Belle Du Cray
Interview with Belle Du Cray, Illustrator of The Sparkle Series and Other Children’s Books
ILP: You are the illustrator of the international award winning book Sparkle & The Gift. Can you tell us something about how that book was created?
BELLE: The first time I read the Sparkle stories I started crying. I felt like I was reading and experiencing how I felt about things and it was such a beautiful way to express underlying issues that we all deal with from the perspective of this beautiful little girl. It is hard to resist her.
ILP: Was it difficult to come up with the illustrations?
BELLE: I have loved doing the illustrations because I see myself in Sparkle, and in some ways we are all Sparkle. It doesn’t matter what gender, race or culture we are from because we all have an inner light and we simply express it uniquely. Sparkle embraces all the colors of nature and shares her innocent beauty so freely that she inspires us to take a deep breath and find the courage to share our true selves also. She represents the light and color and all that we all want to show the world.
ILP: What inspired you to begin drawing?
BELLE: Ever since I was knee high I’ve been fascinated with color, light and the natural world. As a little girl I would envision myself creating and illustrating books. I loved the idea of creating something straight from my own inner world. It is our sheer imagination that brings art to life. It was my dream to illustrate books, and now I’m living my dream. I love it.
ILP: What advice would you give a new illustrator?
BELLE: Slow down, relax and dream. Drawing is an organic process. We all see images when we read, and also simply when we close our eyes, or watch the passing shapes in the clouds. I do feel that our modern culture overwhelms us with images and children don’t get to just practice imagining. We need to remind our children to spend time in nature. We all need to walk and listen to the stories in the natural world around us. So the advice I’d give a new illustrator is to be brave and dream in your own way.
ILP: Does the author influence what you draw?
BELLE: The illustrations bring the stories to life, so I am influenced in that way. Ayn Cates Sullivan and I have a natural intimate understanding of one another that goes much deeper than words. As I read the stories I’m listening and dreaming between the lines. There is much in the space between words that we can imagine into. It is wonderful when the author and illustrator have a natural harmony and attunement.
ILP: Once you start on a project do you draw all the time? What is your schedule like?
BELLE: One day a week I take time off just to feel the stories and the emerging characters. I sit with the characters and the living story. I make sure that the colors flow with continuity from one page to the next. The entire time I’m coloring in my head. Also my hands get tired sometimes and that is a sign that it is time to rest and dream.
ILP: How do you begin your illustrations? Do you follow the story line?
BELLE: (laughs) I draw what comes to me first. It could begin anywhere in the book. We need alleyways to go down, ivy covered doors, magical portals into the imaginations. It is the greatest gift in the world to see a sketch, and then bring the characters to life. I follow the movement of the story as it is showing itself to me. It takes a week or so to see the picture. It comes in your dreams and in your mind. You know what colors are going to come. It’s magic.
ILP: Do you see the faces of the characters from the beginning?
BELLE: Their faces often come last. Also when you work on an illustration or a portrait there is a practical concern, because if you drag your hand across a face then it can smudge. Eyes, noses and mouths are very simple details. You always wait and do your face last.
ILP: Have you enjoyed doing the illustrations for the Sparkle series? Has it added value to your life?
BELLE: I have loved doing the Sparkle illustrations because I see myself in Sparkle. She embraces all the colors and shares her innocent beauty so freely and simply. She is light and color and all that we wish to share. Sparkle reminds me that I am valuable, and so are all human beings on the earth.
ILP: What is the main message behind the Sparkle series?
BELLE: The first time I read Ayn’s stories I felt like I was reading and experiencing how I felt about things. Someone had found the words for my own inner reality at last. Even my family asked if Ayn had written the stories about me as a child. But really they are about creative children everywhere. The Sparkle stories are fables that address underlying issues that we all deal with from the viewpoint and perspective of this innocence and beautiful girl. I always say, why just shine if you can sparkle? The main message is that we have an inner light and we must never forget it.
ILP: What responses have you had from the public? Do you find there is a growing readership or fan club?
BELLE: Every single person picks up the book and reads it and recognizes that innocent little girl who lives within us all whether we are five or one hundred and five. It is not just for children but for everyone, children of all ages.
ILP: Is there a deeper message?
BELLE: The message is to love yourself, honor yourself, honor your family and the earth and live your life to your fullest. Through that we save our planet, our heritage, the family and the children that are yet to come.
ILP: Who should buy these books?
BELLE: These books need to be in every single person’s home, in all schools, libraries. We all need visual reinforcements to remind us of the beauty of each day and embracing all the colors in the world around us and be at one with nature and be at one with yourself.
ILP: Do you have plans to illustrate more books?
BELLE: (laughs) Millions. I’m just getting started. And I hope other aspiring artists will join me.
ILP: You are very gifted, but are you surprised by your success?
BELLE: If you share that art, then you are sharing spirit, and then you also receive the gift of art. It makes me cry when I look at what I’ve done and I’m so surprised!
ILP: What would you say to someone who wanted to write, illustrate and publish their own children’s book?
BELLE: Go talk to Ayn Cates Sullivan and the folks at Infinite Light Publishing. Get out your old favorite books as a child, go to the library and see which ones call you and make you feel fuzzy and warm and use that as your launching point. You have to start with a feeling.
ILP: Are there artists who have inspired you?
BELLE: Many. One artist that inspired me when I was dreaming in the fairy Kachina was a Salvador Dali short film that he did for Walt Disney. That is when I first saw the her form in my mind. I also looked at Peter Pan books, Winnie The Pooh, The Secret Garden, and books created by Michael Hagen who illustrated many children’s books. I grew up with the original copies of Uncle Remus and was strongly influenced by them.
ILP: What medium do you use?
BELLE: Almost all kids books are watercolor, colored pencils or pen and ink. I like pencils. I am a painter, but I like the illustration concept.
ILP: Are you planning on hosting any workshops for aspiring young illustrators?
BELLE: Yes, I have been asked several times. I love to share with others and help other people’s dreams come into manifestation.
ILP: Thank you Belle, and may you have many more successes!