SCBWI Bologna 2008 Author-Illustrator Interview: Marie Wabbes

Marie Wabbes’ first picture book was published by Ecole des Loisirs more than 42 years ago. Since then, she has produced over 175 picture books that have been published worldwide. Other interests include breeding Arabian horses and working with African illustrators, guiding them to produce their own picture books. Anita Loughrey interviewed Marie in January, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).

Are you a writer as well as an illustrator and, if so, which comes first the images or the words?

MW: First the words, as I started in life working as a journalist, working for fifteen years for a newspaper called the le Soir in Brussels. The illustrations come later. I’ve always wanted to be an author-illustrator.

What were your other career choices, if any?

MW: Well, I am the mother of four children. I bred Arabian horses, and I am still an international judge for these horses. I have to travel the world to the shows.

Do you have favorite medium you work in? If so, did the medium choose you or did you choose it? Can you elaborate?

MW: When I started illustrating, the fashion was ink and watercolor. Later, I decided to use a marker to have a more dynamic drawing effect. The color and lines came together like in the Little Rabbit books. Next, I started drawing portraits of teddy bears in pastel and gouache and started illustrating my books with the same medium.

At the moment, I am writing another book about a teddy and a little boy who is convinced his teddy is really alive.

If you were to illustrate yourself, what would you look like?

MW: I would see myself as a kitchen garden full of flowers and vegetables. If I could be any character from one of my illustrations I would be a teddy bear, to be cuddled and loved. I have a collection of old, very much loved teddies. I could draw myself as one of them.

Do you have a favorite children’s book that you wish you had written and/or illustrated? Why?

MW: My favorite children’s book is Babar, because the little elephant lives a happy life and is always positive. It is very French, a witness of the pre-war period in France.

How far ahead do you work? Six months, a year? Longer?

MW: Normally six months, but I have been “sitting” like a hen on her nest on some projects for years.

What is your workspace like?

MW: My workspace is a very nice studio facing my garden, very convenient. There is a picture of Babar on the wall above my desk and 3D painting white on white…a “Castellani” Italian painter and a drawing of TinTin’s dog Milou. I always work with classical music. I love opera also.

What was your favorite book as a child or adolescent?

MW: My favourite book was L’almanach du gai savoir by Colette Vivier. Later I discovered Barok Pimpol et Viginil by Simone Ratel. It is very funny and amusing.

How has your childhood influenced your illustrations and writing?

MW: It was the second-world-war. My father was a prisoner in Germany, and we were sent to a farm and I loved everything–the smell of the fresh baked bread, the cherries on the trees, the cows and hens, getting up early in the morning to go mushrooming…in the wet grass.

My illustrations are always fed by details coming from that world. I live in the country and still love it.

Cynsational Notes

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children’s non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers’ Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008’s Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries?