and art director for a small publishing house, before I was hired by Kids Can Press to illustrate my first children's book, Too Many Chickens, by Paulette Bourgeois.
Do you have any tips for young creators?
Never lose sight of your goal, no matter what other work you may do in your lifetime. Every step you take should be in the direction of what you wish to be, even if sometimes they seem to be side steps. If you want to illustrate, draw all the time; after school, in math class, in science class ... Just don't get caught!
What is the thing you like the most about creating kids books?
I love the idea of telling a story visually. The narrative is very important to me, and to respond honestly in a visual way to the author's words is my greatest challenge and joy. The other thing I like about illustrating is the fact that every day I wake up and I'm eager to go to my work. How many people can say that about their jobs?
Where do you work?
I work at home, in a large sunny upstairs room that has windows that look out on the woods and my garden. I share my studio with my wife, Esperança, who is also an artist and an important part of everything I do.
How do you research or create your illustrations?
When I read the author's words, visual images immediately come to mind that are often very close to the images that the reader will eventually see in the book. I do very little editing or reworking, trusting the integrity of those initial responses. I work largely from my imagination, but of course when specific information is needed, I research items in my own extensive collection of resource material, at the library, or, more rarely --- as I find it immensely frustrating --- the Internet.
Where do you get your ideas?
My inspiration is always first and foremost the author's words. Once I know what I want to illustrate, it's largely a matter of accurately communicating on paper the images that rest in my mind. I do this through quick and --- more or less --- incomprehensible scribbles, which I then rework to develop the linears for the illustration I'm attempting to create.
Do you have any special secrets or insights about one of your books or characters?
In an illustration in one of my first books (The Cat Came Back), toward the end, there is a scene where all the kittens run out to meet the cat returning by taxi. It was important (as it was stated in the text) that there be seven kittens, but after finishing my illustration, I discovered, much to my horror, that I had done eight. There is nothing I hate more in this world than doing the same picture twice, so with a bit of quick scrubbing and brushwork I transformed kitten number eight into a small clump of flowers. And now you know!