Armin Greder tells Reading Time about his work on Flight, the journey he and author Nadia Wheatley took in creating this exciting new picture book, and his fascination with deserts.
Helen Chamberlin (Windy Hollow Books) sent me Nadia’s text not long after a book of mine on a similar subject – the suffering of the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli government – had been published in Italy. Consequently Nadia’s theme appealed to me. However, I felt that the text was overly descriptive, leaving little room for my images. So I declined.
I explained this to Helen, who passed on my comments to Nadia, who in turn got in touch with me. Very accommodating, she revised her writing and so, with enough holes in her text for my images to fill, I put charcoal to paper.
Apart from refugees and their lot, there was something else, very personal and subjective, that interested me in Nadia’s story: the desert. I am very attracted to the silence and emptiness out there, and this story gave me plenty of opportunity for imaginary travels in my favourite landscapes.
There was of course a contradiction: I was revelling in drawing the very landscapes in which Nadia’s characters were having a hard time. But then that too is part of what attracts me to deserts: their inhospitality and their inherent threat – they are not forgiving places. So I concentrated on that side and proceeded.
Usually I do a draft in black and white, but this time I went straight for colour. The reason was that colour was essential in giving depth to images that are little more than two equal horizontal rectangles, the one representing the sky, the other the ground. The only relief comes from the characters of the story: as the pages of the book are turned, they change position and importance in the otherwise unchanging geometry of the images, and so work as accents that orchestrate a minimal composition.
Some of these drafts turned out perfectly at the first go, so I promoted them to definite illustrations as they were. Others took longer, and one or two had to be changed completely before they fitted into the story: there is an instance where a scared donkey bolts. I came up with a very impressive one heading away from the reader towards the horizon, scattering its load. But that image put too much emphasis on a detail at the expense of the whole, and so my animal masterpiece ended up in the bin.