Tuesday, May 26, 2009

First Impressions


I often go to schools to talk about my career path, my lifelong obsession with drawing, writing and creating things, and the first book I show is the one I got as a child and was the first book I could read 'all by myself'. The Silver Thimble Storybook published by Blackie arrived to me via either the post or my older sister. We were living in Ghana, West Africa at the time, and I was six. Our big sister was at boarding school back in Devon (there being no secondary schools for her in Takoradi) and it was her duty at age twelve to buy supplies of things from Boots the Chemist and other luxuries hard to come by before she boarded the Lollipop Express- the plane the air force kids came home on for the 'hols'. So possibly it was she that bought me this book at the request of our mother.

That book became my personal benchmark for illustration success. I had no idea who Rie Cramer, the artist was or even that she was a woman. Or that she wrote under the pseudonym Marc Holman (and we still have to pretend we are men at times to get the book buying audience), or that she was born in Java and moved to the Netherlands at nine years of age, or that she designed stage sets, costumes and ceramics. All I knew was that if I could draw 'as good as that' when I grew up, I would be a happy girl. I copied the pictures faithfully, read and re-read The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina and the other treasures within. I wrote my own versions of the stories as you do when too young to think of anything much yourself. After all it is said that there are only five stories in the world and everything else is a variation of one of those themes...

So here I am forty something years later, with my very battered and well loved book- still trying to draw as well as Rie Cramer (her real name was Marie) a
nd come up with new stories. It pleases me that my first artistic inspiration in life was a woman who lent her hand to many creative pursuits and lived a fully expressed life because of that. And I am eternally grateful that my parents saw the value of flying precious books across continents to their children. We grew up reading- what a gift.

To all my fellow writers and illustrators out there and the publishers that deliver our work to children; may the arts continue to inspire generations. You just don't know whose future you will create.


7 comments:

Mary McCallum said...

Oh that illustration is simply magic. I must show Issy [the daughter who is in truth a mermaid who happened to land up here]. Lovely story Fi.

Bookman Beattie said...

How wonderful that you still have your first book Fifi. What a lovely story, thanks for sharing.

maureen said...

They are great illustrations...very evocative. I can see why you fell in love with it.
Of course I think that you are definitely following in Rie Cramers footsteps...hhmmm set design...want to try your hand at that when the conference is done and dusted????

Penny said...

Lovely! I too still have some books from my childhood - treasured possessions that I shall hang onto until my dying day!!

eag said...

What great parents to value books and reading, literacy and knowledge and to give you access to these things even if it meant effort and complicated arrangements.
I had the benefit of an older Mother who had had a career as a commercial artist and craftswoman with a big interest in illustrators.I grew up with Rackham,Beardsley,Dulac and all the other wonderful and creative illustrators of their time.Don't remember my first book just books but I do remember the first one I bought myself.
I read to my Daughter from 6 weeks and she has an intense love of books, a vast repertoire of song lyrics and talked in 13 word sentences at a year old! Love those books!
"Good be with you" 'Finn's Quest" a Trilogy by Eirlys Hunter, a New Zealand writer of magic for children that adults love.

Fifi Colston said...

Yes Eag, early access to reading and books is critical to enjoyment and reading fluency. The wider repetoire the better. Like introducing foods. They may get stuck doggedly on favouring one thing but a wide range of taste experiences will give them a broader diet which enables them to make interesting choices later. We read comics, annuals, Enid B, classics (the Narnia Chronicles) Poe, poetry and beyond. The comics helped me with drawing immensely too- I was able to disinguish design and layout and dynamic viewpoints. It all adds up to a whole...
Thanks for your comments on my blog!

dani said...

i had this book too as a child...i still have it. it is a treasured posession of mine, the artwork is spectacular. i think these drawings influence the rest of your creative life....