Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Q&A with Chantal Bourgonje




Chantal Bourgonje is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book Searching for Home. Her other books include Fierce Grey Mouse. Originally from the Netherlands, she lives in the U.K.


Q: What inspired you to create Searching for Home?


A: A friend of ours was the caretaker of a crumbling old 16th century stately home. The house has more than 100 rooms and our friend lived in two or three of the few still habitable ones.


It was a magnificent place, with lots of things to find: old paintings of lords and ladies, tattered drapes and fraying curtains, ancient books, and many other old things.


In winter it was a cold and lonely place. Grey, damp walls, no heating, dark and a bit spooky too, with creaking floorboards and large cavernous halls.


But in summer the sun would shine through the windows, friends would visit and there’d be parties in the old orangery. The cold house transformed into a home.


Sitting there amongst friends, it suddenly struck me that I wanted to write a story about what makes a house a home.


Q: Did you work on the text first or the illustrations first--or both simultaneously?


A: In Searching for Home, as with most of my stories, I started with a sketch, a doodle, some scribbling that turns into an appealing character.


Then I think about the character. Who are they? What do they like? Where do they live? Is there anything they don’t like or are scared of? Is there a big problem in their life? And so on. The more I learn about them, the more their story comes through.

Next, I work on the text. I write everything down, including things that can be replaced by illustrations. Then I see where the page-turns could fall.


Although I’m thinking of pictures as I’m working on the text, I only start on sketches when I have a good idea of the page-turns.  It’s a question of moulding the pictures and the words - big chunks of text can be cut and new images appear.


To check the flow of text and illustrations I make a rough storyboard and once I’m happy that it works, I draw and paint the pages and eventually create the final, coloured illustrations.


Q: What do you think the book says about the concept of home?


A: It doesn’t matter if you live in a palace, a hut, a haystack, or a hollow tree. If you don’t feel safe or happy, or if you’re without your loved ones, your house won’t feel like a home. Friends and family (and pets!) can make even the loneliest place special.


Q: How did you develop your artistic style?


A: Your artistic style is a bit like your handwriting and like handwriting, the more you do it, the better - and more distinctive - it becomes! I draw something most days and have been doing that since my childhood. Even if it’s just a little sketch of my dogs or the birds in our garden.


The materials you use impact your style as well. Over time I’ve experimented with different materials and methods. Especially when studying for my illustration degree.


During that time, I found that pen and ink, watercolour and pencil feels right for me. There’s something joyful about flowing watercolours on wet paper, and scribbling with pencils and pen and ink over the colours.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Right now, I’m working on the sketches for a new picture book dummy and at the same time am getting to know a new little character that appeared in my sketchbook the other day. I just found out yesterday what he’s worried about. We’ll just have to see how he gets to solve his problems.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I can’t think of anything in particular. I just feel very lucky to be doing something I love and hope that children will enjoy Searching for Home!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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