An interview with Joseph Namara Hollis

We caught up with Joseph Namara Hollis, this year’s winner of the Klaus Flugge Prize.

Spread from Pierre’s New Hair: Joseph Namara Hollis

You’ve spoken a bit about the parallels between the book and your creative process – what would be your advice for the perfectionists out there?

Make. Thinking (or overthinking) is often your own worst enemy.

Of course, we need to ‘think’ visually. I find it helpful to separate the process into two different stages. Making and editing. If there isn’t a boundary, the two interfere with each other. It’s too easy to second guess everything you do, thus stunting your flow. Or stopping yourself from starting altogether!

It was something Christophe Niemann said (I think) that really resonated with me, he talked about separating the Artist and the Editor, and the goal is to become freer as an artist and more ruthless as an editor. So, make unapologetically. Rest. Then be selective, choose the best bits, refine from there.

Resting, and getting out of the studio between the two stages is important because you’ll be mentally drained after a proper session (making), you lose perspective on what works and what doesn’t. It’s difficult to judge your own work objectively when you’re caught up in the process.
I find it helpful to start by making a mess, then you don’t have to worry about facing the blank page. Sooner or later fun stuff will emerge from that mess. Run with that. See where it takes you.

Your colour palette is so otherworldly – how do you come up with your palettes and what are your tips for working with colour?

I’ve struggled with colour. I find self-imposed restrictions helpful.
When I painted with traditional materials in the past, I would stick to a limited colour palette and use pots of emulsion to avoid mixing colours entirely. But this still gave me issues with colour accuracy when it came to reproduction. For example, photographing large scale work is quite a fussy process.

To make the process more efficient I transitioned to colouring digitally. The self-imposed restrictions seemed even more important here (in the digital realm) because of the endless overwhelming choice. Experimenting with processes such as Screen printing and Risograph informed my work. I began to imitate their limitations digitally. This is when colour became most fun!

I usually start following basic colour theory, sticking to the rules of a split-complimentary palette for example. Eventually, once I’m into the swing of it, I start to bend the rules or forget about them entirely. Whilst those ‘rules’ seem helpful, the colour choice is intuitive, usually stemming from something that catches my eye (or fulfils the narrative), then it’s a case of seeing what else fits. We all have our own individual tastes, I suspect sweets from the 90’s may have informed my colour preference.

What were your favourite picture books growing up, and how have they influenced you?

I loved Eric Carle’s texture. And Maurice Sendak’s magic.

And I LOVED Richard Scarry for many of the reasons we discuss in the following question. But it is surprising, the influences that go under the radar entirely. Recently, I discovered a neighbour of mine enjoyed graffiti in their youth, so I dug out my old magazine collection to share with them. I discovered striking similarities with some of Alexone Dizac’s characters. I had forgotten just how much I adored their work. As a teenager I relished these StyleFile (graffiti) magazines, long before I hoped to become an illustrator. The energy and chaos appear to have influenced my doodling more so than the final artwork in children’s picture books. Afterall, they are governed by a different set of rules. Perhaps this is also where the otherworldly colour stems from too?

See here,

Sometimes the best parts of picture books are the little details or background characters – what’s an easily-overlooked part of the book you’re fond of?

Agreed. Absolutely! For me those details and background characters are the moments I enjoy most, while drawing and as a reader.

There’s a certain amount of drawing that must fulfil key stages of the plot, this serious work comes with added pressure and is more rule bound.

On the other hand, when drawing the extra details it feels more like play. There’s a greater sense of freedom drawing those elements?

You can really let go and have fun with the little details! They help build a more convincing world, they allow the character to blossom, and they give the reader a reason to return to the book for an additional read.
In Pierre’s New Hair there’s a handful of occasions where I was able to have LOADS of fun with these ‘extra’ details. There’s a couple of crowd scenes full of animal characters. The hair paraphernalia in Pierre’s room. The old-school B-boys rocking the knock-off ‘Adidas’ tracksuits. The double page journey spread, and some roller-skating training strategy hidden away in the Bear Squad’s training centre.

What about making and publishing your first picture book surprised you? Is there anything you wish you’d known before?

I was surprised how easy the process was once I started work with Tate Publishing. After sharing the roughs, I remember waiting to hear the feedback, preparing myself to reinvent the characters, or alter something I had loved working on. But I was shocked, they embraced all of it! It was brilliant to have that freedom and support. 

Beforehand, the process had been much more difficult. 

My agent encouraged me to make some stylistic amendments to my drawings, this was a frustrating process. I understood their point and I agreed with them, but in practice moving away from a drawing process that had become so intuitive was grating, it led me to mistrust my own process for a while. Everything I drew looked wrong. I remember drawing pages and pages just focusing on correcting eyes. The eyes still freak me out!

In terms of the storytelling, there were many drafts shared with different publishers who were enthusiastic and helpful. When it didn’t work out with them it often felt like a failure. Now, with hindsight, all those hurdles are important parts of the developmental process. I would urge everyone (and myself going forward) to trust the process, don’t be too hard on yourself. Failure, rejection, struggle, are all part of learning. Growth.

Everyone’s path is different, try to enjoy your journey as much as possible.

22nd September 2022

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