I was thrilled when the wonderfully talented Alison Oliver agreed to speak with me last month, anyone who has seen her strikingly adorable work with Jennifer Adams in the form of the BabyLit book series will know why I am feeling so happy. Alison’s illustrations are bold, friendly and incredibly cute, which make them perfect for the Babylit series.
What project do you consider to be the most significant of your career?
I would say the BabyLit series. It is the longest project I have worked on (four years now) and it presents creative challenges that are very unique; it is a series that should have some cohesiveness yet each book is its own microcosm of characters and themes so my approach has to change each time.
This is a question I know you ask a lot on your own blog; What was your favourite childhood book?
Whistle for Willie. Apart from Ezra being my favorite illustrator, I had a brown dachshund named Willie. And I credit (or fault, depending on how you look at it) him for my inexplicable desire to move to NYC from such a young age.
Where do you get your influences from
The children’s books that I read with my mom were a very big influence on me. I really, really loved Ezra Jack Keats and remember only wanting to check out The Snowy Day and Whistle for Willie over and over again at the library. I was also a very big fan of The Peanuts. To me Snoopy is probably the best character ever invented—who else is that cool without ever having to speak? As I got older my mom’s interest in interior decorating was very influential; I loved looking at the giant wallpaper and textile books. I just love colors and shapes and patterns.
I also look to my friend Brian Jensen, he is such an evocative photographer with an amazing ability to capture color and frame shots. Whenever I feel like I need some inspiration I hop on his blog.
Are you a fan of the Classics yourself?
To be honest, when left to my own devices, I usually read a lot of non-fiction (it makes for good drawing inspiration). But I have enjoyed reading or re-reading them as an adult, it is different than when you read them in school. I can better appreciate the significance of women authors getting their work published.
Was there a desire to pass this appreciation down to the younger generation?
I think getting kids interested in literature, and books in general, is really exciting.
I love the clever use of themes within the babylit collection. One thing I clearly remember from reading any book by the Bronte sisters is their love for pathetic fallacy, so of course the theme for Little Miss Bronte Wuthering Heights had to be weather! Does it take a lot of brainstorming to find the theme that best suits each book or does this come instinctively to yourself and Jennifer Adams?
The themes come from Jennifer and I am continuously impressed. She has a total passion for the classics and really understands them. We just released Jane Austen’s Emma and it is an emotions primer. So smart and perfect for the story! And very fun to illustrate. Without the themes making some of these books cute and fun would be challenging (again, I’m looking at you Brontes!)
You dabble with a lot of elements of design; illustration, branding and logo design, is there a route you prefer to work with?
I really like them all and I love that in the world of design you can work across lots of mediums and do projects that incorporate all three. It is a really great time to be a designer because technology is making so many things possible. I recently worked on apps based on some of the BabyLit books and got to see the illustrations come to life through animation—I loved that!
What project would you love to work on?
I would love to do a collaboration of some kind with a comedian. Book or animation or something.
Do you have any designers you particularly admire?
There are so many good designers and illustrators working right now it is hard to narrow it down. I feel like not a day goes by that I don’t see something I am blown away by—so many talented people! I love Christian Robinson, Jon Klassen, Elise Gravel, and Lisa Congdon. Of course Charles Shulz and Ezra Keats, but also Mary Blair and Alexander Girard. And anybody who ever designed for Marimekko.
Are the hours demanding?
Yes! Being self-employed generally means you are working lots of hours but the good thing is you can control which hours they are.
What advice can you offer other budding designers/illustrators?
Follow your own instincts. The more you pursue projects that are what you are truly interested in the better success you will have. Don’t get too distracted by trends in technology or business, etc. go towards the things that make you excited.
You are a big lover of colour which transitions well into your work, is your personal life just as colourful?
Yes, I recently painted my kitchen fuchsia.
What has been your greatest adventure?
Being an adult. I thought it wouldn’t be fun at all but it totally is!
What can we expect from you in the future?
I am just wrapping up two new BabyLit books and I know there are two more manuscripts on the way.
See more from Babylit over of our Parenting Blog Dilly and the Boo.