Vladimir Radunsky interview
The art of creating children’s books
1. What was your favorite book when you were a child? Did you have your favorite illustrator as a kid? Did you try to ‘copy’ him in any way?
No, I did not have one favorite book. I liked lots of different books. And I was not really interested in the names of artists, who drew them, and I am sure that children nowadays are not interested in the artists’ names either. I don’t think that it’s important for them to know my difficult-to-pronounce name, for example, and it does not upset me in the least. It’s much more important that they like the book I’ve created so much that they remember its title, the pictures, and the story for a long-long time, maybe even for the rest of their lives.
2. When I see a brilliant project (such as Vestiario Bestiario), I always wonder “How did he get such a great idea?”
My interest in animal clothes was born very early on, in my childhood. I learned to read before I made my first trip to the zoo and saw real, not drawn animals. Having gotten used to seeing in my favorite books drawn animals, beautifully dressed, I did not expect to see “naked” animals in a zoo.
It still amazes me even now.
All my life I admired illustrations of J.J. Grandville, Beatrix Potter, Jean de Brunhoff and many-many other artists, who depicted fashions and styles of animal clothes of the past. I drew almost 30 books for children, many of which I also wrote. Among my characters you can also meet nicely dressed animals of different kinds — from huge elephants to small Armadillos.
I have always tried to be honest with my readers. I never invent things in my books. I am convinced that the enchanted world where well-dressed animals talk really does exist. My collection is one of the many proofs of that.
3. I know some artists go to the park or to a museum to get inspired. Kalinowski on the contrary used to lock himself inside his studio, lays down on his bed, eyes closed, and then extracted images from his subconscious mind.What is your method to get the ideas?
I don’t have any particular method. Sometimes I do lie on a couch with my eyes closed, but only for the pleasure of lying on a couch with my eyes closed. My so-called “ideas” are not really serious, they are more joke-like. They come to me spontaneously when I am trying to think of a way to entertain children. To me the most important thing in a children’s book is to make it funny and beautiful; as far as it being useful and practical, children can learn these things all by themselves, and not necessarily from my books.
4. Are you a “lark” or an “owl”? What’s your favorite time to work? Do you prefer to work with music or do you need a silent environment?
I have been suffering from insomnia for a long time now, so, unfortunately, things like “lark” or “owl” do not exist for me. I mostly wish for some sleep. I would have liked to be a “lark.” Any city, not even necessarily Rome where I am living now, looks beautiful in the early morning.
5. As you lived in Russia, America and Italy, do you see the difference in the children’s book business? Where do publishers feel more free? What about readers, are they different in those countries?
I think that publishers’ sense of freedom is, first of all, connected with whether they are interested in interesting things, how sharp their taste is, how willing they are to take risks, whether they have a sense of humor, etc. These qualities are not in direct proportion with geography. If a publisher is born with all these qualities or manages to develop them, he is free in any country. Wonderful books are often born in the vilest places (I mean economically and politically), in a climate that seem to be completely unfit to produce them.
6. Do you find it difficult to combine all three of your professions (author, illustrator and designer)? How much time does it on average take to create a children’s book?
I see these three occupations — author, illustrator, and designer — as one. I don’t draw any lines between them. The difficulty is not in combining these three things, it’s just that making books for children is not an easy task.
7. Can you suggest any young interesting illustrators whom you think we should check out?
It seems to me that good authors/illustrators have no age. At least when I see something that I like, I never feel its creator’s age. One of my favorite authors/illustrators is Maira Kalman. I also always admired William Steig and Ludwig Bemelmans.
8. And finally: Is there a certain book that you’ve always dreamt to illustrate?
No, there is no particular book, but I am always trying to come up with some very funny little book and draw very funny, very nice pictures for it. This has always been my main wish in making children’s books, and the older I get, the stronger this wish is.