Kate Rolfe is a brilliant new talent whose strikingly beautiful debut picture book, Wolf and Bear, publishes this month. Kate sat down with her editor, Suzanne Carnell, Publisher of the Two Hoots imprint at Macmillan Children’s Books, to discuss her work. Full of heart and hope, Wolf and Bear will strike a chord with children and adults alike.
Suzanne: Although your book has gone through some visual changes since that first dummy which I so fell in love with as a judge for the Macmillan Prize for Illustration, the story and characters introduced themselves to me pretty much fully-formed. Did they come to you as easily?
Kate: My experience of seeing Wolf and Bear through to publication has been a long one. I must have written at least 70 different versions of the book, trying out different ideas for what might be in the story. At one point, Wolf had cubs!
At the same time, I was developing my visual language as an illustrator. I tried many different stylistic approaches, and created versions in many different media before I created the one that you saw and that was the closest to the final book.
Suzanne: Your illustrations are stunning. How did you come to use cyanotype? I know it’s an early photographic printing process using cut-out shapes to block the sun and reveal images . . . but it sounds like some sort of magic!
Kate: I’d spent two years on the Masters developing cyanotype as a medium, but at first I didn’t want to use it for Wolf and Bear because it’s so hard to control. When I began working on the final book, I was painting in ink. But then I decided, since the metaphor of light and shadow is so strong in the story, I really wanted to use cyanotype, and put aside a few weeks to learn how I could contain it and make it consistent. Having done that, I used pieces of cyanotype printing and added other textures and details using acrylic paint, pastels, wax crayons and coloured pencils, gradually editing and building up images digitally on my tablet.
Suzanne: It was worth all that effort: the results are wonderful and convey the changing emotions of the story perfectly. I love how Bear retains the dark blue of the cyan solution you’ve painted on the paper, while Wolf’s white shape has been revealed by the sunlight. The two friends are such different characters: who do you most identify with?
Kate: Both of them! It can vary from one day to another, and from one friendship to another. I often identify with Wolf. Sometimes I can spot myself being too like Wolf, and have to tell myself to back off a little! But then sometimes I find myself feeling more like Bear, not wanting to engage.
Suzanne: I think we can all learn a lot from both of them, and how they navigate their friendship. Is this something you hope children might think about after enjoying the story?
Kate: Yes. I think it’s useful for children to think about different ways of communicating with each other and learning that different friends can need different things at different times. Wolf starts by offering Bear the gift of a leaf, which he likes and keeps with him, but he still doesn’t want to join in all her energetic games. Then in the end they find something they can both enjoy doing together. So it’s about understanding that there are lots of different ways people want to enjoy their friendships.
But most of all, I hope children enjoy the story, and making friends with Wolf and Bear themselves.
Wolf and Bear is written and illustrated by Kate Rolfe and is published by Two Hoots Books.
Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation.