November 7, 2018

The Log Driver's Waltz by Wade Hemsworth - Illustrated by Jennifer Phelan

Anyone growing up in Canada in the early '80s will most likely remember this animated short, The Log Driver's Waltz. Based on a folk song by Wade Hemsworth, it was produced by The National Film Board of Canada to encourage national unity. The song is about a young woman who prefers a log driver over her many other more proper suitors. Driving logs along the river has made the young man light on his feet and the best dancer in town.

Acclaimed illustrator Jennifer Phelan has ingeniously recreated this film for the picture book, capturing all the charm and splendour that has made it a cherished Canadian classic. In her rendition, the log driver's moves are more balletic and graceful as the river currents flow with a contemporary flair. Cool pastel colours offer a fresh vibe as is the update to the log driver's iconic plaid shirt and toque. The additional scenes provide a practical and imaginative ending to an adaptation that is sure to delight a new generation of fans. Recommended for ages 4+.

The Log Driver's Waltz Wade Hemsworth Jennifer Phelan cover
Simon & Schuster 2018
Hardcover 40p
10" x 12"

Q&A with Jennifer Phelan

How were you approached for 'The Log Driver's Waltz'?
The Log Driver's Waltz stepping lightlyIt was a blend of luck and chemistry that brought me to this project. 
The Log Driver's Waltz Wade Hemsworth Jennifer Phelan mooseMy first children's book was launching at the same time that my publisher was seeking an illustrator for The Log Driver's Waltz. I was very fortunate to have been top of mind at the right time. I'm not 100% on the exact arrangement but I believe the government granted special permission to Simon & Schuster Canada, historically a book distributor not producer, to create books provided they were works of Canadian culture. The Log Driver's Waltz had been a long-time favourite of Simon & Schuster's managing editor Patricia Ocampo and she asked me to be one of three chosen to audition for the role as illustrator. I'm pretty sure it was the in-person interview not the sample art, that tipped the scales. Within minutes of sitting down, it was obvious we had the exact same vision for this contemporary version. When Patricia called me later to offer me the gig, it was more like a marriage proposal. Something huge just landed in our laps.
Can you tell us a bit of your creative process? What mediums do you use?
The Log Driver's Waltz Wade Hemsworth Jennifer Phelan getting readyIt's uncommon for an illustrator to experiment with different mediums across books but this book needed to be different than my last. Hey, Boy was done in ink, coloured digitally and was heavy on the white space to convey a passage of time. The Log Driver's Waltz required an abundance of foliage & fauna, we really wanted to capture the ruggedness of the Canadian landscape. I chose to bring in techniques I had been experimenting within my personal work (gritty watercolour pencil & toner transfers) to create a new style more appropriate for this story.
How long did it take to complete all of the many illustrations?
The artwork took place over about an eight month period but what took the longest was carefully planning out the narrative as storyboard iterations and mastering the fusion of two parts of myself: my children's book style and my personal work.
The Log Driver's Waltz Wade Hemsworth Jennifer Phelan pleases girls completelyI adore the illustration showing the log driver with the waterfall behind him and leaves scattered about. The natural setting is beautifully captured. What is your favourite illustration here?
The Log Driver's Waltz Wade Hemsworth Jennifer Phelan sitting on logsThe Log Driver's Waltz Wade Hemsworth Jennifer Phelan work on the riverThat is also my favourite illustration! It was the first one I tackled once the storyboard was approved because I knew it would be the masterpiece of the book and I couldn't wait to see what it looked like. It took forever, had many iterations, and terrified me the entire time but it was worth every (future) grey hair! My second favourite is the cover illustration. This one was the quickest to do because I saved it for last and by that point I really understood the world the characters lived in. It was an effortless joy to make.
About the Artist
The Log Driver's Waltz Wade Hemsworth Jennifer Phelan conductorI always wanted to be a children's book illustrator. I obsessed over my books as a child and traced my own copies. I went to college and university for illustration-six years! I didn't dive into the industry when I graduated because I still wanted to learn and experiment with my craft. As I sort of hinted at above, illustrators need to have a consistent portfolio and I wasn't ready to settle down with one style at that time. While renting communal artist space and painting during my mornings and evenings, I worked as a nanny for two families during the afternoons. The flexible schedule was amazing for my creativity and I ended up collaborating with one of the parents of the kids on a children's book. After a few years of noodling with it, we decided to self-publish (print on demand). An agent found our book and we had the good fortune of being acquired by Simon & Schuster shortly after. This agent was also the one who helped me land the Log Driver's Waltz gig and here we are! I'm no longer a nanny (though I miss the kids dearly!) and I now work as a designer at a small agency in Parkdale, Hypenotic. I still need the flexibility and my work is great about letting me craft my schedule to fit around personal projects.
Where did you attend school and how has that prepared you for a career in illustration?
I went to Dawson College and OCAD for Illustration. Both were amazing. College gave me process, passion and industry confidence. University taught me humility and to be a life-long learner. The transition from one to the other was rather confusing but I see now that I needed both for the long haul.
What are you currently working on?
Currently, I'm doing the art for two interstitial animations and I'm learning how to do stop motion. I'm collaborating on another children's book too but we're still in the writing phase, so hopefully I'll have another interview with you in a year or so!
What are your plans for the future?
I'm hoping to introduce sculpture and sets into my future children's books, allowing more opportunities to work with my friends who do lighting, photography, and set building. I miss the communal culture of my old art studio but thankfully, projects are another way to bring passionate people together.

very special thank you to Jennifer Phelan for sharing insight from the artist, the making of this wonderful book and for visiting RedCapeTales. You are always welcome here and see you again soon!

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