May Angeli is a painter, printmaker, author and illustrator of children’s literature from Clichy, France. She studied at the School of Arts and Crafts in Paris and later took engraving classes in Urbino, Italy. In 2013, she received the Grand Prix de l’Illustration from the Moulins Museum of Youth Illustration. Her book The Bear and the Duck (Eerdmans) is her English-language debut.
What made you decide to become an author?
In the beginning it was Régine Lilensten, the founder of the publishing house Le Sorbier (then a small, independent publishing house which specialized in children’s books that opened up cultures around the world), who suggested illustrating texts with woodcut prints. She later went on to suggest “May, you should write your own stories,” so I did.
Do you have a favorite medium or style?
No I don’t. But the facts remains that most of my illustrations are made using xylography. Often at the request of my publishers.
Who has been a major influence on your illustrating style?
Initially, it was my meeting with a great Tunisian artist who worked by balancing his wooden plank upon his knees. I asked him: “How do you do this?” He answered: “It is simple.” Later, in a studio run by the city of Paris, I started learning the technique. After that, I went to Urbino, the birth city of Raphael, to learn from Italian printmakers how to print my woodcuts in color (using separate wood blocks) and to perfect my technique in relief print (this method is specific to woodcuts, here the ink is deposited on the relief left when the wood is carved away).
Where do you find your inspiration for new stories and characters?
I find my inspiration when I am not doing anything. I go out for a stroll, observe my surroundings, look for landmarks. Then I come back to the same spot and I draw in a little notebook. “What about ducks?” And just like that, a switch is flipped. A new story is born. Oftentimes, my characters are in conflict. But as the story progresses, things get better….
What is the process of illustrating a book; how does it go from an idea to a finished work of art on sale in bookstores?
I write my stories quickly from start to finish. Then, I work on the writing. When it looks like it should, I present it to my publisher. If the text is accepted, I then draw a storyboard, with the positioning of the text and the characters in situation. When that is approved, I make full-scale sketches, then I transfer them in reverse on the wooden plaque. I carve into the wood, leaving in relief the characters and landscape that will compose my illustration. Then I print at my home in Paris. My publishers then choose the set of prints they think have come out best. After that, they might consult me for potential adjustments, but otherwise it’s in their hands.
Once the picture book is out, it is the distributor, with the help of publicity and marketing, who are in charge of launching the book, of placing it in the bookstores and getting it reviewed. Later on I will exhibit my work and do signings upon request from bookstores, libraries, cultural centers, and book fairs.
What characteristics do you think illustrators need most?
Being an artist is a solitary adventure. You need a lot of patience, you will want to present your work, and the publishers are always out of time. Don’t forget you will also need courage, to ask for a raise in royalties for example. You should never insist when a publisher rejects your work. You will always be able to try elsewhere.
Can you tell us one thing that people may not know about you?
I liked school; however, I was not what you would call a good student/pupil.
What is your favorite image from The Bear and the Duck?
I think I might like the last one best.
What do you hope kids learn from The Bear and the Duck?
I do not make books to teach young readers something. I write, draw, engrave and print from my own pleasure. If my readers find something in it too, then that’s wonderful.
One late winter day, a strange noise startles Bear out of his slumber. Grumpily searching for the source, he finds Duck, trapped in the thicket—but not for long. Bear frees Duck with a few scoops of his big paws, and their friendship begins. The more time the two spend swimming, exploring, and telling stories, the less Bear wants to go back to his lonely old life. As spring turns to summer, and summer turns to fall, what else will change?
Stunning woodcut engravings illustrate this gentle story about kindness, the four seasons, and the joy of an unexpected friend.