He describes his style as simple and colorful, and his characters as helpful but still missing something important. This is how the Irish illustrator, book author and social entrepreneur Chris Haughton sees himself.
He describes his style as simple and colorful, and his characters as helpful but still missing something important. This is how the Irish illustrator, book author and social entrepreneur Chris Haughton sees himself. Because of his work and contribution to the fashion company People Tree, he was included in the Time DESIGN 100 list. His debut book from 2010, A Bit Lost, has already been translated into 27 languages, and four more are on the way. Meanwhile, nine years ago Houghton together with Akshay Stapite started the Node project in Nepal. The motive of the non-profit organization is to support economically disadvantaged people to work on the fair trade model. So famous talented designers and illustrators provide images that locals turn into handmade items. Their first exhibition brought together 18 rugs with images from artists such as John Klassen and Donna Wilson and was presented at the Design Museum in London. “Look!” spoke to Chris Houghton shortly before his participation as a speaker at the symposium of the third edition of the MELBA design festival, which will go online on November 7.
How would you describe your style?
Simple and colourful. The characters are usually helpful but they misunderstand something important. Which is me usually.
Which subjects interest you most and are most often to be found in the stories you tell with your images?
I am interested at the moment in clowning. And also the tradition of oral storytelling.
Give us a few examples of your favorite books from childhood?
I had an annual of the Muppets which I adored. I also had Richard Scarry picture book with lots of details I loved to look at.
What is the most interesting or surprising compliment given from a child for your work?
The best story I heard was a family in a car in Ireland. The father was driving and his two sons were fighting with each other in the back. So the father tried to distract them by reciting one of my books, 'SHH! We have a plan' from memory. He got stuck on one page and the 18 month year old prompted him... EVEN THOUGH HE COULDN'T YET SPEAK!
You're both author and illustrator of your books. What is most challenging in combining these two jobs?
When I have a good idea with the writing it usually involves changing all the pictures. And when I have a good idea with the art it usually involves changing all the words. So i just keep going around in a circle until my editor tells me to stop. It's also the reason why I couldn’t work with a real writer.
We've seen your Stay-at-home readings and art classes. How did your work change during the pandemic? Is it important for the art people to be always active and engaged with what is happening around us in time of crisis?
It felt important to me to try to do something at the time. It was my sister that prompted me to do something as she has three young children and so really I was kind of reading to them bt rather than do it on Skype or zoom i did it on facebook live so that it be for anyone else who wanted to tune in.
How do you think we should talk with the kids about this new reality?
We have to be safe and pragmatic but not fearful. They will pick up on everything. We cant change this as individuals so we just have to make the most of it. We can all figure out how to use the downtime in the best possible way.
Tell us more about the NODE project in Nepal. What makes initiatives like that valuable and is it possible a fair trade to be sustainable?
The people we work with who make the carpets and an incredible family who are from the lowest caste in Nepal, they set up the project to help members of their caste tout of the poverty trap. They had amazing craft skills but lacked the knowledge of the designs that are attractive to western consumers so I helped them with that. I am so proud of that collaboration.
You combine your profession with your personal views as an activist in the fight with climate change. What should we teach kids so that they could grow up responsible towards the ecological problems that their generation will have to live with? What is the role of the art in this process?
I think we all need to consider the environment more in everything we do. There are so many of us and we are consuming more and more. As a child and adult I watch David Attenborough documentaries and read about animals and was so inspired by the natural world. I want to see other children grow up with the same love of nature and make sure they can see the natural world thriving and not being destroyed.
Our current issue is dedicated to collectors. Are you passionate about collecting something?
Books!! I have more books than shelves and probably enough to read for the next decade but i still can't pass a bookstore with buying ANOTHER one!!