We spoke to Lauren O’Hara, illustrator of the beautifully-dark fairy tale Hortense and the Shadow, about her influences and illustrators that have inspired her work.
Errol Le Cain
When I was very little, I spent hours reading a copy of the fairy tale The Snow Queen with my sister. It was illustrated by Errol le Cain, and the pictures looked so magical we half thought they actually might be. Maybe one day we’d fall into an illustration, and ride under the Northern Lights on a talking reindeer. I still get that tingly feeling when I see Errol Le Cain’s paintings - he’s enchanting.
When I was studying to be an illustrator, I saw Lisbeth Zwerger’s version of The Selfish Giant in a bookshop and thought, ‘I wish I could paint like that’. I still do! When Lisbeth Zwerger illustrates a fairy tale, she seems to bring out all the emotions that are hiding inside. Her pictures feel like something beautiful you dreamt long ago.
Jiří Trnka was a great children’s illustrator, but also an all-round genius who could make puppets, write books, paint, and direct films. His work is glorious but never perfect; he loved to let you see brush marks and splashes. He was from the Czech Republic, and only two of his books have been translated into English – wonderful versions of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales.
Edward Ardizzone could show deep emotion in just a few lines! He spent the Second World War working as a war artist, living with the army and sketching everything he saw. Maybe that’s what gave his drawings their gloriously rushed quality – as though he had to capture something astonishing before it disappeared. My favourite books by Edward Ardizzone are the 'Tim' books, which he wrote as well as illustrated, especially Tim All Alone.
Suzanna Hubbard’s work has so much humour, charm and emotion. Once I was lucky enough to see her little black leather-bound sketchbooks, and it was amazing. One page would take you to a little English seaside village, the next to rolling hills in Italy, the next to a haunted house. She’s so skilled at capturing a time and place that she carries you away on an adventure.
Have you read The Arrival? If not, please go and find it in your nearest library or bookshop! It has no words, but tells a story that is full of love and sadness and wonder. Shaun Tan, who is an Australian illustrator and writer, is someone I never, ever get bored of. His books are magnificent, and every one is different from the others.
I love Carson Ellis because she’s someone who can be funny and scary, or sad and silly, at the same time. She is inspired by illustrations that are old, but her pictures are fresh and exciting. And she comes up with the best ideas – like writing a book in insect language (Du Iz Tak?). Who else would think of that?
Tove Jansson is my favourite illustrator of all time. Her world is a golden place full of magic hats, wild adventures and strawberry pancakes. She was skilled as an illustrator, and could paint and etch and draw wonderfully, but she also had a wild imagination and was a gifted writer too. It’s a rare and amazing combination, which makes her books unforgettable.
Natalia O'Hara, Lauren O'Hara
"Through the dark and wolfish woods,
through the white and silent snow,
lived a small girl called Hortense.
Though kind and brave, she was sad as an owl because of one thing . . .
Hortense hated her shadow."
A beautifully illustrated dark fairy tale that will remind you of the fables you read as a child. A treasure not to be missed.