An interview with artist Nazli Tahvili
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Read a lovely interview with Nazli Tahvili, creator of Chalk Eagle, by Let’s Talk Picture Books:
It goes without saying that wordless children’s books mean a lot to me. I think it’s pretty darn incredible for a book creator to be able to convey an entire story through images, not to mention how they must also work to gear the narration, tone, and emotions toward the reading level of a small child. But, to their credit, children pick up a lot of nuanced moments in wordless books, and it was wonderful talking to Iranian illustrator Nazli Tahvili about how she successfully made Chalk Eagle, the story of a boy and his wild imagination, relatable to children. Enjoy!
About the book:
A young boy living in the heart of a busy city spots an eagle swooping overhead, and dreams of what it would be like to fly away and soar over mountains and rivers. Using a little chalk he draws his own eagle – and then himself – into existence. The two fly away together, and embark on a wonderful adventure of the boy’s own imagination.
Watch the official book trailer:
LTPB: Hi Nazli! Thank you so much for talking about this book, I love it!
NT: Hi Mel, thank you for this interview. I’m happy that you liked Chalk Eagle.
LTPB: Why did you create this story? What was your inspiration? How long did you work on the book before you decided it was ready to submit?
NT: Children’s book creators use a variety of methods to develop their ideas. The initial idea can be from the artist’s imagination or based on an experience or observation that made them think. The story of Chalk Eagle is based on the memory of one of the games my husband Amin played when he was a kid. He is an author/illustrator of children’s books, too. When he was a child, Amin used to draw a big eagle with a piece of chalk on the roof of his home, and then dream. Drawing and playing with our drawings was something we both did when we were small. So when he told me about his chalk eagle on the roof, my imagination could easily find his imaginations and develop the story.
Chalk Eagle is the third story that I wrote. In that time, we had relocated to the Northern parts of Iran to live and work in the peaceful nature there. There, we had a home with windows that opened to the big and beautiful rice fields. Birds and eagles flew in its sky. We spent a lot of time looking at the landscape and animals. Amin watched the eagles eagerly, and talked about them.
The main idea was there, and the environment we were in, inspired me to write this story. I really loved the green of the rice fields, when their stems danced in the wind, and the clear blue sky. One afternoon, I sat on the porch in front of the field and wrote the storyline of this book. I imagined a boy running in the green fields and a big eagle flying above his head. I read the storyline to Amin later that day. He was surprised and his eyes shone. That’s how I was sure that I had made a right image of how he felt. A place from now and an experience from the past had met in my mind and made the story.
LTPB: How did you intentionally work to convey a story without words? How did your illustrations change as your story developed?
NT: Making a wordless picture book is like making an animation for me. I always imagine the story like an animation in my mind, before I create the storyboard. I think when a story simply conveys its meaning with pictures, there is no need for words to explain it. Actually when words are not there, it lets the audience participate in the narration of the story. I started my work as an illustrator, illustrating for texts that had been written by other authors. I always thought creating a picture book without me being the author would be a difficult task. But then I figured, you don’t need a sophisticated text, if you can develop your ideas into illustrations. The sequence of the illustrations plays an important role in making the narrative rhythm of the book. I play around with the sequence of the illustrations and sometimes change their places till I get the best result.
LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium? How does your process change from book to book?
NT: I made a storyboard for the book for the start. In drawing the boy’s character, I tried to make him dress and look like Amin’s childhood. The first sketches of the eagle and the cat were with ink. The final images are a combination of scanned drawings and digital drawings, printed with silk screen method. I chose a limited palette of green and blue colours for all of the book because I thought theses colours could express the feel of dreaming and flying in the nature.
For me, the most exciting image is the one where the boy has drawn himself with chalk, and the chalk boy wants to get on the chalk eagle. I think Amin’s story gets completed at this point.
Illustrating the book, separating the colours and preparing the films for silk printing took six months of work. Printing silk screen frames took two months.
My illustrating method changes based on the feel of the story. I don’t have a fixed technique, I use my experiences and whatever techniques that help me narrate the story better. For example, in my first wordless book, my story is about a child that builds a paper city for herself. The city takes shape with mixing imagination and reality. To make the subject believable and in-line with the technique, I first made all of the illustrations with paper and photographed them.
LTPB: What are you working on now? Anything you can show us?
NT: I have finished illustrating my new wordless picture book. The initial idea for this book came to me when I was on a road trip. I wrote down the first notes about my thoughts on a an ATM receipt that I had with me at the moment.
In a wordless book, it is important to make sure that the audience understands the story. I showed my two books, Chalk Eagle, and The Paper City to children before having them published, and to my surprise, I saw that children understand the stories much quicker than the grown-ups. They can also add details to the story and imagine beyond it.
LTPB: If you were to write your picture book autobiography, who would you want to illustrate it (dead or alive!), and why?
NT: This is a very interesting question, because Amin and I have been thinking about a project like that for three years now. There are many great illustrators that I am amazed by their work, but I think only one of them knows me enough to make this happen, Amin, who I’m sure can provide a more accurate image of me.
- Read a wonderful review of Chalk Eagle by Outside in World
- Check out this lovely art project by students at North Ormesby Academy
- Read this article by Jenny Duke an ex-teacher and literary consultants
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