It is always exciting to host award winning authors and illustrators on the blog. Last night saw the announcement of the Klaus Flugge Prize winner for 2022. It was awarded to Joseph Namara Hollis for Pierre’s New Hair.
“Joseph’s work is instantly recognizable and original. He conveys a wide range of emotions through the use of line, texture and dramatic use of colour. His characters are expressive, charming, quirky, fun and have so much personality, which makes them relatable and endearing.” Illustrator Flavia Z Drago explains some of the reasons that made Joseph Namara Hollis winner of the 2022 Klaus Flugge Prize, which highlights the most promising and exciting newcomers to picture book illustration.
Here, Joseph describes how he created his winning book, Pierre’s New Hair and those fabulous characters.
Where did it start? Daily scribbles in a small notebook, a ritual of routinely writing anything that springs to mind. A story, a memory, a feeling. Anything. Reassuring myself this is like planting seeds. Small ideas will grow and flourish.
Remembering a feeling from childhood compelled me to draw directly into a tiny dummy book. Perhaps the page-turn will help this idea become a story? The notion of a self-conscious bear concerned about its hair. I remembered being bamboozled as a child by a ‘confrontation’ in front of the bathroom mirror at primary school, someone appeared annoyed by my attempts to manage my hair. I thought their hair seemed very well managed, I was trying to fit in.
Later in the process I remembered being further bamboozled by the overwhelming amount of hair products that existed, each with unique promises that I had previously been (blissfully) unaware of. I became interested in the weight of these messages, the burden, children (and people) under constant pressure to be something. Or behave a certain way. How nice it might be to let go?
In the beginning, whilst wrestling with the story, sequence, and plot, Bear’s appearance had been neglected to keep the workflow economic. Elsewhere I enjoyed drawing anatomy to understand how things (characters) could move but the characters in my stories had been reduced to ‘bean’ shapes to save energy. In working through countless sketchbooks and dummy-books I grew attached to this ‘bean’ process, and whilst the character design was doctored here and there, it stuck with me (and Pierre) to the end. Later when I had an agent, they did urge me to reduce the size of Bear’s snout and limbs and tone down the wiggly lines a notch (or two).
The roller-skating theme was driven into the plot early on by my fascination with drawing animals on wheels (whether it be on rollerskates, bicycles or cars). It also ticked the box in terms of being embedded in my childhood memories – if I enjoyed roller-skating as a child, then perhaps children will relate to this story?
The plot was thickening. Bear had his desire, his crisis, and a vague notion of how he would overcome this drama to reach a resolution. He liked hair and roller-skates, but he still seemed somewhat thin in terms of character. His character began to get stronger once I invested further into the artwork. In preparing a few select pieces of sample artwork for the Bologna Children’s Book Fair I focused on a scene set in Bear’s bedroom. This gave me the opportunity to think about how his belongings could convey parts of his personality that weren’t covered by the text. I say ‘think’ but it was a process of drawing. Without overthinking. Later, a similar process was applied to the world he existed in, and the other characters in that world, and this exemplified Pierre’s personality further. Creating this world gave rise to more opportunities to explore other curiosities and absurdities from the ‘real world’ such as X-factor talent shows, and celebrity culture. This informed the creation of the Poodle Squad.
Where did it end? I’m using Pierre and Bear interchangeably because for a long time Pierre was known only as Bear. However, once I had a contract, the team at Tate Publishing made the decision to change Bear’s name to avoid confusion with another story. ‘Pierre’ seemed like the perfect fit. Until then I tried to keep Bear somewhat universal (to give Bear universal appeal) but in hindsight giving him a name made him an individual and allowed me to relate to him more intimately, it allowed me to see through his eyes, and sculpt his world around him. In Ben Shahn’s The Shape of Content, he claims “In being average to all things, it is particular to none.” Gradually as I relaxed into the process, more visual elements presented themselves as ways of exploring my own interests and this fed more personality into Pierre. In turn, this influenced the plot – the training montages must be an ode to the action films I was raised on! And somewhere in there, the Bear Squad have a solid strength training routine. The character grew into the little background details and beyond the finished book, but the discarded bits of information still helped convince me that Pierre is a real character in a convincing world.
Pierre’s New Hair is published by Tate, 978-1849767712.