Cori Doerrfeld’s new book, The Rabbit Listened, is a stunning marriage of beauty and simplicity. The story of loss, which Doerrfeld both wrote and illustrated, is elegant, honest, funny, and moving. Through sparse text and emotionally rich imagery, Doerrfeld conveys, with enviable clarity, the process of grief and the value, in troubled times, of simply listening. We were excited to chat with Cori, who also created Maggie and Wendel and Little Bunny Foo Foo: The Real Story, about one of her favorite moments in The Rabbit Listened, her love of donuts, and how art allows kids to share what they think is important.
What first made you excited about art?
Even though neither of my parents draw, they say I was pretty much born with a desire to make art. I loved drawing animals when I was very young, especially cats, horses, and dogs. What truly ignited my passion for creating, was animation. I loved, and still love, how animation literally brings art to life. I studied and drew animated characters more than anything else as a child. I would even draw directly from my television, frame by frame from a paused video tape. I particularly loved the work of Chuck Jones and Andreas Deja.
What’s your favorite thing to draw at the moment?
Animals are still my favorite thing to draw, but ever since I got my rescue dog, Rufus, I particularly love drawing dogs. I love the variety of appearance and personality dogs have to offer. The combinations of size, fur color, ears, and emotion are endless!
Which illustration from your latest book did you especially enjoy creating?
This may sound like a strange answer because the illustration represents when things fall apart for the character, but I really enjoyed making the spread where the birds knock down the tower of blocks. By enjoy, I mean it was the most involved illustration in the book making it the most challenging to create. Most of the illustrations in The Rabbit Listened have white backgrounds and focus on more subtle interactions. The spread with the birds has movement, color, and really had to capture how pivotal this moment is for the story, and for people in real life. I enjoyed playing around with how to best add color, how dark to make the spread, and how the blocks were tumbling.
Which characters from your books would you like to spend time with?
Well since Maggie and Wendel are literally based on my own two children, I suppose I have to say that I would like to spend time with them. But, since I am also a big fan of baked goods and walking in the woods, hanging out with Bunny Foo Foo (as long as we aren’t bopping anyone on the head) sounds like a pretty good time to me!
Can you draw us a self-portrait?
I went back and forth on exactly what self-portrait to draw. I am a mom, I am an illustrator, I am many things. But I finally decided to show myself in a real-life snap-shot moment of being happy. I love living in Minnesota (even if it’s cold and has lots of snow), I love going for walks, I love my dog Rufus, and I love the donuts from our neighborhood bakery. (SOOOO good)
What illustrated book have you read recently and been wowed by?
I read a lot of graphic novels, and recently I read The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui. I loved this book. I loved the line work, I loved the limited use of color, but most of all I loved how brilliantly the illustrations transported you into the story. I am always humbled and grateful when an artist can give you experiences different than your own. I was wowed by just how perfectly Bui captured emotion and tone.
Why do you think art is important for kids? What can grown-ups do to encourage kids to engage with art?
I teach art to kids at young artist conventions in various cities around Minnesota. It is always amazing to me how unhindered and unique the art they create can be. Art is a safe, yet powerful way for kids to explore what they think is important and develop their own inner voice. My kids draw a lot, just like I did. It makes me so happy that outlet is always there for them. Making art is truly one of the only things that not only allows you to escape the world around you, but also brings forth something new into existence. To encourage kids to engage with art, share with them art that moves you but also note what excites them. My son loves cats, so I show him photos and art involving cats. The best motivator is to make art yourself … more importantly, make art with kids. Making art can be scary, but if you do it, kids will too. Last, make art supplies available. I have found that if kids know where to find paper, or pencils, or clay, or coloring books, they will use them!
What’s the best name for a color that you’ve ever heard?
I love the color name Smaragdine, which is a name for emerald green. Since I was born on St. Patrick’s Day, I have seen a lot of green in my life!
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