Ed Young was born in Tientsin, China, in 1931, and grew up in Shanghai, in a house built by his father, as recorded in his latest picture-book The House Baba Built. He later moved to Hong Kong, and from there to the USA, where he trained as an artist. He worked in advertising before illustrating his first book The Mean Mouse and Other Mean Stories in 1962.
Since then, Ed has illustrated more than 80 books, nearly half of which he also wrote. His versatility and the imaginative mixing of media in his art, as well as his artistic sensitivity towards each new book, have reaped him many awards, including the Caldecott Medal for Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China and two Caldecott Honors for The Emperor and the Kite and Seven Blind Mice, based on the classic Indian story of the blind men and the elephant.
Ed lives in New York with his two daughters and two cats.
Quotations taken from our interview with
[About The House Baba Built] - I wanted the whole composition to be like a scrap book. I tried to make the words look like they're written –so you have a picture and the words describing them, like in a photo album or a scrapbook. The variety of styles appears casual but it provides the vehicle for the spirit of what I want to convey. The mixture of media also partly comes from having bits and pieces that got left behind from the earlier versions. In the end, I had so many pictures and so many words that it was going to be difficult to fit them all together within the book – so some of the silhouettes became a sort of background with words over them.
I'm always trying out different media with a view to enhancing my stories. If I serve a medium by learning about it, then it will come and serve me. It's also a way to keep myself fresh. I don't take any medium for granted. For example, I love paper, but in The House Baba Built, I mainly used fabric. Since that was new for me, I learned something.
I was brought up seeing pictures and words complimenting each other, with the calligraphy of the words conveying meaning as a form of art. Unlike in Western art where you maybe have a few words hiding someplace in the corner (a signature, but it doesn't really mean anything), in Chinese art, words are an integral part of a composition. The words help the pictures and the pictures help the words. Sometimes the words become much more important and you put a little inky picture somewhere to emphasise the words.
Usually the visual part does come to me first, but then sometimes, when I'm telling a story, it is truly the words that come. I'm very interested in poetry and putting pictures to poems to enhance the beauty of words. With Beyond the Great Mountain, for instance, the words came first. [...]
When I do a children's book with pictures, the words have a place: but then sometimes maybe you don't even have any words on a particular spread, you just have pictures. I compare them to the pauses in a piece of music. They give you a sense of space and silence, and the sounds become much more prominent after that. So there's a moment of silence, then you go to the next picture with some kind of anticipation. You are maybe compelled to see the next picture because it brings up a surprise of some sort. Or there's something that you would like to linger over, and then you see it move forward in the next image. It's really about communication between the reader and the turning of the page.
Posted January 2012
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