Christian Robinson on Art, Inspiration, and ANOTHER
Christian Robinson's distinctive illustrations are well-known to anyone who's been paying attention to picture books over the last several years. He's the artist behind best-selling favorites like Gaston and Antoinette by Kelly DiPucchio, and Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell, for which Robinson received a Corretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. The list goes on—Robinson has worked with Mac Barnett, Cynthia Rylant, and Renee Watson, and has twice teamed up with Matt de la Peña, including for Caldecott Honor Book and winner of the 2016 Newbery Medal Last Stop on Market Street.
Early next month, Robinson will publish his first book as an author-illustrator, Another. It's a beautiful, wordless adventure story, and we can't wait to get it into the hands of emerging readers. Even more exciting? We're hosting Robinson right here in the shop on the book's release day, March 5. Prepare for the event by reading our Q&A, then make plans to join us—we can't wait to see you there.
Another turns the picture book format on its head (literally!) with beautiful, wordless spreads that encourage the reader to flip the book around and engage with it in a very tactile way. What inspired you to take that path on the first book that you've created as both author and illustrator?
Turning something on its head or presenting something in a different way is fun! It’s that spirit of fun and surprise that inspires me to create.
One of my all-time favorite picture book makers, Bruno Munari, designed children’s books with the awareness that readers gain knowledge from what’s on the page but also from the book as an object. I wanted to create a story that encourages readers to engage with a book in an unexpected way and allows the physical book to play a role in the storytelling.
When we read Another, we were reminded of that famous piece by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, where she writes that books can be mirrors, windows, or sliding glass doors. That fits in nicely with Another, as your protagonist journeys into a sort of parallel universe and discovers all kinds of people and reflections there. Was that something you were thinking about as you created this story?
Children seeing themselves reflected on the page was the spark that motivated the story. The thought that followed was, well, what if a child literally saw themselves in a story? Perhaps a version of themselves from some parallel universe. As a child, I loved stories in which the main character goes on some magical adventure to a world where anything is possible. Oftentimes, those characters didn’t look like me or come from a community that reflected my own. I want kids today to have a different experience.
What does your work space look like? We imagine a large desk gloriously covered in scraps of paper; how do you keep that organized?
My studio is bright and it’s very clean and very organized. I’ve never been officially diagnosed, but I may have a mild form of OCD, especially when it comes to keeping things tidy. I just think better and work better when everything is in its place.
We know you also have a background in animation. Is that something you plan to return to or continue? Because we’re here for full-length Christian Robinson films.
Hehe! I have many loves in this life. :) One of my first is animation, and I hope to create and tell stories as an animator, illustrator and now author for as long as I can.
Can you tell us a little bit about some of your artistic influences? When we look at your books, we see shades of late Matisse, mid-century graphic design… and probably a lot of stuff we don’t even realize we’re looking at. Where do you turn for inspiration?
Ooooh! I’m inspired by so much. I for sure love the work of so many masters of modern art—Matisse, Picasso, Hockney, and Jacob Lawrence. Most of the picture books I’m influenced by come from the 50s-70s: Roger Duvoisin, Ezra Jack Keats, Leo Lionni. I’m a huge fan of graphic design, I love the illustrated advertisements you’ll see in old Life Magazines and the colors of images in old National Geographics. My all time favorite animated films are by Hayo Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. As for contemporary illustrators, I’m inspired by the work of Beatrice Alemagna, Corrina Luyken and Loveis Wise.
What were some of your favorite picture books when you were young?
I sometimes feel like I’m being inauthentic whenever I’m answering this question. I can list a few books I remember flipping through as a child, but the truth is I struggled learning how to read and for the longest time had a very distant relationship with books, especially ones without pictures—perhaps another reason why I was moved to tell a story that allows children the chance to engage with a book and not feel intimidated by their developing skills as a reader. A few books I do remember reading (or at least looking at) include Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman, those Dinotopia books, and Possum Magic.
All photos courtesy of Christian Robinson.