As a British wood engraver, Christopher Wormell crafts simple, bold images. But the process of creating his artwork is far more complex than his cleanly outlined scenes suggest. Here he talks about his inspiration and his process for illustrating what he calls “an American classic” in this retelling of ’Twas the Night Before Christmas.
What made you decide to feature a family living in a log cabin?
I love the New England images of the Edward Hopper paintings. That was my image.
The cozy cabin also emphasizes the simplicity of the family’s lifestyle, as well as the significance of the gifts Santa leaves behind.
You don’t see much furniture in the house, but I looked at Shaker furniture. I was thinking when I was doing that log cabin that it’s a nice contrast to a more colorful Christmas. It fits with the linocut style I’m using quite nicely.
How did you come up with the scene of the miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer in shadow against the side of the house?
Most of the images in the book came from almost the first reading of the poem. I thought, “How can you get both the image of the father looking out of the window and also the wonders of this event into the same picture?” I thought it would be more interesting to have the image of the father with the shadow of the sleigh.
You don’t often see Santa without his hat, his bald head revealed to the father-onlooker. What prompted you to show him in such a vulnerable way?
He’s doing his job, you know, getting down to work. It was in my mind that he’d take his hat off. The poem mentions his pipe, which suggests his being quite relaxed. I did originally in the sketch have the pipe, then I was told, “No, no you can’t do that!”
Can you describe the process for making your linoprints?
What I do is a pencil sketch, which is very close to the final print. I then trace that onto a wooden block, [and I carve out the parts I don’t want to print]. The black is first. Each picture is made by using four different blocks with four different colors. From that first block I make offset prints, which I then transfer from the paper back onto the blocks as black line. Then with that black image on three other blocks, I can decide where the rest of the color goes. The black block is the first color I print onto the linoprint. You build up the image by building up the colors from the other blocks. At the end, I place the original black block back on top of the print.
In that image of Santa’s “mount to the sky,” the antlers of his reindeer are so small! Were those hard to carve?
One of the trickiest bits of the whole book was the antlers. You want them to be the same, more or less all the way through the book. That was the longest bit of work, carving them out. Trying to get Santa right was tricky, too. Faces are hard, and you want to get Santa’s face right. Aside from the antlers on the reindeer, that was the trickiest part.
Christopher Wormell shares insights into his engraving at chriswormell.com.
See all of Kirkus' reviews of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa books in our annual December Holiday Round-up.
'Twas the Night Before Christmas
By Clement Clarke Moore; illustrated by Christopher Wormell
Running Press Kids / September / 9780762427178 / $16.95