Ask The Author

Maria Gulemetova

Beyond the Fence

We would like to know how long it took you to illustrate the book, what was your favourite animal to illustrate and why did you choose the panda for the front cover? And we really loved all your illustrations in the book!
West Buckland School Prep 4, Age 9

Hello everybody at West Buckland School and thank you for your questions!

Here is my answer:

Every book is different and every book takes a different time to illustrate. I usually write and illustrate picture books and writing the text, fitting it with illustrations and getting everything right can take as long as one year. I usually work on a couple of books at the same time because I have to wait for feedback from editors and publishers. I don't want to waste time waiting, so I get on with another books and ideas. I like drawing and painting. I wouldn't know what else to do.

'A First Book of Animals' was different from working on my own picture books, because the text, written by Nicola Davies, was already finished. I liked the text and the poems very much and I found them very inspiring.

Because the book is non fiction and every page talks about a different animal, I didn't need to worry about the continuity in the story. I could treat each page differently, trying different techniques: printing, drawing, painting, I scratched into the paper, used wax crayons, acrylic paint, watercolours and practically anything you can think off.

At the time I was finishing one of my picture books, so I thought I would take my time and illustrate 'A First Book of Animals" slowly, but the truth is, that I loved working on 'A First Book of Animals' so much, that I couldn't wait to do the next page.

'A First Book of Animals' is a rather big book with lots of pages and I would say that with all the sketching and research it took me about 10 months to finish the book.

I would find it really difficult to point to my favourite animal to illustrate, because I like all the animals and they are so different, but if I have to single out one I would say the sailfish. It was the very first illustration for the book I did. Nicola sent me a video of a sailfish swimming and it was so inspiring and beautiful. I had a couple of goes before I got the picture right.

To have the panda on the book's cover was the editor's choice. She just liked the picture and I went with it. You may like to know that the book's American edition has an orangutan on its cover. I had to paint it specially. My Dutch publisher choose the illustration of the crocodile for the cover of the Dutch version of the same book.

I'm pleased to know that you like the book! For me it was real treat and honour to illustrate such a brilliant text. The book is rather special to me and I enjoyed illustrating every page.

All the bests

When did you start making books and what inspired you?
Scarlett, 9

Hello Scarlett,

Thank you very much for your question.

I started to illustrate books at the time that my first daughter Tereza was born. She is now 21 years old. It may be fair to say that it was her who inspired me to start to write and illustrate books.

The other big inspiration for me was discovering a book called 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' . I'm sure that you know the book, but I was born in the Czech Republic and I didn't know the book when I was little. When I first saw the book I was almost 30 years old! I loved the book so much, that I wanted to do books like this myself, so I am trying.

All the best and keep reading!

Do you like animals?
Anahita, 9

Hello Anahita,

Yes, I love animals. It's amazing how many different species of animals live on our planet. We don't even know them all and most of the animals don't even have names!

One of my best friends works in the Prague Zoo and as a student of art, I used to go there and draw animals the whole day long. Drawing animals from reality helps you understand the way how animals move and how they live.

Working with the great writer Nicola Davies on 'A First Book of Animals' was also very exciting, because Nicola is not just a brilliant writer, but she is also a zoologist and she knows a great deal about animals. I learned from Nicola a lot about animals.

Thank you Anahita for the question and I'm wishing you all the best.

How do you put all the detail in the pictures in the book? I love the pictures of animals in the book!
Colin, 10

Hello Colin,

I hope you are well. I'm glad that you like the book. I really enjoyed working on the illustrations. I wish I could do more books like this.

I found the Nicola Davies's text for 'A First Book of Animals' incredibly inspiring.

As a student of art I used to draw animals in the ZOO, so I knew a little bit about some of the animals, but for the book I had to do a lots of research. I looked and copied animals from books and I watched lots of films. Have you seen the series 'The Blue Planet'?

Sometimes I like to draw an animal from my memory, because this way I can keep the picture simple. When I finish my drawing, I look at the photograph of the animal to check and correct things I've got wrong. It is surprising how many things one can get wrong!

We think we know what an elephant looks like for example, but do you know how many toe nails they have on their feet? And is the number of the toenails on their front legs the same as the number of their toe nails on the their rear legs? Did you know that seahorses have no stomach and therefore they have to eat all the time so they can stay alive? It is also the daddy seahorse who carries the babies in his stomach and gives birth to the little seahorses! There are so many interesting things to learn about animals.

Animals are fascinating and working on this book made me even more curious about them.

Thank you Colin for your question.

All the best