Art Makes the World Go Round
By Bob Abor
Qi Hao, Beijing
The second last day of the 4th EU-China International Literary Festival brought to participants at Citic bookshop two talented illustrators. Piret Raud from Estonia and her Chinese colleague, Hei Mi showcased their creative works and discussed their perspectives of storytelling with a social conscience. Piret Raud, who has illustrated close to 50 books, uses black and white since Estonia has long winter and short summer. Her work also reflects Estonians in the sense that their people are shy and do not talk much. She uses fewer words to say more. Hei Mi said that the first book is about her. Her work, she says, is greatly reflects Chinese culture.
The two famed authors have big similarities and differences in terms of personalities and in their work. They have the same academic background; both studied art but turned out to be professional illustrators. Piret Raud comes from a family of writers, her brothers and father authored several books. After writing for over 10 years, Piret wanted to venture into something that is unique from other family members. While Piret was motivated by the desire to do something different, Hei Mi loved drawing since her childhood. “I failed writing when I was young. Also publishing books take a lot of time,” Hei Mi explained. So by doing illustration her work can still stand out and make her famous.
The creative thinking and processes vary from one artist to another because it involves text and illustrations. How are the two illustrators approaching it?
As for Piret, the most important thing is the theme or character. She loves trees and the branches and thus, can make a wonderful theme for her. Then she looks for the right story. After writing the story, she draws the picture. This can take her up to eight months to create a book. She advises that you need to love it in so that you do not to abandon it along the way. Hei Mi, winner of the Golden Apple Award, uses a different creative process. She draws first then, writes stories on things that interest her and finds the connection. After getting more sentences, she gets a topic for that.
More interestingly the two authors chose to write mainly for children. Piret Raud said that in her country (Estonia) work for adults have not been illustrated. So her work has to be for children. Hei Mi’s said that the first book is about her and her grandmother. This shows that she writes for adults, too.
The two authors also express deep social conscience in their fascinating illustrations. How do they deal with this?
“All my books have different levels; there is always something for adults too. I think when I work long on a book, it means that there is some specific philosophical information I am conveying,” she said.
Hei Mi acknowledges that by spending three years to produce her work means that there must be some message although she does not speak it out. She leaves it for the audience to take it.
Publishing comes with social responsibilities. Are the authors exercising it since they have a global audience?
When working on a book, Piret Raud thinks about the quality of the work itself rather than about the audience. She believes that she is not a bad person. So if she opens up, she can impact on the lives of the readers too. Thus, she balances kindness and wisdom in her work. Hei Mi concurs with her. “When I write also I do not think about readers. I think about the story itself. But I feel that I while I am here, the book will widely and impact on the audiences. In case it happens, it is my pleasure,” she explained.
Today translation has become a way of making an author’s work known globally. Piret’s work has been translated into French, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, Russian, and German among others. However, she gives the translators freedom to do their job since they are creators, too. She trusts her translators.
Like other professions, art work is also surrounded by uncertainty. How did they handle it?
Piret Raud, whose latest work is set to be published in France next year, acknowledges encountering bad days as well. But she tries to confident and not to be nasty to people around her. Sometimes chose a different path by leaving what she had been doing and start a fresh. She acknowledges that there are thunderstorms and good times too. It is part of the profession. While Hei Mi’s first work went well since it was based on her personal story, she spent three years to accomplish the second work. She even started teaching children again before returning to it. But since then her life has been good. She has learnt to do several creations at one time so that if one does not go well she can concentrate on others.
Creative work is not a one person’s effort. It requires inputs of the editors to produce a fascinating art piece. How are the two authors handling situations when the editor has a different opinion about their work?
Piret Raud says she works with a good French editor who does not interfere too much. But he also offers useful ideas. Their working relationship is like two authors discussing issues on level terms. Something, she says, is so inspiring.
Just like her Estonian counterpart, Hei Mi said she works with two experienced publishers. One of them does creation, too. She also gives her ideas. Hei Mi noted that much as the other editor is strict, she pushes her to do something better.
A participant observed that both authors used too much black and white colors in their creative work. The two colors are basically used to represent winter season. However, some provinces in China do not experience winter season. For Piret Raud, lines and dots is part of her art style. So without many colours the impact is strong. “Less is more. If you add more colours it becomes too much. It is for simplicity,” she answered. Hei Mi says she just likes black and white. But it is by coincidence today that she only showcased her work with black and white colors. Her other works have different colours.