Sarah Massini - A Lion and Dragonfly Interview
Our first interview with an illustrator! We were intrigued by the incredible talent who illustrated The Girl and the Dinosaur, and this Diplodocus-loving artist was kind enough to answer our questions from her studio in England. Sarah fills us in on her journey to becoming an illustrator, her list of dream destinations (hello Madagascar!), and the incredible new projects she has in the pipeline. She also shares loads of her enchanting artwork. Enjoy this lovely interview!
How did you come to collaborate with Hollie Hughes on this book?
Our publisher Bloomsbury sent me Hollie’s text. It was the exciting adventure story I was really hoping would come my way and I hugged it tightly after my first read-through. It was mine, all MINE, and I wasn’t going to let go of it.
What inspired you to become an illustrator and/or Have you always wanted to be an illustrator?
Art was the only thing I was ever really any good at, and the thing that I always loved to do. We moved a lot when I was a kid, and my homelife, schooling and friendships were fairly unsettled, but art was a refuge that was always there for me. I ended up doing a graphics degree and then spent ten years gradually drifting back to illustration. I reached a big life crossroads after, a) I was made redundant, and b) my son was born - both of which happened at the same time. My wonderful husband said to me, ‘Illustration is what you’ve always wanted to do. If you don’t do it now, you never will.’ Of course, having a baby is not really conducive to a career change, and we were fairly penniless for a while, but I got here eventually. My baby is grown up now.
Do you have a favorite dinosaur?
Diplodocus. They’re so weird-looking. There was no amazing CGI when I was a child, but I had a little paperback book about dinosaurs and the illustration of the diplodocus always fascinated me the most.
Who has most inspired you creative life?
My grandma. She was into all kinds of arts and crafts. All her life, she was always making something. She’d make things for me, or she’d let me help and have a go. She was a really beautiful person.
What’s been the most surprising thing about being a children’s illustrator?
The way you sit in your little studio in your little village, and get to reach out to children all around the globe.
What do you think are the ingredients for a great children’s book?
The story has to touch your heart or make you laugh. The illustrations need to take your imagination further than you thought it could go.
What is your hometown?
I was born in the north of England, and I now live in the south, but I’ve also lived in places that are between and beyond! I have trouble identifying a ‘home’ town.
What is your favorite place to illustrate?
I need all my art materials and desks (I have two) and tech equipment. So the only place I can illustrate is in my studio.
Do you have a favorite indie bookstore? What makes it amazing?
I like them all of course! But there is one in a beautiful village near where I live called Much Ado Books, and it’s pretty special. It’s made up of two buildings, and in between the two is a courtyard with sculptures, an old shepherd’s hut and some hens! It’s part book shop (new and secondhand) and part gallery; it’s a creative hub and a pantheon to literature. And the owners have also set up ‘Prospero’s Project’ which donates books and money to a wide range of beneficiaries. Very inspiring.
Do you listen to music while you are working? If so, what’s currently on your playlist?
I listen to music when I’m drawing. I have ‘concentration’ playlists of calm and inspiring music. They include artists like Alt-J, Burial, Thomas Tallis, The Be Good Tanyas, Nicholas Britell, Thom Yorke… actually far too many to list. I listen to a LOT of music.
When I’m ‘colouring in’ I listen to audio books and radio dramas.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Scotland, Morocco, India, Peru, Venice, Rome, Japan, Argentina, Australia, Madagascar…. (I haven’t properly visited Scotland. Can you believe that?!)
What was your favorite picture book growing up? and/or What picture book do you never tire of reading to children?
Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever. I still have it and my copy is actually called Mein Allerschönstes Wörterbuch - it's in German and English. I lived in Germany during some of my childhood, and I think it was supposed to help me speak German. To be honest, I never learnt much German from it because I was too busy exploring the pictures.
My son really liked Babar The Elephant, which I must have read 100s of times to him, but I never got bored of it because the illustrations are so wonderful.
What children’s book (other than your own) are you recommending to friends at the moment?
Well I have many favourite illustrators, and currently I love everything by The Fan Brothers and also by a Dutch illustrator called Mark Janssen. So any books by them I guess. But there are so many beauties out there to choose from.
It’s summertime. We have to know: What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
Peanut from La Carraia in Florence. Proper Italian gelato! My husband is half Italian (hence my surname Massini, of course) and we visit Italy a lot, particularly Florence.
Which superpower would you most like to have?
What’s the last book you couldn’t put down?
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.
What museum would you most like to spend the night in?
The Victoria and Albert Museum in London. All that art!
If you weren’t an illustrator , what would you most like to be? What is your (other) dream career?
A trapeze artist!
What would you want your ten year old self to know?
Do it YOUR way.
Be kind. Be friendly. Mostly, people will be kind and friendly back.
What are you currently working on?
Well there’s a lot of publicity preparation to be done for THE WITCHLING’S WISH which comes out in September (by Lu Fraser - Bloomsbury), and also a picture book version of THE LITTLE PRINCE (by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry/Louise Greig - Farshore), which publishes this October.
My ‘main’ work, currently, is a lovely nature-themed book, and there are lots more exciting projects in the pipeline too.