Beatrice Blue - A Lion & Dragonfly Interview

Beatrice Blue - A Lion & Dragonfly Interview

Beatrice Blue - A Lion & Dragonfly Interview

 "When writing Once Upon a Dragon’s Fire, I wanted to bring some of that sense of wonder and magic into the book. Also, I wanted to write a book that focused on preconceived notions and the importance of empathy and inclusion."

Once Upon a Dragon's Fire was among our very first selections at Lion & Dragonfly, and has been a beloved parts of our best-selling Knights & Dragons Collection.  We are delighted to share this incredibly thoughtful interview with Beatrice Blue.  She takes us deep into her creative process, and her journey as a children's author and illustrator.  

Can you tell us about what inspired you to write Once Upon a Dragon's Fire?

When I was around 13 years old, I visited a family from Wales for the first time thanks to a school exchange; something that became a yearly tradition with the same family, which I now consider part of my own. The first time I saw Wales and Scotland I was mesmerized by the castles, the greenery, and all the hidden treasures that seemed to be around.

When writing Once Upon a Dragon’s Fire, I wanted to bring some of that sense of wonder and magic into the book. Also, I wanted to write a book that focused on preconceived notions and the importance of empathy and inclusion.

Where did the inspiration for the art in this book come from?

Partly my visits to Wales, partly my recent visit to the Italian landscapes, and some Japanese elements inspired me too for the world building. And my first, and extremely cold, winter experience living in Canada.

There are several important things in the art of this book for me.

One, the colors. The book starts with gray/blue colder tones resembling the town’s feelings towards the dragon. When the kids see the dragon for the first time, they see it as a blue cold dragon. But the more the kids empathize with the dragon and are kind and loving towards him, the more colorful the scenes turn. The dragon also changes color. From blues, to a rainbow of warm tones. As does the town.

If you flip the pages of the book from beginning to end you can see this transition from cold to warm, just like the dragon feels throughout the book.

I also love fashion design overall and wanted to make the character’s clothes relevant to their personalities, while adding some visual statements to them too.

Can you talk about your illustration process?

I always carry a tiny sketchbook with me. In there, I write ideas both for my writing and illustrations. During the course of a few weeks I think about ideas and I write them all in that tiny sketchbook.

After that, I do a first pass (super rough) showing a first overall idea with the book’s format. That includes both text and illustrations. This differs so much from the final shape of the book, but it’s thanks to this first start that I can continue to make changes and shape the book until I’m satisfied with it.

After I have a series of rough drawings and words, I clean them up. Meaning I think about design and composition, shapes and forms, character design, color design and so on.

Once everything is designed and ready for painting, I do a rough painting pass just to see if the colors are what I want, looking both at the individual pages and the overall book.

After that, I just paint the pages and prepare them to print!

What is your favorite page of this book and why?

Probably the gatefold. I just love when kids open it for the first time and see a huge colorful dragon. Their expression is priceless and the book becomes so big when the gatefold is opened. It’s a nice surprise I think. I also really like it because it focuses just on Dragon and how he’s feeling. I think it’s a very powerful moment in the story.

But I also love the page where they’re all sitting together reading inside that cave. It’s a very unique and loving moment of empathy and realization.

What are you most proud of from this book?

I think there’s something really special about this book when I compare it to my other stories. It was particularly hard for me to make a story with 3 protagonists that are all equally important.

At first, in my first draft, Freya was a princess and Sylas was a boy that brought light from a secret cave to the castles. And nobody knew of the Dragon. The story was very different, and Sylas was the protagonist when you come to think about it. I wanted Freya to be as important, but also Dragon was the main part of the story and needed to feel as big a protagonist as the kids.

When writing a picture book, there are only a few pages and only a few words compared to a novel or a longer story. It was complex for me to compress everything that I wanted to tell into such a small dose. But I think, after many drafts and lots of thought, everything turned out just like I wanted in the beginning.

What inspired you to become an author and/or illustrator?

I’ve always had lots of sketchbooks full of small stories and drawings. Picture books are something so special to me because they combine both. They are like a tiny treasure. A small pill that contains a story that can be as big as you want it to be; a place where you can get lost for a bit and imagine upon. It also contains images to rejoice and wonder around. And it’s small. You can carry it. You can share it. The book will later have a unique story of its own. It’s just so special. And inspiring.

I like to write and illustrate individually too. And many authors and books like the old European tales, J.M. Barry, Neil Gaiman or Roald Dahl’s stories, among many others, made me want to write my own since I was a kid.

As far as illustration goes, I think I was always more inspired to become one because of animation, such as Studio Ghibli’s films or Japanese anime

What do you think are the ingredients for a great children’s book?

I think a solid idea is key. It’s easy to get lost into talking about several matters and then the book can look muddy and complex.

I think a great picture book showcases a story with an idea that kids can understand and care about but also a stronger core and layers to it for parents to realize and value themselves too.

I personally like picture books that can be read both from the kid’s point of view as well as the adult’s. The kid can grow with it and learn different things around the same book as they grow. And that’s extremely valuable and difficult to achieve in my opinion.

What is your favorite place to write?

I love to go wherever my book is going to be set in. For example, I wrote my mermaid’s book at the beach near my in-law’s house at the coast in Spain. For the unicorn book, I wrote from a house in the woods. For the dragon one, from my home in Montréal around the deep cold winter storms, surrounded by books and cozy winter nights.

What was your favorite picture book growing up?

I don’t remember having any picture books, as we know them now, when I was a kid. I had these big tomes of the Grimm Brothers’ tales and Perrault, though, with tiny drawings inside too.

In those you could find a small story for each day of the year. So my mum would look at the current date and read to me and my sister almost every night before bed. We didn’t see the drawings when my mum was reading them since the lights were off, but my sister and I would then stare at the pages the day after and compare them to what we had imagined the night before when my mum was reading to us.

What children’s book (other than your own) are you recommending to friends at the moment?

One of my favorite children’s books ever is Just Because by Mac Barnett and Isabelle Arsenault.

What’s the last book you couldn’t put down?

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood.

If you weren’t an author what would you most like to be? What is your (other) dream career?

A musician. Or a biologist.

What do you hope your audience takes away from reading Once Upon a Dragon's Fire?

I hope the book makes the reader think for a bit about their empathy towards others, and how our preconceived notions might affect those around us.

What would you want your ten-year-old self to know?

Oh, many things. Ha, ha. But if I had to choose one, I’d probably tell myself that my future will come at its own pace. It’s great to think about what you want to do when you grow up, but not at the expense of missing the present.

What are you currently working on?

I just finished the next picture book of the series, “Once Upon a Witch’s Broom”, and I’m very excited to share it with everyone.

I’m also planning a series of small short stories for the future. And a next picture book in collaboration with someone very special to me.

What is your favorite book genre?

Oh, that’s hard! I love fantasy. But I also love classics, science fiction, drama and poetry. Short stories are probably my favorite though.

If you could have one superpower what would it be?

I’ve been asked this question a few times, and I feel like my answer always varies. I’d say, right now, I’d love to have the ability to talk to animals and understand them.

Who are your favorite writers and illustrators?

So many! As far as writers go, I’m a huge fan of Neil Gaiman’s stories. Especially his short stories. Also Kipling, Roald Dahl, Margaret Atwood, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Oscar Wilde, Terry Pratchett, George R. R. Martin, Michael Moorcock, and I could keep naming forever!

For illustrators, I’m a big fan of Arthur Rackham, Jean Giraud, Lisk Feng, Carson Ellis, Aurélien Predal, Sang Miao, Julia Sardá, Dani Díez and Sarah Gonzales among many others. 

- Abby Gallagher with Beatrice Blue

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