Interview: William Grill
If you read my review of The Wolves of Currumpaw by William Grill a few weeks ago, you will know I am a huge fan of his work. His latest Flying Eye Book brings the same stunning aesthetic and gripping, educational narrative as Shackleton's Journey but with a clear shift in tone and scale to keep things fresh. Having now brilliantly reimagined two vintage tales under the Flying Eye Book name and won a Kate Greenaway award in the process, William is one of the most exciting young artists working in the picture books industry today.
I caught up with William to get to know more about his process, inspirations and plans for the future...
How and when did you first hear the story of The Wolves of Currumpaw? And what made you want to turn it into a book?
About 5 years ago in a second hand book shop I stumbled across a 112 year old, deep red leather-bound book, on the spine engraved in gold leaf it read ‘Wild Animals I Have Known’. After reading the first short story ‘Lobo, The King of Currumpaw’ I was struck by what I’d read. Apart from being an emotive story, Seton’s tale seemed to say something very relevant about our relationship to nature today and ultimately how it’s never to late to start redeeming ourselves.
I imagine Flying Eye Books were on board pretty early - what are they like to work with?
I’ve been with Flying Eye since I graduated and they’ve been great to work with. I like the ethos behind the books they make and the creative freedom that they allow you.
After the success of Shackleton's Journey, did you feel more pressure creating this book?
I felt some pressure towards the end of the project, partly because you don’t want to be considered a one-off. However the most pressure came from wanting to do Seton’s tale justice and end up with a book that had progressed from the last one.
Your new book feels slightly smaller in scale and more emotive than your first - was this a deliberate decision?
As well as the physical scale, the nature of the story is more intimate than Shackleton’s Journey so it made sense to move the camera closer and show the characters in a more personal way.
Both your books tell the stories of epic journeys - if you could go on an all expense paid adventure to anywhere in the world where would it be?
I would love to take a trip to Baffin Island or Yosemite National Park, I’m sure there are lots of good stories to be found there!
Your artworks jump from very large illustrations to small thumbnail sized drawings - which do you prefer making?
They’re both very different processes, I enjoy communicating through sequential images but nothing beats the satisfaction of a double page spread. Also, because of the way I work it’s exciting to see how the double pages turn out in print as my original drawings are much smaller.
Have you always been creative? Do you remember any of the first things you created?
I’ve always enjoyed making things when I was small, I think I would have liked to have been an illustrator earlier if I knew what one was! I can remember when I was five being particularly proud of a potato print of some bears and a clay model of my front door.
You draw a lot of inspiration from the natural world - what is it that fascinates you about nature?
I grew up in a rural part of the South Downs and spent a lot of time outdoors building dens, occasionally hunting and so on, I imagine that has some bearing on things. As I’ve grown up though I’ve become more interested in our relationship to it, what it brings out in us, and why we need it. Ultimately, I think it’s to do with the way it makes you feel. When you walk through a wild place subconsciously you’re aware there’s a whole system that’s been functioning perfectly well for millennia without humans, there’s a whole language and architecture different to ours that’s enjoyable to marvel at even if we don’t fully understand it. When driven people (Seton and Shackleton both had big egos!) come into contact with this indifferent world interesting things usually happen.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to become an illustrator?
There’s a lot of things you could say like focusing your work and starting small, but I think the most important advice I was given was just draw everyday. Do this and eventually something good will come of it. Carrying a small sketchbook on you is a great way to keep your eye in and record ideas.
Finally, do you have any big projects lined up? Can we expect you to work again with Flying Eye Books any time soon?
I’m currently working on a collaborative project with Candlewick Press, that should be due out early next year. I’ve also got some ideas for a third book with Flying Eye, it’s looking like it could be set somewhere green like in a jungle or rainforest, we will see!