I’m pleased to welcome Rebecca Gerlings to the blog! She is the illustrator of Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse, which was featured in my post about Appreciating What You Have. She has a wonderful new website that you should absolutely check out!
I’m Rebecca Gerlings and this is my actual face (complete with nice new glasses). I live near London in the UK.
I’ve worked in children’s publishing since 2000, first as an in-house editor,
then as a freelance writer, and now as a freelance writer-illustrator.
I have an MA in Sequential Design and Illustration from Brighton University,
and my first picture book, Enormouse!, was published by Egmont UK in 2011.
Since then I have written over 70 children’s books for a variety of
trade publishers – often for licensed characters such as Peppa Pig
and Hello Kitty – but occasionally not.
I’ve also illustrated two further picture books, Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse (Sterling), and If Pluto was a Pea (coming soon from Simon & Schuster).
For chats and illustration commissions, do get in touch.”
Thanks for joining me, Rebecca! You’ve mentioned in your SCWBI feature that you love drawing cats and toddlers. My first thought upon reading this is that I often think my cat behaves just like my toddlers! They each believe all of their ideas are fantastic, and none of them want to hear otherwise. This makes me wonder — was Enormouse!, your debut book about a tiny kitten with very big ideas, inspired by your own toddler experiences?
Enormouse! was actually inspired by my pet at the time — the legendary Kenneth — before I had my kids. Kenny was a very sweet-natured black-and-white cat with a big personality, and an even bigger voice. He was always primed to bolt through our front door as if there was something way more exciting out there than he could find through his own cat flap, so I extrapolated on that and Enormouse! was born. My husband and I always refer to him as our first child though, and now I’m a parent of humans too I see there are definite parallels to be drawn between pets and children. (Mainly that they are simultaneously adorable and exasperating!)
The character of Diva Delores was originally envisioned as a person, but your creative vision created the wonderful seal that takes center stage in Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse. My favorite Delores moment is probably the image of her throwing a tantrum — rolling on the floor, flippers flailing around. It brings to mind many toddler moments. What led you to the concept of Delores as a seal? What approach did you take to give Delores such expressive body language?
Wow, I had no idea that Delores was originally envisaged as a human! Delores’ personality is larger than life, so I felt she needed to be physically large to match. Based on that, I first experimented with drawing her as a hippo. But the publisher didn’t feel she was quite working, and I had to agree. The hippo’s stockiness didn’t lend itself to much physical expression, and I felt it was important that this should mirror Delores’ yo-yoing emotions. When I hit upon the idea of a seal I knew I was on to something. They’re such expressive animals — always literally throwing their weight about and making noise — that it felt like a eureka moment. From there I watched a lot of YouTube videos to help me really capture their movements.
You completed a BA in Fine Art and English at Oxford Brookes University, then spent 15 years as a children’s editor before publishing your first book. What led you to shift toward picture book creation in the author-illustrator role? How does your editor experience influence your work now?
I have known I wanted to be a children’s writer and illustrator since I was a teenager. I can even clearly remember having a conversation about it aged about 17 with my then boyfriend. I’ve thought a lot about the reasons why I didn’t go for it sooner, but ultimately I think it was fear — fear of failure, and fear of what a long road of extremely hard work and poor pay it would be! I went into editorial to find a route into working on children’s books in a financially secure way. However, I eventually realised it wasn’t doing me any good suppressing my artistic side, so after I had my second child in 2013 I decided it was now or never. My experience as an editor influences my work in lots of ways. It’s given me a sound knowledge of the publishing industry, lots of useful contacts/friends, and an appreciation of the importance of clear communication and schedules!
You’ve participated in an event called The Big Draw, which is an annual festival held in over 28 different countries that brings together different types of creatives with children of all ages in schools, libraries, galleries, museums and other such spaces. What was the best part of this experience? What do you hope the kids took away from the day?
The best part of The Big Draw Epsom experience was watching the town embracing this new event with such unexpected enthusiasm. It was held in and around Epsom Library, which saw a whopping 800 visitors through its doors on the day. We’re in the early stages of preparing for this year’s event — fundraising and generating ideas — and it’s set to be another smasher! What I hope kids (and adults) take away from it is that even if you don’t think you have the aptitude, if you overcome your initial doubts drawing can be a very enjoyable and rewarding creative outlet. Virtually free fun, in fact!
You showed an aptitude for drawing at a young age. Did you draw frequently as a child? Do your own children show an interest in art? How do you think other parents can foster artistic talent at home?
Yes, I drew and drew and drew as a child. Most of my early memories feature being absorbed in drawing/creating/reading/writing. It felt very natural to me, and picking up a pencil still feels like coming home. Both my parents were graphic designers, and my family on both sides is filled with creative folk. Our house was crammed with books and paper and drawing materials that were readily available to me and my sister. My own children do indeed show an interest in art. My daughter (8) is probably more fervent than my son (5), but he’s beginning to find his niche. I think the best way to foster artistic talent is to make time, space and materials available, and encourage — but don’t force. Expose your kids to lots of experiences too — you can find inspiration in all sorts of unexpected places!
In past, you’ve mentioned being a big fan of Marc Boutavant. I’m also a big fan! One thing I love about his work is there’s often fun little details throughout, and I’m a detail-loving person. What is it about his work that you admire? Are there other illustrators you’ve found especially inspiring or influential?
I think what I love about Marc Boutavant’s work is the humour and colour. I also love the fact that his humans aren’t overly cute or attractive — just like in real life. As well as him, my other all-time favourites are probably Richard Scarry, Tove Jansson, Tomi Ungerer, Alice and Martin Provensen, and Beatrice Alemagna. But I do think it’s important to try not to get bogged down in other people’s work and to focus on exploring your own brand of weirdness as well. Like lots of people, I have a Pinterest account, where I collect all sorts of inspiration, from outsider art to random ephemera to fabric design and pattern.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’ve recently updated my personal website, www.rebeccagerlings.com. I’m currently available for commissions – and always happy just to say hi and connect – so do get in touch!