Petr Horacek

This month's Picture Book of the Month is Elephant by Petr Horacek. We put Petr to the test with a few questions about what inspires him to create his books – and asked him to give us a peek of his studio ...

Where did you draw your inspiration from for Elephant?

I believed for some time that the inspiration for Elephant came from my daughter Tereza. She used to have an imaginary friend when she was little – it was a black fox. But I have a habit of cutting out interesting pictures and photos from different magazines and newspapers, which I then stick into my sketchbooks. Only recently I found an old sketchbook with a photo of an elephant standing on a skateboard being pushed around by two children. It resembles the picture of the boy pushing the elephant into the house.

Do you have a favourite passage or picture in the book?

My favourite is the first picture I painted for this book – the boy pushing Elephant into the house.

How do you ‘create’ a picture book? Do you do the words or the pictures first?

The idea for a picture book comes to me first as a picture in my head. I sketch the pictures first.

I do of course think about the story but the words are last.

Can you tell us a bit about the mediums and materials you work with and why?

I like colours and I like textures. So I use anything I can for painting and drawing. But mainly watercolours, wax crayons and acrylics. I do collages and use papers on which I have previously painted and printed. For printing I would use polystyrene pizza bases – scratching into them and then printing from them.

Is there any particular routine involved in your writing/illustrating process (a favourite paintbrush, lucky charm, or a place you particularly like to work)?

I like to think about new ideas somewhere else than in my studio. For that purpose I like my mother in law’s house and her old armchair. Of course I have my favourite pencil, paintbrush and chair but it’s not superstition – I’m just used to them. And I love working in my small studio.

What does a typical day involve for you?

I used to play tennis in the morning and then work in the afternoons and evening quite late, but since the last year I have a bad knee so I don’t play anymore. I try to go for a walk if possible, cycle and work late. I like working in the evening listening to the radio.

Do you have any pets or a favourite animal?

My favourite animal is the bear. The bear is clever, looks lazy but is fast and fit. However we have a nice little lion head rabbit and very hairy guinea pig.

What subject did you enjoy most at school … and least?

It’s hard to think about what I enjoyed most at school. I enjoyed walking home from school the best. Maybe sport but only ball games. I didn’t like maths. School was hard work.

When did you first feel that you wanted to write picture books?

I used to illustrate stories since I was little. I used to draw comics for friends at school. But the proper need to make a picture book came at the time my daughter was born.

What were your favourite books as a child?

I was born in the Czech Republic so books from my childhood were different from the books English children know. I liked every book that had nice pictures inside.

Do you have any hobbies?

I like tennis, I’m learning to like cycling, and I like music and reading.

Who are your favourite artists/ do you have a favourite painting?

I like Paul Klee, drawings by Joseph Beuys and paintings by Henri Matisse. My favourite painting is 'Bathers at Asnieres' by George Seurat.