Chloe Harris, author illustrator, recently released her picture book Henry Turnip (published by Walker Books) last month. Henry Turnip is a story about a introverted Panda who likes things just right, and to spend time alone, until he makes a friend who helps him out of his comfort zone. Chloe was kind enough to answer some questions for me and explain all about her writing and illustrating process, as well as explaining her Etsy store and the inspiration behind the fabulous Henry and his colour palette.
Hi Chloe! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions for me.
Firstly, where did the idea for Henry Turnip come from? Are you a bit of a Henry Turnip yourself?
Thanks for having me on your blog, Sarah! The idea for Henry came about because I wanted to write a story for all shy and anxious kids out there. There’s plenty of stories with adventurous outgoing kids as lead characters, which is so wonderful! But I think it’s just as important to have books that resonate with introverted kids too, through seeing themselves represented in main characters.
Extroverted kids will relate more to the secondary character, Reuben Moon. Reuben is an outgoing, imaginative bunny rabbit, that helps Henry come out of his shell, just a little bit!
And yes, I’m definitely a bit like Henry Turnip! Especially as a kid, I had a tendency to worry and joining in, loud noises and a lack of routine were all things that like Henry, I found quite challenging. Supportive, inclusive friends helped me enormously and were the kind of friends that were the inspiration for Reuben Moon.
Was there any reason behind the choice of a panda for Henry?
Well, originally Henry was going to be a deer and Reuben a bear. Very hard to imagine that now! After speaking with my editor, Nancy Conescu, we thought it would be fun to choose a larger animal, a panda for Henry, and a smaller animal, a rabbit for Reuben. People would probably expect a large panda to be quite confident and a small rabbit to be shy, so we decided to go with these animals as it’s more unexpected and challenges stereotypes a little!
Do you have some Henry styled overalls? And if so, were do I get myself a pair?
Oh I don’t, but I would absolutely love some! I do own a ridiculous number of striped tops though. Designing the characters clothes was one of my favourite parts of the drawing process, I could have spent forever thinking up weird and wonderful outfit combinations.
How long have you been illustrating for and what is your process like? Is it similar for writing?
I’ve been illustrating for about 5 years and before that, while at Art School I took on commissions when I could squeeze them in.
My process for illustrating Henry Turnip was quite a long one… I started with a lot of background research, spending weeks collecting reference images and figuring out the colour palette. This was one of my favourite parts of the book making process and it helped me get a clearer understanding of how I wanted the book to look and the characters world to feel. So, all those many hours scrolling through Pinterest were thankfully not for nothing!
I then started working on character sketches and storyboards. I have to admit that this is never my favourite part of the process! Though it’s very necessary and I couldn’t imagine creating a picture book without doing this step. It’s the framework for the book and it allows you to see the illustrations together as a whole, so you can figure out the balance, composition and story flow before you start on the finals.
Next step was rough drafts. Once this was done there was a little bit of back and forth with the creative team and some spreads were tweaked until everyone was happy with how the illustrations were looking. I sketched digitally on my Cintiq, which gave me so much creative freedom and meant I could easily change around compositions that weren’t working. Drawing these complicated spreads traditionally would have been a bit of a nightmare!
I then created very rough colour studies of each spread. Again, I chose to do these digitally because it allowed me to try out different colours easily until I found a combination that I felt really worked.
Next, I created the final pencil sketches and printed them out onto watercolour paper. I found this method much easier and less time consuming than using a Lightbox.
And finally, we’re up to the painting! Since I painted colour studies, I had a guide to refer to for each painting, which made the process so much easier. Painting for me is the most relaxing part. I managed to get through a very long list of podcasts, audiobooks, TV shows and movies over the five months it took to paint Henry Turnip!
For the writing, it was a much quicker process than illustrating. I wrote and finalised the story before beginning the illustrations but then came back to it again after I finished painting. The break allowed me to come back and edit with a fresh perspective. I worked with my editor on the text, so there was a lot of back and forth with manuscript edits until we settled on the final version.
I noticed you have a fabulous Etsy store, how did this come about and do you think this has helped your success so far?
Thanks! I created my Etsy store back in 2016, because I loved the idea of being able to draw whatever I felt inspired by and turn my personal illustrations into art prints. I now sell art prints, cards and recently just stocked a few signed copies of Henry Turnip on there too. I’m also including a limited-edition art print with every book order until they run out!
Having an Etsy store is a fun little side business for me, in the future I’d love to expand it and stock more stationary and wearable art on there. I also absolutely love packaging up orders and making them nice and pretty. I’m such a sucker for cute packaging supplies so I have a huge collection of washi tapes and just about every colour of twine that’s ever been made!
I’m not sure if it’s helped my success as a children’s book illustrator, though I think it’s been great for helping to get my artwork seen, which is always a positive thing.
The bright colours of this book is what grabbed my attention straight away – are there any artists or illustrators who inspired you when creating the illustrations for Henry Turnip?
For Henry, when researching for the colour palette I was really drawn to retro children’s books, particularly those from the 50’s, as well as retro decor, colours schemes and interiors in general. I have so many Pinterest folders that I collected for this book filled with dreamy vintage furniture and fashion!
And for artists, there wasn’t any particular artists that directly inspired my Henry Turnip Illustrations. Though illustrators that I’m really loving currently are Phoebe Wahl, Heidi Moreno, Aiko Fukawa, Cecile Berrube and the Ohara Sisters – to name a few… honestly, I could go on for days, there are so many artists that I find inspiring!
Do you have a Reuben Moon friend in your life?
As a kid I definitely did. Though today my partner and my Mum play more of a Reuben Moon role in my life! They are always encouraging me to challenge myself and step out of my comfort zone, which I’m super grateful for, as it’s sometimes hard to give yourself that little push on your own.
Do you like strawberry jam sandwiches with the crusts cut off?
Not at all! that’s one of the things Henry and I definitely don’t have in common. I do love scones and pancakes with strawberry jam… but I’m not sure that counts!
And lastly, if you were bound to be stuck on a desert island for the rest of your life, and you could only take three books with you, what would they be?
Ooh that’s a very hard one… If I was being boring and practical, I’d say 3 types of wilderness survival books? Though I’m going to pretend I’d have all the knowledge to survive already, so these are my 3 impractical choices!
For the first two I’d pick A Lifetime of Impossible Days by Tabitha Bird and The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland. Both are absolutely beautiful stories by Australian authors, that I know I could read over and over again. For the third, I might cheat and say the full Harry Potter series… Is that allowed?! If I couldn’t sneak the whole series onto the Island then I’d probably just go with the classic, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
For more about Chloe, you can check out her socials: