Announcing the marriage of Dr. Ronald Jobe and Cynthia Nugent! Not really. I know that’s what it looks like, but in fact I’m photographed here with the founder of the Roundtable and namesake of the scholarship given once a year to a Master of Children’s Literature student. Goodness, how did an aging illustrator manage that? I’m as surprised as you are. My acceptance speech will explain:
The illustrator breakfast is my favourite event in the Roundtable calendar – at it I’ve been thrilled to listen to wonderful children’s artists such as Shaun Tan, Marie Louise Gay and today, the brilliant Oliver Jeffers. Every year when they’ve given the Dr. Ronald Jobe award, I’ve marvelled at what it must be like to receive a scholarship.
The year before I entered the Master of children’s literature program was a low point for me as an author-illustrator. It was the end of a penniless winter working on three picturebooks at once, all the cheques were long overdue, my dog was dying of kidney failure, and I had finally despaired of ever making a living as an artist. I ended up in emergency getting morphine for severe neck damage caused by years of hunching over illustrations. And I had begun to hate drawing. When I recovered enough, I started seeing a therapist who specialized in treating artists. She urged me to do a master’s degree and, influenced by my friend Kathie Shoemaker, I applied for the MACL program.
When I started the course, I had published a dozen books and had received a number of awards – I thought I knew picturebooks. But in taking the wonderful courses of Margot Filipenko, Kathie Shoemaker, and Judi Saltman I realized I didn’t know much about them at all. Judi’s course on Canadian children’s books and her pivotal book, Picturing Canada, on the history of children’s publishing in this country showed me how fragile the Canadian children’s publishing industry has always been, and that my difficulties in earning a living were not so much a personal failing as a reflection of the precariousness of a comparatively young industry in a colonial country overshadowed by a giant neighbour. Studying in the Master of Children’s Literature program at UBC has renewed my love of picturebooks, and made me understand their unique status as multimodal artworks. I now feel more excited than I ever have about this wonderful artform and what I can contribute to it in the coming years.
It is especially meaningful to me that I receive this recognition at the Oliver Jeffers’ illustrator breakfast because of the influence this great artist’s work has had on me this past 2 years. When I saw the youtube trailer for the app of his book The Heart and the Bottle I was enraptured. Throughout my illustration career I’ve longed to animate my pictures – just a little bit – enough to make a small boat tilt on the sea, to make stars twinkle in an indigo sky, for a beam of light to briefly illuminate a scene, to show a heart beating in a small body at a critical moment, or to hear something break. When I saw all of these small repeatable animations and sounds occurring in a beautiful story by someone called Oliver Jeffers in something called an app on something called an ipad I felt as if I’d found an answer to something I’d long been looking for. The Heart and the Bottle was one of the first and remains the best, most artistic, magical, profound, and multilayered examples of the multimodal capabilities of the touchscreen picturebook app. This storybook app has not only become the primary text in my thesis, but has led me to learn animation software, and to embark on design an app of my own.
So it is with gratitude, but some bemusement, that I receive this recognition when I know it is the MACL program, its founder, instructors, and my kind and intelligent fellow students who should be receiving the bouquets because they are the ones who have led, inspired and renewed me.