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Illustrating Aesop’s Fables For Today’s Children.

Can Aesop’s fables be made more relevant to a child in 2013 through the illustrations?  This is what Laura Prior, specializing in narrative illustration, is investigating for her final year dissertation at Birmingham City University in the UK.  After seeing my illustrations in Aesop’s Fables, she requested an interview with me.  This gave me the opportunity to reflect on the subject of relevance in illustration.


Illustrating Aesop's Fables For Today's Children. calder

Alexander Calder. A City Mouse and a Country Mouse.


Did you try to modernise the stories with your illustrations? 

When I was ten years old, my mother gave me a copy of Fables of Aesop According to Sir Roger L’Estrange With Fifty Drawings by Alexander Calder.  Calder’s simplified, squiggly black line drawings made an impact on me.  They were so different from the more elaborate and traditional illustrations I associated with Aesop’s fables. When Tradewind Books asked me to illustrate Aesop’s Fables, I wanted to find a new approach to illustrating the stories.  I was very aware that Aesop’s fables have been illustrated umpteen times and was determined to give the pictures a fresh look, just as Calder had done.



Talleen Hacikyan. The Axe and the Trees.


If so, how did you try to do this? 
Tradewind Books art director, Carol Frank, had a specific look that she wanted for the book.  She had seen the cover of Tork Angegh,  the previous book I had illustrated, and she wanted me to work in a similar style.  I worked with acrylic paint on a black illustration board.  Besides detailed brushwork, I incorporated a lot of hand printed textures using all kinds of objects, such as leaves, cabbage, pine needles, engraved Styrofoam  and woodblocks made for textile printing.  The fact that I am a printmaker, goes a long way to explaining why I gravitate to this method that produces unique textures.

 Do you think the type of colours used make it more relevant or is it more to do with the content of the illustration?

Working over the black background gives the illustrations a mysterious atmosphere and adds a new twist.  I haven’t seen Aesop’s fables illustrated this way before.  As for content, Carol suggested that I do a literal interpretation of the stories, which brings me to Michael Rosen’s writing.  The Midwest Book Review writes, « Each tale and moral is retold in a refreshing vernacular that allows the good old bones of the tale to shine directly through. »  I appreciated this very quality when I read from the book recently at a literary festival. I believe that the synergy between the writing and illustrations is what makes our book relevant to today’s reader, child or adult.

Talleen Hacikyan. Frog and Bull.


Do you think children’s preferences in illustration have changed over time? 
I think children are attracted to characters, whether human or animal, that draw an emotional response from them.  They like pictures that stimulate their imagination and transport them into the fantasy world of the story.  I don’t think that has changed.  What has evolved  is graphic style.  The line between illustration and fine art is much more flexible today.  Despite exposure to contemporary illustration in different media, I would like to think that a child today could admire and respond to a classic illustration, from let’s say  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, even after having seen Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton.

Alexander Calder. A Frog and an Oxe.


Is there such a thing as a timeless illustration in your opinion or will everything become dated at some point?
An illustration will always remain great, even if  it was made many years ago.  If an illustration has the capacity to capture the heart, eyes and mind of the reader and enhances the story by adding another dimension to it then it is timeless. Alexander Calder illustrated Aesop’s fables in 1931.  When I look at those illustrations today, I am as fascinated as I was as a child.  Today, as an artist, I also appreciate the pictures from a new perspective.  With a few continuous and fluid lines, Calder captures the personalities of his characters. These pictures, although devoid of the many technical devices of contemporary illustration, are pure pleasure, 82 years after their creation.
Talleen Hacikyan
Thank you Laura Prior.

Aesop’s Fables Wins Gelett Burgess Award

Aesop's Fables Wins Gelett Burgess Award web

Good news is always good.  As I await my gold medal to come by mail, I feel a sense of calm satisfaction, now that the excitement has had time to settle.  Two years of  hard work at the illustration table that I set up temporarily in the living room to  maximize on natural light is now being rewarded with recognition from the prestigious Gelett Burgess Foundation.  Here is an excerpt of the press release.

Aesop’s Fables Wins the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award:

Canadian Illustrator and British author Awarded Gold Medal in American Competition.

The Tradewind Books children’s book, Aesop’s Fables, has been awarded the 2013 Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award for outstanding contributions to children’s literature. The book was awarded in the Arts and Letters Picture Storybook category.

The Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award highlights excellence in family-friendly books covering the broad expanse of a child’s existence, helping them grow socially, emotionally, ethically, intellectually, and physically. Each year Gelett Burgess Children’s Book awards are given to 40 books in 4 distinct classifications: Lifestyle, Arts and Letters, Society and Culture, and Education. The list of winners is promoted throughout the year with additional activity and lesson plan resources made available.

More information can be found at www.GelettBurgessCenter.org.


Celebrated children’s book writer, Michael Rosen, collaborates with Talleen Hacikyan in this delightful retelling of Aesop’s most iconic tales, rendered with the author’s signature wit and paired with luminous and enchanting illustrations.  A parade of captivating characters–tricky foxes, talking trees and ferocious lions–impart the universal wisdom of this master of the parable.

Award-winning author, MICHAEL ROSEN, is one of UK’s best-loved children’s book writers.  He was the UK Children’s Laureate from 2007 to 2009 and presents BBC Radio 4’s Word of Mouth.  He has published over 100 children’s books, including the best-selling We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.

TALLEEN HACIKYAN is an artist, teacher and writer, based in Montreal.  Winner of the Loto-Quebec Printmaking Prize, she has been featured in over 85 solo and juried  exhibitions internationally.

More information about Aesop’s Fables can be found at http://www.tradewindbooks.com/book&Id=75































Recent Monotypes in Val-David

Atelier de l’Île, in Val-David, Quebec,  is presenting my solo exhibition Monotypes récents, from October 1 to 24, 2013.


Recent Monotypes in Val-David invite

I was introduced to the monotype technique by Hannelore Storm, in my first printmaking class at l’Université du Québec à Montréal, thirty years ago. It is a medium I gravitate to  constantly and practice with great pleasure.  Often I use the technique to spur new ideas and approaches.  I might make a series of monotypes as an interval during a complex collagraphy project.  Or I may experiment with new inks, tools or methods, with a view to enriching my teaching repertoire. In either case, I am drawn to the intuitive process inherent to the monotype process.



Talleen Hacikyan, detail from Cat Tales, monotype, rolled layers and stencils.


I work in layers, building the surface with opaque and transparent color. I usually work on several images simultaneously, taking advantage of ghost or second impressions from the same inking, allowing me to play with different tonal expressions of the same image.

Monotypes récents, my first exhibition entirely dedicated to the monotype, presents  nineteen pieces.



Talleen Hacikyan, Traces de toi, monotype.


I originally created the Baisers series for the exhibition Le Baiser organized by Atelier de l’Île in 2013.  These prints were made with rolled layers of ink and stencils made of impressions of my lips.



Dual Torso series at Atelier de l'Île.


In the Dual Torso series, the stylized female figure is represented in diptychs. Each pair of torsos expresses a duality where the figures echo each other.



Talleen Hacikyan, Coqs nocturnes, monotype.



Cat and Rooster series with the original animal cut out stencils.


The Cat and Rooster series were made with stencils and rollers that I fabricated with wooden dowels and adhesive foam animals.  The toy forms and the rolling process let me adopt a playful approach that suggests poetic narratives.



Talleen Hacikyan, Wavy Journey, monotype.


Also included is an earlier series of monotypes made with encollage of painted elements, on the theme of home.


Talleen Hacikyan

Monotypes récents

October 1-24, 2013

Vernissage Saturday October 12 at 2:00 p.m.

Atelier de l’Île

1289 rue J.B. Dufresne

Val-David, Quebec

819 322-6359




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