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Avast ye book lovers! It's Talk Like a Pirate Day and we thought it would be fun to sit down and have a chat with the fantastic Jennie Poh about her illustrations for The Pirate Tree and how she brought Sam and Agu to life. So gather 'round an' listen to Jennie's tale!
Congratulations on the publication of The Pirate Tree! And because it’s Talk Like a Pirate Day, can you introduce yourself in Pirate Speak?
Ahoy there all sail mates...prepare yerself for a sea scurvy adventure! My name is Lady Bubbles, 'tis my pleasure to be talkin' to yer today!
What was it like to read The Pirate Tree for the first time and what made you say, “Yes! I want to illustrate this book!”
It was a very different text to what I was used to working with. It was so magically whimsical and Lantana gave me so much creative reign and freedom when it came to illustrating the story.
Did you experience any challenges bringing the story of Sam and Agu to life?
When I started this creative process I just hoped I would be able to make the illustrations and characters match the beautiful words. I guess the most challenging aspect was making sure the pictures made sense to the reader, and it was clear and obvious what was going on between text and picture.
What was your favourite scene to illustrate and why?
It had to be the spread where the characters are on the boat with the sea of fish carrying them. I was desperate not to illustrate a typical sea, and to also give the fish some characters of their own as well.Can you tell us how you go about creating your illustrations? What materials do you use?
I love photography, print and textures. As I work digitally, I like to make my own brushes using textures that I may have found in the natural world. I do try to aim to not make my work look to digital.
My studio consists of a beautiful wooden desk I bought in a charity shop which I upcycled. On it are some small little treasures of my own. Pictures of my children, a moonstone, small keepsakes, a toy tin car from Belgium, my computer and wacom tablet. In the autumn I like to light cinnamon candles while I work.
You grew up in Malaysia before moving to the UK. Has living in different countries influenced your illustration style?
I didn’t think it did at first as I had such a strong connection with the UK. However, I remember watching a shadow puppet show (Malaysian) and realised I drew eyes the same way the stencils of puppets were drawn, and also certain colour palettes too.
I feel very very privileged to have seen two very different worlds and cultures. It was hard leaving friends behind when we moved back to the UK, and then starting from scratch to form a new social group in a very different culture was quite unnerving at the beginning, so I can certainly relate to Agu here.
What’s next? Any new books or projects that you can tell us about?
I’m about to start a new book about a biracial girl who is trying to find out where she belongs socially which I am very excited about. I wish I had this kind of book and story to have read as a child.
That sounds exciting and right up our alley! We'll definitely watch out for it. If you could illustrate any kind of story, or any animal or thing, real or imagined, what would it be?
Well I love snow, and trees as well. I think I would love to illustrate a beautiful Christmas/Winter book. I adore white snowy bleak landscapes as well as colourful seas and rainforests!
What are your favourite pirate books?
I think Mr. Jonny Duddle is the master of all things Piratey! I love reading The Pirates Next Door to my children, and also who can forget the terrible Captain Hook from Peter Pan?
And finally, do you have any tips for aspiring illustrators?
Yes, don’t have a plan B. If you want to be an illustrator and artist, as hard as it is to break through into the industry, keep focused and keep your dream in clear sight. Also always illustrate what you love.
Thank you, Jennie! Follow Jennie on Instagram @jenniepohillustration or on Twitter @jenniepoh
Click HERE to see more from this sweet story about an inclusive friendship and the power of imagination.
Jennie Poh was born in England and grew up in Malaysia. She studied Fine Art at The Surrey Institute of Art & Design as well as Fashion Illustration at Central St. Martins.