Friday 4 October 2013

Interview: Fiona McDonald and David Allan of Christmas Press

Author/artist/designer Fiona McDonald and artist/illustrator David Allan have joined with author Sophie Masson, to create Christmas Press, a new publishing house for children’s books. Their first publication Two Trickster Tales was launched late September. Anastasia Gonis gets an insight into the hows and whys of this union, and attempts to learn about these two creative people.

An extended version of this interview was featured in the October 1 2013 issue of Buzz Words.

You are an author/artist/designer. Can you tell us something about yourself and your work?

F. I’ve always loved making things: pictures, dolls and stories. I hated school and dropped out in Year 11. I went to the city to seek my fortune but enrolled at Julian Ashton’s Art School instead where I spent the next four years rigorously training to be an artist.

I love to make pictures with an enigmatic narrative; people say ‘why is she doing that?’ Or ‘why are they there?’ and my answer is - ‘Well, I don’t know, it’s a mystery’.

Now I am a director at Christmas Press but I also do layout, concept design and am a writer and illustrator, and hope to do both of those in the near future.

You are a new illustrator. What opened the door to this new area of art for you and at what other occupation do you work?

D. I've had a love for drawing ever since I was a young boy. I completed a Diploma in Fine Art at TAFE and have held Fine Art exhibitions of Landscapes and Portraits in Oils. I've always wanted to be an illustrator though, and after working in bookshops and as a graphic designer in the past, I felt like now is the time to pursue my dream career. I've been heavily influenced by classical illustrators such as Arthur Rackham, Russian illustrator Ivan Bilibin (especially for Two Trickster Tales), along with Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha and more recent illustrators such as Alan Lee and William Stout. Meeting Sophie and Fiona and getting so much encouragement from them has helped my progress immensely.

How did you come to join forces with David Allan and Sophie Masson to create Christmas Press?

F. Some years ago Sophie and I were lamenting the passing of the age of the luxury Christmas picture book. In the days of Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac publishers produced a gloriously illustrated children’s book in time for Christmas. Nowadays most Christmas books seem to be the very tired retelling of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

At the time we said to each other how much fun it would be to have our own publishing house. We’d call it Christmas Press in memory of those antique books.

It was at the beginning of this year (or even the very end of last year) that we decided we’d really do it and set ourselves up as a publishing house and produced a beautiful book. David Allan had come on the scene by then and his illustrations were exquisite and we thought this a great project for him to do to help showcase his work.

In a continuing unpredictable climate that publishers are currently experiencing, what is it about Christmas Press that will make it stand apart from other established publishing ventures that are struggling?

D. We'd like to think that there is still a lot of love for very traditional picture books in a style reminiscent of Arthur Rackham and other illustrators from long ago. Also we feel there is an untapped market in picture books that specialise in traditional fairy tales and the like.

New ventures in the current changing climate of children’s books need passion, commitment and
money. Do you feel confident that all these needs will be satisfied with the work you all propose to do?

F. Yep! I never worry about money, it always materialises when needed. This is a passion and we don’t expect it to make a fortune. As long as we can keep bringing out new titles I think we’ll all be happy. I have lived on an artist’s wage for most of my adult life. You do without a lot of things but you have the fulfilment you need instead. I think more people need to think about their lives this way, follow their hearts and cut up the credit card. No proper job is secure so what do you have to lose?

Traditional fairytales have long been lost to the world of children’s books. Your work also has its magical side to it. Did this influence your decision in any way to join Sophie and David in recreating new stories and characters from the old?

F. I think the three of us share a visual sense of aesthetic. We all love old picture books, fine technique, great draughtsmanship. We also all love fantasy stories, fairy stories and have a strong nostalgia for childhood.

The printing costs for Two Tricksters from Russia were funded by an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. Can you explain what this is and why you chose this method for funding? 

D. Online Crowdfunding involves seeking to pool the collective money of individuals via the Internet, to fund efforts such as ours. We basically thought we'd have a crack at crowdfunding after seeing the success of other people’s ventures that had been funded in this way. Through networking our friends, colleagues and relatives we were able to very nearly cover the cost of the print run of our book.

Beauty, colour and imagination are part of both worlds that you’re involved in now. In your opinion, is this combination a participating factor in the success of the traditional fairytales that the group is now producing?

F. Absolutely! I personally feel there has been a death of beauty in children’s books and toys in the last few years. Everything in life is becoming homogenised and bland from food to television.

My toys, mainly dolls and dragons, are selling really well as if people are starving for something a bit different. I think the same is happening in the world of books. We are already discussing and planning adding new characters to Granny Fi’s Toy Shop. I just have to find more hours in the day!

What type of media did you use for the artwork in Two Trickster Tales and how does the illustrative style differ from what you are used to?

D. For the artwork I used pen and watercolour on paper. The style for this book is pretty much an extension of what I normally do. Prior to starting the project, Sophie introduced me to the work of the great Russian Illustrator Ivan Bilibin whose work I had somehow missed before and now love. His use of a clean line and areas of flat colour style has been a huge influence on the look of the illustrations I produced for Two Trickster Tales from Russia.

You can read Buzz Words' review of Two Trickster Tales in the post below.

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