Francesca Forrest talks with artist Adam Oehlers about his work in Cinderella Jump Rope Rhymes and more.
Francesca: You’ve done a fabulous job capturing the spirit of our macabre jump rope rhymes. Can you say a little bit about your mindset as you were creating each painting? Did you see each rhyme as part of the continuing adventure of one protagonist, or did you have lots of alternative Cinderellas in mind? Or maybe you approached the task in an entirely different way?
Adam: When I first read through the rhymes, I was blown away. It’s rare to be approached with a piece of writing that suits my style and world so well. Each little rhyme, with its separate story and dark humour, instantly got my imagination spinning. I saw each of the Cinderellas as separate characters from the beginning as it seemed that each of them was having their own little adventure. I like to think that these stories are happening to a bunch of Cinderellas which populate the same little world. I ended up having a lot of fun with these pieces, and I’ve ended up with a collection that I’m really proud of.
Francesca: I sense the influence of Brian Froud and Arthur Rackham in your work. Seeing your illustrations for a French edition of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, I automatically start doing a mental compare-and-contrast with Gustave Doré’s illustrations of the same work. What artists did you love, growing up? And who among contemporary illustrators do you admire?
Adam: You hit the nail on the head there. I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from older illustrators such as Doré and Rackham, and I’ve tried to inject some of that ‘classic’ feel into work. Brian Froud had a huge influence on me when I was younger, and for a long time, I focused my work on a fantasy-based world filled with fairies, goblins and dragons (also inspired heavily by Tolkien).
When I got a little older, my work started getting a little quirkier, I think due to the inspiration I received from Tim Burton’s universe. I think the thing that drew me to these artists was that I really admired the strength and individuality of their worlds. As I matured and my work matured with me, I left that fantasy element behind and set out to start building my own little world.
The biggest influence on my work has been the beautiful illustrations of Edward Gorey. I’ve always drawn, but when I discovered his work, I turned my focus to pen, and before I knew what was happening, all of my work was covered in that lovely gritty texture that’s created by crosshatching. Its not only Gorey’s technique and world that inspired me, but also his way of telling a story, the moments he chooses to capture.
Francesca: Au Fond Du Grenier, the French publisher who brought out The Rime of the Ancient Mariner with your illustrations, also published a new edition of your wordless short story Dear Little Emmie. A version of that story first ran in the English online zine New Fairy Tales. The French version looks like an expansion of the original story. How did it develop and change?
Adam: The original version of Dear Little Emmie, which I was lucky enough to have included in New Fairy Tales, was comprised of 50 black-and-white illustrations. I completed this collection in 2007 for an exhibition I had in Adelaide (southern Australia) in the same year. This collection was originally completed as a storyboard for what I always wanted to turn into a full graphic novel. I printed it into a little self-published book which I took to my publishers in France, and luckily they picked it up.
There was plenty of time between completing the storyboard and moving onto the final book. In that time I was able to fine-tune the story and put more emphasis on the scenes that needed it in order to build the atmosphere and world more solidly. I also added on a new ending, not changing the story at all, but adding it on in order to give the piece a stronger conclusion. I think it also gives the entire story a much more uplifting feel (in a strange kind of way).
Francesca: Your art has appeared in books and online, you’ve exhibited in galleries, you’ve collaborated and worked solo. What can you share about establishing yourself as an artist and illustrator in the twenty-first century?
Adam: Unfortunately, I’ve never been that good at the promotional side of my work, always focusing more on creating the work than getting it out there. If it weren’t for the Internet, my promotional skills would be about zero. I’ve no idea how people managed it before. For a long while, I didn’t bother with social networking and used mainly my website, and occasionally I’d send my work to publishers. But once I got involved with things like Myspace (to begin with) and then Facebook, I found an incredible network of artists online, and this grew into a community of illustrators, galleries, magazines and publishers all a click away. Most of my work now comes from contacts made online.
Francesca: What are your plans for 2012?
Adam: Lots of exciting things are coming up this year. I’m looking forward to the arrival of a few more books, including Cinderella Jump Rope Rhymes, and a couple of other projects that have gone to print. I have exhibitions lined up, beginning with one in February, of work from my latest publication and some other stories in Adelaide, titled The Girl That Sank. My two main projects for the year are the adaptation of Dear Little Emmie into an animation, which will begin production early this year, and a second graphic novel titled The Nowhere Lighthouse. It is told in a similar way to Little Emmie, through a narrative of pictures. Its not quite as sequential, jumping around a lot more from scene to scene, and the story is not quite as dark. I’m having a lot of fun with this one, injecting more elements of odd magic and strangeness. All in all, I’m quite excited about 2012.
CdF: Thank you, Adam! And to all of our visitors, you can see even more of Adam’s delightful work at http://www.adamoehlers.com.