Imagination Unbound

(Courtesy David Anderson)

Shaping the minds of tomorrow with vibrant illustrations

By Catherine Achu Koshy

Creativity is in his genes. Growing up on a ranch in the South African bushveld, long away from the towns, he made the huge variety of wildlife that surrounded him the essential part of his drawings. His first assignment was to illustrate the dormitory walls of his boarding school and there was no looking back ever since.

David Anderson began his career as an editorial cartoonist for a number of South African publications. He worked for anti-apartheid newspapers until he migrated to Canada in 1990.

“A lot of things have changed concerning newspapers,” Anderson says.

As revenues crashed and newspapers started becoming a rare commodity, he stepped into the world of children’s storybook illustrations.

“I started writing and illustrating a couple of children’s storybooks about animals in Africa and got it published in South Africa,” he says.

His love for wildlife conservation reflects in his illustrations. His collections of short stories, Whispers from the Bushveld and More Tales from the Bushveld, were incorporated into the South African school curriculum.

But the shift wasn’t so effortless for him in the city of Toronto.

“I had to sort of relearn a little bit. In editorial cartooning, it was all black and white,” Anderson recollects. “When you try to make a political point, you could be quite harsh. With children’s stories, I had to leave all that behind.”

His illustrations were sometimes commented on as not Canadian enough.

“You never know the obstacles the publishers can throw at you,” he says.

His smooth and water colour washed illustrations are simple yet beautiful.

Creating illustrations for kid’s storybooks challenges him but nothing excites him more than the freedom of imagination in this industry.

“Being an artist, it’s challenging to come up with something different. It’s even more challenging when it comes to kids,” Anderson says. “It should be appealing to kids.”

There is nothing as bad as restricting a creative person and Anderson finds writing and illustrating for kids for rewarding.

“You have to be aware of the trends. It keeps changing over the years,” he says. “What was acceptable ten years ago would not be acceptable now.”

Workshops and reading to kids at school help him get a sense of what the kids like. He also says he tries to understand the author when it comes to self-publishing.

What makes him illustrate and write for kids is their enthusiasm.

“When I read at school, they pay 100 per cent attention. The enthusiasm in their eyes is the best reward,” Anderson says.

We are in a world where kids have too much screen-time, but children’s storybooks will never go out of demand. A book is the best tool to improve a kid’s attention span.

Anderson says picture books are still relevant and there are a lot of parents who know it.

“For the little kids, when their brain is developing, there is nothing like sitting down quietly and letting them use their own imagination without something being spoon-fed to them,” he says.

He illustrated a number of story books including Friend or Foe written by Etta Kaner, Pretty Ballerina by G.C.MacRae and The African Animal Football by Immanuel Suttner.

Quentin Blake and his Roald Dahl prints and artworks inspire him. It keeps the cartoonist him alive. “He is one artist I admire,” says Anderson. 

He also says that he still tries to do some advertising illustrations and editorial cartooning.

(Images Courtesy Barbara Reid)

While his love for animals inspired David Anderson to be what he is today, Barbara Reid’s interest in clay modeling makes her, one of the most loved illustrators and storytellers in Toronto.

She loved getting her hands dirty. She still does. With carefully modeled clay figures well supported by splashes of beautiful colors and remarkable detailing, Reid’s illustrations are one of a kind.

“I was really interested in picture books when I was little. I was attracted to children’s literature,” Reid says.

She studied illustration at OCAD University but her interest towards children’s storybooks just kept growing.

“When I write and illustrate a book, I feel like a kid,” she says.“These stories are special simply because they stay with us forever.”

Though she started it for fun, the more she worked on illustrations using clay, she realized that it worked really well among children.

“Kids look at my art and they try to do it themselves and it really kept me going,” Reid says.

Reid’s work is widely accepted and appreciated among schools in Toronto. Her fabulous clay art inspires a lot of school kids.

“They do projects using clay and they send me photographs,” she says. “We have this conversation. Their feedback is something that keeps me going.”

Being an only child, Reid spent her time outdoors, reading, using imagination and playing with friends. The author says that a child requires parent’s attention and books play a big role in it.

“Intimacy of a parent reading a book to the child, that’s what they want as much as the book,” Reid says. “It is this interaction that is lacking in the digital world.”

If a kid doesn’t experience balancing on a log across a stream or being outside in the outdoors, he is missing out on something great. And this demands alternatives.

Time challenges her. “I need a lot of thinking time to make a book,” Reid says. “I want to do 500 more books and I feel I don’t have enough time.”

She has received a number of awards including the Ezra Jack Keats Award, the Vicky Metcalf Award for Literature for Young People and the Governor General’s Award for Illustration.

“Awards are nice, but some of the emotional moments have been very quiet,” she says. “I talk with kids as I walk out of the school. They give me letters and that moves me.”

Reid has written more than a dozen storybooks and illustrated over 25 and she still is waiting for the biggest moment of her career.

“I don’t know. I feel like I just started yesterday,” Reid says. “I forget how long I have been doing it.”

Perhaps the kid in her pushes her to do the best.

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