Photo © 2009 by Ian Crysler
As a child, Barbara Reid found herself recreating pictures from books she was reading when the illustrations in those books didn’t match what she had envisioned. She also hated parting with the characters she had gotten to know, so she would keep them alive by illustrating them in her own stories.
She had never thought about illustration as a career, but as fate would have it, one day while she was in high school she passed a room that had information about the Ontario College of Art. It inspired her, and she went on to study at the college.
When Barbara illustrated her first picture book, Mustard by Betty Waterton, she was her own harshest critic. She enjoyed illustrating the book but thought there was room for improvement. It wasn’t long before she had the opportunity to work on The New Baby Calf by Edith Newlin Chase, the first book to feature her Plasticine sculpture illustrations. Now, more than twenty titles later, her work in such picture books as The Party, The Subway Mouse, Read Me a Book, Perfect Snow, Picture a Tree, Sing a Song of Mother Goose and Welcome, Baby is immediately recognizable to children and parents across the country. Be sure to check out her latest book, a collaboration with author Emil Sher, entitled I Love You More. Barbara has received every major Canadian children’s book award, and in 2013 she received two more outstanding honours: she was named a member of the Order of Canada and received the Vicky Metcalf Award for Literature for Young People. In 2015, Barbara became the Honorary Chair of Family Literacy Day, held every year on January 27.
Each Barbara Reid illustration starts as a pencil drawing. Then Barbara moulds out her drawing using Plasticine. You might think that her illustrations would be delicate, but they’re actually rather heavy. Some of her final pictures weigh up to three kilograms! And how does she make sure the illustrations aren’t damaged? She stores each one in its own pizza box. (Which makes you wonder how much pizza she actually eats!).
Barbara even describes her artwork as being “like a pizza” because her images are created by adding layer upon layer of Plasticine and detail after detail to construct the completed work. She uses her fingers and fingernails as well as sticks, pins, combs, wires, cloth and other items to help shape and build each part of the picture. If she makes a mistake, she just peels off the offending piece and starts again! She also mixes her own colours and adds materials such as silver paint or glitter to create special effects.
Each image takes a long time to complete — large two-page spreads can take more than seven intense days to finish. Then Barbara’s husband, Ian Crysler, photographs the illustrations. It’s these photographs that appear in the finished book.
When she is not busy writing or illustrating books, Barbara visits schools and libraries, where she is thrilled to meet young students and see the wonderful artwork they create. Many children and classes send her letters and photos of their art — a selection of which are featured on her website, www.barbarareid.ca.
Barbara Reid is married and has two daughters. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.
Illustrations copyright © 2003-2020 by Barbara Reid. All rights reserved.