Interview with Leo and Diane Dillon, the creative team behind Mother Goose Numbers on the Loose
Q: Your new picture book, Mother Goose Numbers on the Loose, celebrates the numbers that appear in various Mother Goose rhymes. Did a particular Mother Goose rhyme inspire this book? How did you decide which rhymes to include?
A: Actually, Anne Davies, our editor, came up with the idea. We were surprised to find so many Mother Goose rhymes included numbers, and many of those rhymes were unfamiliar to us. We chose to include a few of the well-known rhymes in the book for balance.
Q: The characters in Mother Goose Numbers on the Loose range from completely fanciful (for example, dancing numbers and clocks) to playful animals (fishing bears and ducks sitting on their eggs, among others). How did you come up with your varied cast?
A: This was a departure from our usual books. The rhymes were so fanciful and zany, we let our imaginations fly. We were "on the loose"! We hope children will have as much fun learning the numbers as we had in creating the characters.
Q: When you're working on a picture book, you pass the art back and forth, each adding your own touches. How do you decide who goes first on a piece and when it is finally "done"?
A: It really doesn't matter who starts, because we can continue where the other leaves off. As to when a picture is done that remains a mystery. It's helpful to have another pair of eyes to make sure there's nothing we've left out and that the images look finished. Sometimes when we look at a piece that we have not seen for a while, we see things we could have worked on more. Deadlines help, too.
Q: This year you're celebrating fifty years of marriage. Congratulations! How do you settle artistic differences especially after working together for as long as you two have?
A: After being together for so long, we have learned through trial and error how to work as a team. We've learned there is never just one way to do something. When we can't agree, one of us gets our way, but that doesn't happen often. We try not to force our ideas on each other. We just keep throwing ideas out, sometimes over days or even weeks, until we both get excited. Then we know that it's the one!
Q: What do you mean when you describe your illustrations as being done by the "third artist"? Do you ever create art independently of each other?
A: The "third artist" is the combination of the two of us, though it has even included our son Lee. The "third artist" creates something neither of us could do separately; it has two brains, four eyes, and four hands.
The books come first, so we rarely have time to create art independently. We have done some individual work, though those projects usually remain unfinished. We can look forward to that if we ever "retire."
Q: How do you decide which new projects to take on? Do you ever get stumped during the process, or do you get a strong vision for your illustrations as soon as you read a manuscript?
A: If we both love a manuscript, we agree to do it. We may love the message or all the great images that present themselves. Each book is different, and they all have their own problems: Some are much easier; others need a lot of reference; and there are those for which the technique is more demanding. At times, we get stumped. When that happens, we either keep working through it or give it to the other person to work on with a fresh view. At times we have to get away from a project for a while to see it in a new way. Each book is an ongoing discovery. We never can say we get bored.
Q: You have created so many wonderful children's books, and you continue to incorporate new styles and techniques within your illustrations. Are you surprised by how your work has evolved? Does one of you tend to do more "experimenting" than the other?
A: Yes. When we first started our career, we never imagined where we would be after all these years. It's good to be open and not be too set in a plan, because unexpected things happen. We started out wanting to do advertising, but picture books give us more creative possibilities. We have had a few retrospective exhibits, and it is surprising to see all that work at one time.
In a way we are always experimenting. Changing techniques and papers helps familiarize us with the process each time. Early in our career we did try some wild things and the results were disastrous. We could write a book about that.
Q: You are clearly fans of Mother Goose. Did you enjoy Mother Goose rhymes as children, or did you come to them later in life? What other children's books or stories hold special places in your hearts?
A: Yes, we both enjoyed Mother Goose when we were young. We also both loved fairy tales; Leo particularly liked the ones written by the Brothers Grimm.
It's hard to recall all the books we had as children; different books come to mind every time we are asked this question. Alice in Wonderland and the Nancy Drew mysteries were some of Diane's favorites. Leo remembers the Joan of Arc series because he loved Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel's illustrations; he also liked Don Quixote.
Copyright © 2007 Harcourt
Questions written by Deborah Halverson