I was so thrilled to catch up with illustrator Freya Hartas about her Slow Down series, written by Rachel Williams, including today’s board book release Slow Down…On Your Doorstep. I hope you enjoy taking a deeper look at this contemplative series with me!
Discover a magical world of nature on your doorstep. Charming rhyming verse presents six mindful moments–including a squirrel burying a nut and a rainbow forming on a rainy day–to the youngest readers.
Let’s talk Freya Hartas!
LTPB: How did you become the illustrator of Slow Down…On Your Doorstep and its companion books? What were the first images that popped into your mind when you saw Rachel Williams’ text?
FH: Rachel approached me at some point in 2019 with the news that she was building a brand new publishing house called Magic Cat and one of their first book proposals was a nature anthology called Slow Down which she had me in mind for illustrating. We met in a little Bristol coffee shop, had a chat about what the project would entail and flicked through my sketchbook. I was really excited by the prospect of working on a non-fiction title for the first time, especially one with a nature theme! It would turn out to be quite a different process to working on fiction books (which I was very used to) I found that I really loved working closely with reference images and having the challenge of making sure the subject matter was both accurate but also friendly and approachable enough to appeal to a young audience.
For me, the text for Slow Down reads like a David Attenborough nature documentary, it has the same gentle tone and invests your interest into the lives of its animal and plant cast in a way that is both factual and story driven. The illustrations in the ‘What to Find in Spring/ Summer/ Winter’ Ladybird books popped to mind for their cosy and nostalgic way of portraying scenes of nature in very familiar locations – a flock of rooks resting in a park or a cat sitting on a village fencepost. I knew I wanted to capture some of that familiarity in the Slow Down illustrations and that timeless, quiet beauty of those very everyday scenes and settings.
LTPB: What did you find most challenging in creating this book? What did you find most rewarding?
FH: The most challenging element for me was working on such a long term project, Slow Down is a tome of a book, at 100 pages long! It’s the longest book I’ve worked on so far in my career and there were times that keeping up the momentum and hitting deadlines on time was quite a struggle and felt a bit like running a marathon (I’ve never been good at long distance running!) When I finally held the finished book in my hand it was the most rewarding experience, I thought ‘I did all of that!?’ It’s amazing to have such a large body of work under my belt!
LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium? How does your process change from book to book?
FH: I use a mix of traditional pencil drawing and digital colouring when creating all my books of recent years. It’s a process I’ve been perfecting over time and I feel quite comfortable working this way by now. Recently I have had a slight yearning for a change though, I’d love to work on a book in watercolour and coloured pencil or pen and ink which are mediums I often play around with in my sketchbook. It’s always scary to break out of your comfort zone when there are so many ‘what if’s’ that come with working in new mediums on a professional project, but I think I’m feeling ready to make that leap!
LTPB: What are you working on now? Anything you can show us?
FH: I’m currently working on the next Brown Bear Woods book, a sequel to If You Go Down to the Woods Today. It’s a lot of fun to be back in the magical woodland with Bear and all his animal friends. I can’t share too much just yet but here’s a little crop to wet your appetite.
LTPB: If you got the chance to write your own picture book autobiography, who (dead or alive!) would you want to illustrate it, and why?
FH: It would have to be either Elsa Beskow, Fritz Baumgarten, Tove Jansson or John Bauer, just because I would really like to be portrayed as some kind of little creature, gnome or troll living in a tiny mushroom house in an enchanted forest… Maybe more of a dream autobiography than an accurate one! hehe 🍄✨
A million thanks to Freya for talking to me about these sweet books! Slow Down…On Your Doorstep publishes TODAY from Magic Cat!
Special thanks to Freya and Magic Cat for use of these images!
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August 30, 2022 at 10:32AM firstname.lastname@example.org (Mel Schuit)