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Questions & Answers

Where were you born?
Prague, Czech Republic

Where did you go to school?
York University, M.A. & Ph.D.
Ryerson Polytechnic University, B.A.A.
Ontario College of Art

Where do you live now?
"Toronto, Ontario with my husband David, who works in the movies; two sons, Sam and Matt; daughter Alex; and a small Tonkinese cat named Emerald."

What were your favourite books when you were young?
"Myths, legends and fairy tales"

What are your favourite books now?
"They're still the same...but now I have more of them."

What other careers did you have in the past?
"Rock singer/songwriter, interior designer, art director, author / illustrator."

Where do you do your work?
"I have a studio on the top floor of my house. There are tons of books, CDs and music tapes, toys, a copying machine, a sink, a couch (on which Emerald sleeps), and a huge drawing table
underneath a window. Because I like to work at night I often get visited by raccoons."

What do you do in your spare time?
"I like to go to places I haven't been to and discover things. There are two ways I travel. The first is the real way, when I walk and walk for hours, explore and observe. The second is the pretending way, when I let my mind wander and see where it takes me. It's hard to say which way is better, but the second way definitely costs less."

What was your childhood like?
"I didn't have any brothers or sisters, didn't have TV, didn't go to daycare or babysitters; I hung around my mother who was designing and sewing costumes. She had a radio on and every day there were stories read for children. I would listen to them, and afterwards do my own version of the tales, playing on the ground with scraps of fabric and buttons. "I always doodled in class and made very good imaginary creatures for classmates in exchange for candybars. Later my parents sent me to an art class with big people. This came to an abrupt end when my grandmother discovered in my sketchbook drawings of naked people from figure-drawing class. I became a singer instead. I didn't draw for a long time, until I came to Canada as a teenager and decided to start all over again"

How did you get your first book published?
"I was working in an interior design office, drawing plans of shopping malls. So I doodled pictures to a story which I had written and I sent it to a publisher in New York (there weren't too many picture book publishers in Canada then). It was sent back with a long encouraging letter, saying 'send us more of your stuff.'

"This time I mailed a story without pictures and it was sent back without a nice letter. I realized it was because I had sent no pictures. I decided to learn more about illustrating. I went to OCA, assembled portfolio pieces, and sent them to publishers (there were now some in Toronto). A manuscript was sent to me to illustrate. It was called There's An Alligator Under My Bed and it was printed in only two colours, and very badly. But it sold lots of copies."

Where do your ideas come from?
"Ideas are all around us. Just keep your eyes and ears open and they will come. Sometimes I have too many ideas. So I pick only the one that really interests me. That way I can go and find out more about it. This works the other way around too; look into what interests you and ideas will come."

Who and what are your influences?
"Growing up in Prague, a city with a long cultural history, was an inspiration to me. I was also influenced by the work of people like painter Paul Klee, Remedios Varo, and composer Antonio Vivaldi.

"Any kind of encouragement I got from my colleagues, teachers, and now from my audiences, keeps me going, makes me try harder."

How do you work?
"When an idea arrives, I create a little movie in my head. Then I leave it. I'm afraid if I started to write immediately and used the wrong words, I could scare that magic feeling away.

"But every once in a while I replay the movie in my head, to see if the magic feeling persists.
When I'm finally sure it won't go away, I start collecting words and images. And then one day I sit down and start to write.

"I already know in my head what the pictures will look like when I start sketching. I draw on tracing paper so I can move things around. Sometimes I act out the characters and my family takes Polaroids of me so I can draw the angles right. When I paint the figures I try to feel the way the characters feel. If the character grins, I draw with a grin on my face. If it's sad, I'm sad... sometimes so sad I can't even draw.

"Now I paint mostly with acrylics, but mix them with whatever media will achieve the effect the picture needs."

What is something nobody knows about you? (until now)
"From travels to faraway places, I always bring small rocks and pretty stones back home. My friends bring me some too. I have stones in my house from all parts of the world."

What is your favorite book that you have created?
"It's like asking a mother which of her children she loves the best. I like them ail but I'm always most concerned about the book I'm working on at the time."

Do you have any tips for young creators?
"Do what makes you happy and try to get better at it every day. Don't give up no matter what!"


4 years old, Prague

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© copyright Veronika Martenova Charles. Artwork used by permission. Website by Hoffworks