David Litchfield is a children’s author and illustrator from Bedfordshire, England.
The Bear and the Piano is David’s debut picture book, published by Frances Lincoln on 3rd September. I defy anyone to not fall in love with it!
Said the Mudwaffler… ‘The forest will never be the same… I’ll always be listening for the bear and the piano’
The Bear and the Piano stopped me in my tracks when I first caught a glimpse of it on Twitter. It looks so different from the current picture book trends – and that made it stand out – but it’s David Litchfield’s illustrations that had me in a trance. Before I knew anything about the story, I knew it was going to be beautiful. It is.
It begins when a bear cub finds something he’d never seen before in the forest, that when touched “PLONK!” makes an awful sound.
The bear comes back the next day, and the day after that, and everyday for weeks, months and years as the forest changes with the seasons and the bear grows big and strong and grizzly. Somehow, through his big bear paws he learns to play. Now the sounds are beautiful and the bear is happy – he draws a crowd of bears in the forest and plays nightly for them, but he also dreams of strange and wonderful lands…
One day a girl and her father find the bear in the forest and invite him to come to the city, to play grand pianos for hundreds of people…
He performs sold-out concerts in giant theatres, records albums, wins awards and is famous everywhere he goes. It’s everything he hoped it would be… BUT (you knew it was coming!) deep down he longs for the forest, his old friends and his home. And so he heads back.
But will his friends still be there? Will they remember him?
As I mentioned – the illustrations stopped me in my tracks. It’s like looking through a window into ‘David Litchfield World’ and its a wonderful place to be – each page is so well illustrated and designed – I love the way the trees in the forest cut off the page just where the leaves begin, creating not only a fine backing crowd of tree trunks, but also a sense of being in the woods with the bear; it really makes you relate to the character and the story.
The detail in the fur of each bear is such a nice touch, especially on the spreads featuring a whole forest full of them – so many wonderful expressions too!
David has reinvented the forest and filled it with excitement. No doubt lots of little feet will be searching their nearest forest for the bear and the piano this autumn.
For anyone who wants to read a bit about the making of The Bear and the Piano, with lots of peeks behind the scenes, sketchbooks full of bears and insider information on the process, David made a great blog.
The Mudwaffler would like to invite the bear to visit his forest, anytime! He gives his badge with the biggest of smiles…
Now, it’s WAFFLE time! David Litchfield joins us for a Q&A…
What inspired The Bear and the Piano?
I wanted to tell a story about following your dreams and not letting your apparent disadvantages get in the way. You know, the Bear has big stubby paws and spiky claws which are not good for playing a piano, and he’s really big so it will be really hard to get a tuxedo that fits him. Also just the fact that he’s y’know, a Bear and bears should not be able to play the piano… he doesn’t let these things hold him back in his dream of becoming a world-famous piano player.
Also I kept sketching a bear playing a piano in my sketchbook. For ages I was just doodling this image and not thinking too much of it. And then one day I started imagining what the story was behind these sketches and the narrative just started coming together.
What are you currently working on (any sneak-peek news!?)?
Well, I’m working on a few things actually. Right now I’m half way through a great book written by the legendary Marylyn Singer. It’s called ‘Miss Muffet: Or What Came After’ and it’s this bonkers singing dancing sequel to the Miss Muffet poem. It’s crazy and I’m loving putting images to Mrs Singers words.
Also, I’ve just finished illustrating a book called ‘The Building Boy’ which is written by Ross Montgommery. It’s a fantastically weird picture book about a boy who’s beloved Grandmas dies, so he builds another version of her out of bits of houses! That was so much fun to draw. Again, it’s a bit bonkers. Both of these books should be out at some point in 2016.
Ohhhh, I’m also in the planning stages for a few other very exciting projects, but I’m not sure how much I can say at the moment. One book is another one that I have written myself and will also be published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books (who are the publishers of The Bear & The Piano) It’s a project that I have been planning for a good while so I am super excited that it’s happening.
The others are books that I am so unbelievably happy to be working on and the authors are just fantastic. Aghh, I would love to tell you but I don’t think I can yet. I’ll keep you posted though.
What is your favourite thing to draw?
It used to be Darth Vader and Ewoks. Now it’s Giants and Bears.
Who or what are your influences?
I grew up reading Asterix and I was a little bit obsessed. The illustrator Albert Uderzo was and is a massive influence. Thinking about it, he’s probably my biggest influence actually. I used to practice drawing by copying those great characters like Obelix and Getafix etc. I remember that at middle school I drew my very own complete Asterix book called ‘Asterix and the Giant’. I got a really good mark for it too. I’ll try and dig it out if I still have it (it was a very, very long time ago).
Do you have any advice for illustrators/writers who are just starting out?
Draw every day.
Be inspired by others (but don’t copy).
Be nice to people.
Get on with it. The great thing about being an illustrator (or a writer for that matter) is that the only person who can do it is you! You don’t really need anything other than a pen and paper (although a computer and a bit of money is helpful, but not essential).
Also – unless you are lucky enough to be super rich already – get a part-time job. Work in a coffee shop, a pub, anywhere. Being creative every day is fantastic, but working in publishing can be a slow process. It sounds so so so boring but worrying about paying bills etc can hamper creativity so it’s good to have that safety net. Even if it’s just for the period of time when you are starting out and finding your feet.
and three for fun…
What are three words that best describe you?
What is your favourite colour?
Red. Red can say a lot of things.
If you could share a cuppa with anyone (alive or dead), anywhere, who would it be and where would you go?
I think Uderzo again. We would go for a strong coffee in a Parisian boulangerie. Although I can’t speak French so chatting would be a bit tricky and possibly awkward. Maybe we could communicate through drawings. That would be pretty cool.
Swamp Hugs! Till the next time…