- An Interview with Pat Hutchins
Since Rosie's Walk was published in 1968, Pat Hutchins has written and illustrated over twenty books for children. Her sense of fun is prevalent in all of them, particularly in the award-winning The Wind Blew(Kate Greenaway medal winner in 1974) and the popular Changes, Changes , in which she conveys the joy and tragedy of domestic life among the building blocks by means of a simple plot structure and small changes in facial expression. In both these stories, Hutchins displays her recurrent interest in simple mathematical concepts: in the former the story literally adds up, as it is an accumulative tale, and in Changes, Changes we are concerned with volume: her characters struggle to solve their problems with the materials at hand, namely with building blocks whose number, shape and size never change.
Hutchins' work is surprisingly varied in style. Her stories about contemporary children, like Titch (1971), Don't Forget the Bacon (1978), Happy Birthday Sam (1978), and You'll Soon Grow into Them, Titch (1983), use simple line drawings which have retained the same use of basic colors throughout the years while becoming more filled with complicated patterns and designs. The plot structure of these stories remains simple and linear.
It is amusing to see that the same flat designs that cover walls and fabric in Hutchins' contemporary stories are also used in her animal stories, but now on feathers, fur, leaves, and other natural phenomena. These are heavily patterned in a stylized technique similar to that of simple woodcuts. Color is always important in a Hutchins' illustration, but in Rosie's Walk (1968), Goodnight Owl (1972), The Surprise Party (1971) and The Silver Christmas Tree (1974) color is balanced by a complex use of pattern which, together with the humour of the plot, makes these the most appealing of Hutchins' books.
One other kind of story can be found among Hutchins' works: the moral tale, such as Tom and Sam (1969), The Tale of Thomas Mead (1980) and One-Eyed Jake (1979). The style of illustration for these stories has developed to suit each plot: Tom and Sam has the stylized medieval look of a timeless folk-tale [End Page 57] world. The Tale of Thomas Mead is a present day cartoon-like creation which appeals to children who don't want to read. And One-Eyed Jake is an ornately dressed swash-buckling pirate whose acquisitiveness is matched by the detailed drawings of his ship and loot.
Throughout her various plots and styles of illustration, Pat Hutchins reveals her love of the traditional folk-tale: she concentrates on the innocent character who may be undervalued, a third child like Titch, one who is on his or her way to finding good fortune in the world, whether that means literally growing toward autonomy by gaining stature or outwitting crafty pirate captains and foxes. Her predeliction for the traditional devices of anticipation, repetition, and accumulation recur throughout her stories, in both illustration and plot. There is much thoughtful consideration of children and their needs in a Pat Hutchins' story. This becomes clear in the interview which follows.
H.T. You first studied art in Leeds, but can you tell me if you always wanted to be an artist?
P.H. Yes. From the time I was little. When I was very small I knew that I wanted to do something connected to drawing. I had a friend, an old lady I used to visit. She had copies of Connoisseur magazine. Do you know it? Well, I used to go to her house in Yorkshire and I remember copying Rembrandts from that magazine. And my mother was very encouraging too. I left school at sixteen with a scholarship to Darlington Art School, where I worked for two years. Then I specialized at Art School in Leeds.
H.T. Did you soon find yourself developing a style?
P.H. Yes, pen and ink, colored ink. Color was always very important to me.
H.T. There must have been the weight of the tradition of previous children's illustrators on you.
P.H. It's a difficult field, but...