Which modern picturebook artists do you admire and why?
I admire the work of Leo Lionni, Maurice Sendak, Lisbeth Zwerger, Mitsumasa Anno, Ezra Jack Keats, Jerry Pinkney and Chris Van Allsburg. Each of these picture book artists has an individual and distinctive style and approach and each one speaks from his or her soul.
You have created over 40 gorgeous picture book in your career, but why do you think The Very Hungry Caterpillar was more popular than, say, The Bad Tempered Ladybug or The Very Quiet Cricket?
I think it has a universal quality – perhaps the way the caterpillar transforms – that so many can relate to.
Do you ever get tired of hearing The Very Hungry Caterpillar?
I have to admit, I don’t. It continues to entertain me, all these years later!
What comes first, the story or the pictures? And where do ideas come from?
To me pictures need writing and writing needs pictures. A child once called me a picture writer, and that’s a good way to describe me. It is the idea that comes first.
I start with a dummy book. A dummy book is eight sheets of paper folded and stapled to make a 32-page blank book, into which I sketch my idea. Sometimes it takes many, many dummy books before the pictures and the story are just right. It’s hard work and you have to have faith in yourself.
When I start a book it’s a lot of fun. After a while it is work, then it becomes labor. Towards the end it feels like slavery! After I have delivered the finished illustrations to the publisher, I become sad. But when I see the printed book, I am happy again!
When did you decide to start writing and illustrating books?
My career began as a graphic designer. Later I was an art director for an advertising agency. In the mid 1960’s Bill Martin Jr saw an ad of a red lobster that I had designed and asked me to illustrate Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? What an inspiring book! Now the large sheets of paper, the colorful paints and fat brushes of my earlier school came to my mind. I was set on fire! It was possible, after all, to do something special that would show a child the joy to be found in books. This opportunity changed my life.
I found that illustrating alone was not entirely satisfying and wanted to try writing as well. I began to make rough books of my ideas and stored them in a small cardboard box. When I illustrated an historical cookbook, the editor heard about my box of ideas and asked to see them. I submitted 1,2,3 to the Zoo. Then I showed her a story about a worm who ate holes through the pages. Ann Beneduce, my editor, wasn’t so sure about the appeal of worm. “Maybe another creature would be better. How about a caterpillar?” Ann asked. “Butterfly!” I exclaimed. That is how The Very Hungry Caterpillar was born. Almost without trying, I had become an author and illustrator of books for children. To read more about Eric Carle and his books visit his official website, www.eric-carle.com