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Children’s illustrators speak on their art

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Published : 2010-11-01 19:05
Updated : 2010-11-01 19:05

Can books be a form of art? Perhaps not every book in the world, but some for children can. Last week, two renowned illustrators of books for children visited Seoul and spoke about the profession and showcased their work.

Nadia Budde, an award-winning German illustrator and writer, gave a lecture about recent trends in illustration in contemporary Europe at Hongik University in Seoul on Thursday.

According to Budde, illustration of books for children, among all other forms of art, is finding a niche of its own in Europe. “We are becoming more receptive to different styles,” Budde said at her lecture. “Even a simple pencil drawing without any colors can now be seen as a work of illustration.”
Korky Paul, an award-winning illustrator of books for children, speaks at a press conference in Seoul, Thursday. (Courtesy of Minumsa)

Despite its merits, though, illustration is often devalued in the world of fine art, Budde pointed out. “I’d like to avoid that discussion whether illustration can be a form of art or not. I think it’s meaningless,” she said. “Illustration is different in a sense that it is being reprinted for countless copies of books. But just because it’s not produced as one original piece for an exhibition, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any artistic values. A good picture book can be a piece of art by itself.”

Born in 1967 in Berlin, Germany, Budde worked in advertising before going on to study graphic art at the Berlin Weissensee School of Art. “I didn’t know if I wanted to work for children,” Budde said. “It just happened.”

Her first picture book, “Eins Zwei drei Tier,” (One Two Three Animals) which consisted of simple rhymes and numbers without many sentences won the German Prize for Children’s literature in 1999. “My books are not really stories,” Budde said. “They are more like a game of the language.” For example, “Trauriger Tiger Toastet Tomaten” (Sad Tiger Eats Tomatoes) was written to teach the German alphabet to kids, without a solid narrative.

Having been to Kyobo Book Center in Gwanghwamun, Seoul, Budde said she was impressed by Korea’s picture books of traditional stories. “I bought a few of them. They are beautiful.”

Budde said there is a great longing for reading picture books not just among kids, but among adults as well. “In the end, it’s the parents who buy the books,” she said. “And more adults, even if they don’t have kids, are beginning to collect picture books just for artistic values.

“For me, reading for my child when he was little was the most beautiful time of my life.”
German illustrator and writer Nadia Budde’s work often consists of simple phrases, instead of lengthy sentences. (Courtesy of Goethe-Institut Korea)

On Friday, another award-winning illustrator, Korky Paul, spoke at a press conference in Seoul in promotion of his newly published book in the Winnie the Witch series, “Winnie in Space.”

Wearing orange striped socks just like his signature witch character Winnie, Paul was full of energy and excitement. “I had so much fun drawing for this book,” he said.

Born in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1951, Paul grew up in South Africa. After attending Durhan School of Art, he obtained a job at an advertising agency in Cape Town. Though his major was fine art at school, he enjoyed drawing ads for children’s products there. “I learned everything I had to learn at the advertising agency,” Paul said.

After spending many years in both Europe and the United States, Paul met Ron Heapy, an editor at Oxford University Press, who suggested drawing the first book of the famous Winnie the Witch series. It won the Children’s Book Award in 1987 and has been published in over 10 languages.

“I wish I knew (why children like my books),” Paul said. “But I am excited.”

During the conference, one of the reporters pointed out that his work can be seen as “messy and even grotesque” to some of the grown-up readers in Korea. “I’m delighted because that’s what I want,” Paul responded. “I want the pictures to be remembered from other drawings. I draw pictures that I like to look at.”

Having taught illustration at various education institutions, Paul said he always “fights” for illustrators. “Illustrators are considered as the lowest of the low (in the field of art),” Paul said, implying various legal and financial challenges illustrators face.

Paul also pointed out that illustrators work for texts, not for exhibitions. “I tell my students, forget about exhibitions, because illustrators are meant to tell stories through books.”

Paul said he was especially impressed by the artistic potential of Korean children when he held a workshop for kids in Beijing, China. “(During the workshop) there was one group of children that were fantastic,” he said.

“These kids had good sense of color and design. Later I found out they were Koreans. The kids seemed to have a great sense of art in them.”

By Claire Lee (clairelee@heraldcorp.com)