Dawn Baker has been a full-time visual artist and children’s writer since 1992. She grew up in Glenwood, Newfoundland, and has lived in Gander since she was a teenager. Recently we spoke with her about her latest effort, A Newfoundland Adventure.
What inspired you to tell this story?
I have always found many aspects of our province's history and culture to be visually stimulating (set as they often are against the stunning backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean) and I wanted to try to incorporate that into a picture book for children.
Did it come together quickly or did you really need to work at it?
It didn't come together very quickly at all. I had the idea for a very long time but it took a lot of work to shape it.
What was the most challenging aspect of the process?
The most challenging aspect by far was keeping the text of the story short enough for a children's picture book. The idea that I had was to use three main characters from the present who would experience something from Newfoundland's past and then these same three could potentially have more adventures in future books. This was, of course, a lot to tell in a short story.
What was the most rewarding part of the experience?
The most rewarding part of working on any book for children is seeing the expressions on a child's face when he or she gets to read it (or have it read to him or her) for the first time. For me, as a writer and illustrator, it's magical.
What did you learn during the process?
With "A Newfoundland Adventure" the most important thing that I learned was the importance of editing. How to convey a thought in a very concise way is not at all easy!
How did you feel when the book was completed?
I am always impatient when I finish my part of the process to see the book in reality. When it was finally in my hands I was thrilled.
What has the response been like so far from those that have read it?
So far, all the reviews that I have seen have been favourable but much more important than that is that children really like it. I have been so happy to hear responses from kids themselves that they love the illustrations (especially those featuring ships, it seems) or that the story is fun. What more could I hope for?
Is your creative process more 'inspirational' or 'perspirational'?
That is a difficult question to answer. I do find my work challenging but it is equally rewarding. I am responsible for writing the story and painting the pictures so it does involve a great deal of inspiration and perspiration. I would have to say both in equal measure.
What makes a good book?
In my opinion, a good children's book is entertaining, positive and short. I always feel that a picture book should take less than ten minutes to read out loud.
What are your thoughts on Atlantic Canada's literary scene?
The Atlantic literary scene is vibrant and prolific. Naturally, I am most interested in the genre of children's picture books and I don't believe there has ever been as many fabulous choices in that area as there are now. Atlantic Canadians can find their own stories being told in oodles of picture books. When I was a child they were rare. I believe the abundance of high quality books for children that mirror their own experiences helps to foster strong personal identity and self worth. I hope this trend continues indefinitely!
What's next on your creative agenda?
My creative agenda never ends. I am always working on multiple projects. Everything from Christmas ornaments to large original oil paintings. This time of year I am so busy participating in craft fairs and trade shows and generally selling my work that I don't get enough time to create. I am looking forward to January so I can get back to my studio. Needless to say, one of the projects I want to get to work on is another picture book. Wish me luck!