Gavin Bishop ONZM, Tainui, Ngāti Awa, is a leading New Zealand illustrator. He has published over 70 books internationally and been translated into 12 languages. He has written for television and theatre, as well as a libretti for the Royal New Zealand Ballet.
His awards include the New Zealand Children’s Picture Book of the Year multiple times, the Sir Kingi Ihaka award for lifetime contribution to Māori art and culture, and the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement – Non Fiction.
What is the creative spark and process for these little books Mihi and Koro / Pops?
The fact that these are books for babies is a challenge right from the start. The story has to be brief and the pictures, uncomplicated. Babies like the action to start right away and they don’t want it to last too long. And once they have finished ‘reading’ a book they usually like to begin again, immediately. The book has to be physically robust, too. It will get lots of rides in a pram or on the back of a trike.
These books are seemingly simple – are they easy to create?
When everything is stripped away as it is in these ‘baby’ books, there is nowhere to hide. You can’t fudge anything or do something that you are not entirely pleased with and secretly hope that no-one will notice. I am very grateful, too, for the input from the editing and design teams. Just when I thought I had nailed it they came along and found something else that could be taken away to simplify and strengthen the images further.
How do you see these baby books alongside the big non-fiction books, like Aotearoa, that you’ve also been publishing?
In their own way these ‘little’ books are as challenging as the much bigger books I’ve been doing in recent years. They don’t take as long because they don’t have many pages and the concepts are simpler, but for what they are, they are really demanding. The stories are rewritten over and over and I often do each illustration several times.
What techniques do you use to create the artwork?
I use collage and felt pen for details. I start by painting several sheets of paper with the colours I want to use for faces, hands etc. and then cut out the shapes of my characters and glue them onto stretched watercolour paper. I suppose it would be simpler to use digital images on a computer but I like working with my hands – it helps me to think.
Did you spend time with your grandad/s when you were small? How have you found being a grandad yourself, can you describe a day with your mokopuna?
Both of my grandads were well and truly dead before I was born. But I have had the great pleasure of being grandad myself for the last fifteen years. My grandchildren come for visits and depending on which one it is, we visit the art gallery, go to the library, walk on the hills, check the rat traps in the garden and make sure there is nothing we absolutely need from several local junk shops. We do lots of reading, eating and talking too.
Koro and Pops are available September 2021, and Mihi is available now from wherever you buy or consume your books and on our website. Other books available by Gavin Bishop include The House that Jack Built and Cook’s Cook.
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