by Geraldine Brennan
Lluís Farré is a rare creature: an illustrator who is also happy writing texts for other artists to illustrate. "In a way, there's less pressure and responsibility and you can just enjoy it. Although writing is not easy for me – not my first choice as a way of making myself understood – I like starting a story spontaneously. At the beginning of the story I never know the end; I have to get lost in it first." But he also relishes illustrating his own texts ("I'd like to do more of that, to be behind the whole project", and earlier this year he published Ulls Negres/Black Eyes, his first solo large-format picture book.
Another strength is that he writes in both Spanish and Catalan (he is based in Barcelona) and started his career by writing and illustrating Catalan story books including Pepe the Octopus, Xica the Hen and Pacquita the Sheep. "Illustrators who can also write do have an advantage in that once we have the story our books can fall into place quickly.
His recent collaborative projects with other artists include texts for three retellings of religious tales – Noah's Ark, The Legend of St George and The Three Wise Men – in pop-up editions illustrated by Merce Canals, plus The Grey Boy, his only book to be published in the UK (by Wingedchariot Press in 2007, translated from the Catalan by Judith Willis).
The Grey Boy, with illustrations by an Argentinean artist, Gusti, is a story with wide age appeal about a boy cut off from his emotions and responses to the world: he looks and feels grey despite the characteristics of his pink and green parents, and even an exciting world tour with his mother cannot lift his spirits. "The writing is probably at the level of six to eight-year-olds but the internal grey feeling that we all have some days, like being dead, is something teenagers will recognise. It's about how adults can't cope with children being depressed and also how adults feel when they try and try to give children presents and entertain them, and the children are still bored. I know about this from my nephews and my cousins' children, you desperately want children to be happy. But everyone is grey sometimes."
The Grey Boy was published after winning a competition set up to support the St Joan de Déu Children's hospital in Barcelona. "There was no theme for the competition but I felt it should have a bit of a message about children." In the original Catalan text, the boy is called Martín because the rainbow in Catalan is known as "St Martin's arc". "When I first read the English version in which he is called Joshua, I didn't like the name," Lluís says, "but it works for me now." (resource materials are available from http://www.wingedchariot.com)
Lluís grew up with his older brother, stepbrother and stepsister in a small village in the south of Catalonia, Horta de Saint Joan, where Picasso spent two summers and created his first Cubist paintings. He enjoyed reading Roald Dahl as a child and Quentin Blake's illustrations were an inspiration when he started to work on his own books. "I was aiming for that freshness and expression. I also loved Arthur Rackham's style of illustration."
He wanted to be a vet or biologist "but I wasn't good enough at maths". He had grown up drawing, so he studied graphic and industrial design at the University of Barcelona, planning to work as a medical illustrator and on biology textbooks. He got his first commission from a surgeon who was a colleague of his father, a psychologist. "It was good training; you have to be really precise. But I started to work on my own stories as an escape because doing very realistic drawings all the time can feel like a test. It took me maybe six months to have one accepted. There is a lack of writers for children who can work in both Catalan and Spanish."
Based in Barcelona, Lluís still spends a lot of time in his home village and wants to write a novel for teenagers or adults that draws on his family life. "The family is my memory bank and I know one day the history will disappear."
Outside in World (2010)
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