Q & A with Gennady Spirin
What was it like working on Yakov and the Seven Thieves?
The book was completed amazingly quickly. The idea was clear. The style parameters were set. I was able to render the characters without much difficulty – very naturally. Everything came together well.
How is Yakov and the Seven Thieves different from other books you’ve illustrated?
This is the first time that I worked with a contemporary author. This is not a classic, world-renowned story, but the idea has deep roots.
What message do you hope children will glean from Yakov and the Seven Thieves?
I think that children and grown-ups should see this book as espousing the importance of compassion. It also puts forward the concept that often the prayers of some of the most seemingly “bad” people are dearer to God than the prayers of the seemingly “good” people. The thieves? prayers demonstrate real openness before God, and stem from feelings of unworthiness.
What is your favorite part of Yakov and the Seven Thieves?
I must confess that I look at the book as a whole and, thus, I do not prefer one part of the book over another.
What is your favorite illustration in Yakov and the Seven Thieves?
I cannot select anything in particular and have never been able to admire my own work, even if I am satisfied with it overall. One’s admiration for one’s own work can only bring disdain from the great Masters.
What about your style do you feel lends itself to Yakov and the Seven Thieves?
The stylistic parameters for the book were discussed and set from the outset. This story takes place in Europe, in the 18th century. It could have been illustrated in any number of styles, but we decided on Baroque. It makes the book dressier, but at the same time preserves the dramatic element and the psychological characteristics of each of the characters.
What was your opinion of Madonna before and after reading Yakov and the Seven Thieves?
I had, of course, heard of the author before commencing work on the book, but I am not a fan of contemporary music. I like classical music and jazz. However, my children are familiar with Madonna, and, overhearing that I was working on this book, they told me of her accomplishments and career highlights. Overall, she is a giant, so I felt somewhat uncomfortable initially. Irrespective of the Hollywood hoopla surrounding Madonna, it is not lost on her to notice simple, human actions, which is the central moral principle of the story.
What inspired you to want to illustrate children’s books?
I remember that as a child I absolutely loved to look at books with pictures. How delighted and excited my young soul was to see the elaborate letters and illustrations of a new story. I was drawn to stories by their illustrations. A whole world opened up to my youthful imagination. And to this day, that world beckons.
Which artists and illustrators have most influenced you and your work?
Unfortunately, I cannot name just one person. My interests and tastes are broad and my work is influenced not only by other artists (and there is a legion of them), but also by different cultures, architecture, period costumes, and a mass of minute details and elements that have filled my life at different times.
How did growing up in Russia influence your work?
Most positively. First and foremost, I am a Russian soul. I am Russian Orthodox. Russia is my Fatherland. The list of Russia’s great leaders, religious icons, writers, composers, artists and entertainers is what inspires me, and I consider myself supremely fortunate to be a part of Russia’s rich traditions.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you can pass on to young artists?
To the young and not-so-young artists I can wish only great love. Love inspires great art, as well as life itself. Love what you do.
Your illustrations feature an amazing amount of detail. How long does it usually take you to complete a piece? What is your process like?
In art we are not dependent on technology. It is the process itself that is most important, and the creative process cannot be timed. Sometimes, I can create an illustration in 2-3 days, but more often it takes a week or longer.
About my creative process: I don’t do sketches. That way, I am much more focused on the creative process and the final product, and, for me, this is more interesting, because I am not worried about the many changes that may be requested and the work then proceeds more naturally, by the grace of God. Of course, I draw on many types of cultural materials while I am working – books, architecture, interiors, furnishings, costumes, etc. Yes, it is true, I love detail – it is a necessary part of the whole.
How do your own children influence your illustrations?
I work at home and I love when my children are home while I am working. I love to hear their voices. They are the first to see what I am working on and I can feel when they are not pleased with something I’ve created. I also know when they are very pleased – which is the best reward I can hope for.
Madonna’s third book for children, Yakov and the Seven Thieves, illustrated by Gennady Spirin, will be released worldwide on June 21, 2004.
Special thanks to Callaway Editions