An Interview with Frané Lessac – Illustrator of Pattan’s Pumpkin

janetta-and-frane-copy
Frané Lessac with Janetta Otter-Barry at Edinburgh Book Festival just before she was commissioned.

Pattan’s Pumpkin was published in the UK, Australia and NZ on 1st September 2016. It was conceived as a book in 2013.

The book waited over two years for the perfect illustrator. It waited for Frané Lessac.

Frané is an award winning American artist who has exhibited her paintings in London, Paris, New York and Los Angeles. From film school in California she went on to live on the Caribbean island of Montserrat where she began her career as an author and painter. She loves to travel and create books based on her journeys. Frané has published more than forty children’s books and has won many international awards including the Muriel Barwell Award for Distinguished Service to Children’s Literature. She joined the National Year of Reading initiative as a State Ambassador in 2012 and a Room to Read Ambassador in 2014. She currently lives in Fremantle, Australia.

Janetta Otter-Barry, our publisher extraordinaire, was looking for the perfect illustrator who could bring the pumpkin to life. Click here if you haven’t read about how Pattan’s Pumpkin came to be. Unlike other picture books where the illustrator goes away for a few months and the comes back with a Ta-Da, Frané gave us a little peek at various stages and discussed key cultural aspects throughout the creation of the art. So I thought I should interview Frané Lessac for my blog (and hers) to find out more about her process and how Pattan’s Pumpkin came to be.

Here are my questions and Frané’s answers with show and tell of illustrations!


Pattan’s story is from southern India. Have you visited this part of India before? What kind of research did you have to do for the landscape and the animals?

I’ve travelled several times throughout India including the south coast of Kerala, but I’ve never visited the Western Ghats mountain ranges. It’s now at the top of my list. To research the flora, fauna and landscape, I looked at rare books and online resources.

Pattan is from a tribe indigenous to the Western Ghats mountain ranges. What kind of information did you need to know before you start drawing him and Kanni?

I researched the Irular people from southern India, who regard themselves as descendants of Pattan and Kanni. Their story that has been passed down from generation to generation and Chitra captured the complete essence of the story. Her retelling was a visual feast for my imagination. Creating a picture book is always a collaboration and with the “team”, editor, art director, Chitra and myself, we communicated throughout about our main characters. We needed to ensure we had overall cultural authenticity.

I like your little secret message of the ants and the two white birds in each spread. Do you decide on these little details early on or does it happen as you start drawing.animals-on-and-under-bed-copy

I add little details in my painting at the very end. When I was a child, I loved books with lots of details to explore and being able to discover new bits on each returned reading. I got a kick out of painting the bird and the frog asleep on Pattan and Kanni’s bed and all the other animals fast asleep under the bed. The portraits on the wall are funny too.

 

Can you show us a sample of your roughs and your step by step process?

The first step was to create thumbnails of every scene with sometimes 2-3 ideas for each one. The team decided which was their favourite. working-on-roughs-in-my-studio-copy

prelim-5-copyNext, I sketched up sloppy copies, also known as preliminary drawings, to size and made a dummy book. The team went over the drawings and we tweaked further. 

 

spread-7-art-copy

The palette to create the final art, was inspired by the many colours of India. I also used opposite colours side by side which made the art stand out. I then rendered each scene using gouache paint, taking up to 3 days to complete each one. 

Do you love pumpkins? Was it different for you to visualise pumpkins in a non-Halloween scenario?  

I love pumpkins and have the best pumpkin soup recipe and make a mean pumpkin pie! Growing up in the United States, the only pumpkins I knew were orange. We’d carve the biggest one we could find every Halloween. It wasn’t until I moved to the Caribbean that I discovered that orange ones weren’t readily found in the rest of the world.

When I wrote the story of Pattan’s Pumpkin, and learnt about how the region of Western Ghats is protected as a UNESCO heritage site, it got me thinking how Pattan’s message about conservation is an important one. What did you take away from Pattan’s Pumpkin? Did Pattan tell you a secret?

fullsizerender_withlotsofpumpkins
Frané dreaming about a crop of pumpkins…

Pattan’s secret message to me was to plant pumpkins. Lots of them. My garden will soon be taken over by hundreds of pumpkins. I want to grow one as BIG as the one in the story! Wish me luck.

 


Thank you Frané – we enjoyed seeing the work in progress, and amazed that each rendering took three days to complete. Wow! Pattan and Kanni would love the book for sure. You should share your pumpkin pie recipe with us sometime. Find out all about Pattan’s Pumpkin here.