Getting to Know Giselle Clarkson

November 25th 2020

'Tis the season and we're getting super excited ahead of meeting the creators of Egg & Spoon at our Christmas Party on Thursday! We bagged a sneak peak interview with NZ illustrator, Giselle Clarkson whose scrumptious illustrations can be found in Gecko Press's new cookbook for kids - healthy and yummy recipes for Kiwis 1-100. Come get a signed copy of Egg & Spoon and make someone's Christmas morning!

What is your day job?

I do freelance illustration full time for all sorts of different projects. I make comics too, and sometimes I write.

What is your connection to Vic Books?

A friend and a fan. Especially in the last few years, my appreciation for beautiful local bookshops has grown exponentially every day. Where would I be without you?

How did you get into illustration work - was it something you always knew you wanted to do as a profession?

I’ve always known I wanted to be an artist of some kind. I studied Fine Arts at uni, although my discipline was photography. It wasn’t until a couple of years after graduating that I got back into drawing for fun and realised I’d probably wanted to be an illustrator all along. I started out by selling prints and posting my work on social media, making headers for people’s blogs and stuff like that. I didn’t really know how the industry worked but I was lucky to meet other illustrators who were generous with their time and advice, and I stumbled from job to job until I felt like I knew approximately what I was doing! But it was still a few years beyond that before I was ready to start illustrating books.

Your portfolio includes some really well known and wonderful children's books - is that a passion of yours?

Yes! I am a huge nerd for picture books and have been for a long time. It’s always the first section I visit in a bookshop and I have a collection of my favourites at home. I’ll read a whole stack of them at a time when I go to the library. I suppose the main attraction for me is the illustrations, each book is like it’s own gallery, but I’ll never stop being amazed at the infinite originality and depth of stories that can fit into just 32 pages. I get a huge thrill from having my own work on the same shelves nowadays - it's a dream!

Photo credit: Sage Journal

How did you come about to illustrate Alex Tylee's book Egg & Spoon - was it a collaboration from the start and how closely did you have to work together?

Gecko Press paired us together, and collaboration was really important right from the beginning. Alexandra’s restaurant - Pipi Cafe in Havelock north - has an iconic visual identity. It’s pink (like, really pink!) and red and golden, with lush greenery and silver candelabra, and just emanates warmth and good feelings (and more literally, the smell of really really good pizza). I stayed in Havelock North for a few nights before I started working on the illustrations so I could really understand what Pipi was all about, and I came away fizzing with ideas and moods to turn into illustrations. So that’s where Egg & Spoon’s colour palette comes from, and a lot of the details are things I saw during that trip or come from Alexandra’s own home. While I was working on the drawings we’d check in pretty regularly and have meetings at the Gecko Press offices - always with biscuits!

You're going to be at Vic Books signing copies of Egg & Spoon, do you find children or adults are your bigger fans?

It’s hard to say! I think Egg & Spoon could have a little “for ages 1–100” symbol on it like boardgames do. It’s usually the adults that we meet because they’re the ones doing the buying, but now and then someone will send us a photo of their kid absorbed in the book or showing off their finished dish and I love that. But a lot of adults buy it for themselves, and I actually use it myself all the time!

Some quick fire book recommendations please!

You & a Bike & a Road by Eleanor Davis is a brilliant graphic novel of the sort I dream about making one day. Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom is hard to find, but it’s worth it cos it’s so wonderful. She was the editor and publisher for people like Maurice Sendak, Edward Gorey and Margaret Wise Brown and her correspondence is interesting and warm and often hilariously direct. A recent favourite is The Inkberg Enigma by Jonathan King.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading my way through Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series.

What do you like about it?

I really like detective stories (nothing too gritty though, thank you!). They always make me feel like I’m on holiday because of all the summers spent reading Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie off my grandparent’s bookshelf at their bach.

Which literary character do you most identify with? Why?

I’m not sure. But there must be some reason why I love Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas and Fungus the Bogeyman so much.

Hardback or paperback?


Favourite coffee?

Comes in a huge mug, very strong, black with no sugar. Best enjoyed in a position where I can drink it while keeping my eyes closed.