An interview with Kate Knapp:
Inspiration for Ruby
How did you come up with the idea of Ruby Red Shoes?
I was sketching in my studio on a warm, sunny morning when Ruby hopped onto my drawing pad. I saw her long ears, sweet, friendly face with pink cheeks, a striped shirt, spotted skirt, then finally and most importantly some red shoes. She shared her stories about life in her colourful caravan, her friends and her gentle, kind way of relating to the world. We were instant friends.
What inspired the Ruby Red Shoes' books?
Ruby Red Shoes is a product of my own childhood experiences, wishes and dreams of a beautiful life. A place where magic and innocence are still alive. I was driven to create a character as a gentle friend for people and a beautiful world into which they could escape. For children, Ruby's books are like a retreat as they navigate the challenging world around them. For adults, they are a place to revisit the gentle innocence of childhood. I believe adults need children's books, too.
Why do you think people feel comforted by the Ruby books?
Ruby lives in a world that values time spent in contemplation and connection.
Cultivating awareness of the world around you as well as inside you are the foundations of a healthy life. Ruby lives a life where simple things such as gardening, communing with the stars, daydreaming or reading a story at bedtime snuggled with her grandmother, are nourishment for her spiritual, mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. I believe Ruby reminds us to prioritise these parts of our life.
The first Ruby Red Shoes' book doesn't have a formal plot. Was that intentional?
The first book is an introduction to Ruby Red Shoes – an aware hare. The reader is invited to wander through her world and learn a little about her. Each subsequent book deepens the reader's relationship with Ruby. Children have plenty of opportunities to fill in the blanks, encouraging them to stretch their imagination and ask questions. Being so unscripted, it sets the rhythm for everything about Ruby. I believe too much of life travels on a solution superhighway. I am an advocate for the romance of mystery and the unknown. Whose life has a plot anyhow? Children don't ask for plots, and Ruby belongs to children. I want to create books that aren't perfect or logical, allowing children to stay connected to imagination and make-believe.
Why do you think children love Ruby?
Ruby is her own little hero. She has lost her parents, and despite this obvious misfortune, she overcomes her fears, opens her arms to life, and makes the very best of everything. She feels sadness and sorrow and joy and happiness. I wanted Ruby to be relatable, to be a friend and a safe space for all children. I believe children have wisdom and important things to say. There is also a sense of fun. Most children relish in the cheekiness of Ruby's chickens, they love the intricate miniature detail of Ruby's world and her quirky patchwork dress sense.
What do you love about being an artist?
There's enormous freedom in being able to communicate through art.
It is a gift to express my values and beliefs, as well as the many things I love and encounter in life through my art. I have a very talented and creative team behind me who share common values and dedication. I feel supported and nurtured by them and my wonderful customers. I am so blessed to be an Australian artist.
What is unique about your work?
My drawings and illustrations are done by hand on paper, which is becoming less common as computer rendering gets more sophisticated. It's quite a high wire adventure working on an illustration when there is no undo button. Watercolour is very unforgiving, and one slip of the brush or absent-minded colour choice can be devastating, which is why I hold my breath a lot. A painting could take anything from a day to three weeks, and there may be seventy plus paintings in a book so it can be quite a long, arduous journey. The satisfaction to see each illustration come to life and reproduced in print makes it very worthwhile.
How would you describe your style?
I would describe my artwork style as whimsical illustrations painted in pencil, ink, watercolour and a fair dose of soul magic. ■