Q&A with Eric Carle

Eric CarleTo celebrate the 45th anniversary of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle joined us for a Q&A in March 2014. He talked about how he created the story, his artistic technique and honoring his father. 

Eric Carle is an internationally bestselling and award-winning author and illustrator of books for very young children. The Very Hungry Caterpillar remains one of the most read children's book in the UK, selling over 36 million copies worldwide since its publication in 1969 and translated into more than 55 languages. 


Q. Firewall: Where did you find the inspiration for such a wonderful story? Where did it stem from?

A. Eric Carle: One day I was innocently punching holes with a hole puncher into a stack of paper, and I thought of a bookworm and so I created a story called A Week with Willi the Worm. Then later my editor, who didn't like the idea of a worm, suggested a caterpillar and I said "Butterfly!" and the rest is history.

Q. tinypumpkin: Which of your many books did you most enjoy writing and why?

A. Eric Carle: I love them all and each one is different. I feel so lucky to be able to do the work that I love.

Q. CheeseTMouse: What techniques do you use to create your drawings and which artists inspire you?

A. Eric Carle: I work in the technique called collage, which is used by many artists. Matisse and Picasso are famous for their collages. Picture book artists Leo Lionni and Ezra Jack Keats, among others, also created collages. I first made collage out of painted papers in art school. For my illustrations, I have been creating my own colored tissue papers for over 40 years. Initially I just added a few brush strokes of paint to the commercially available colored tissue papers. Then I discovered that the commercially available tissue papers faded after some time, so now I use only unpainted tissue paper and acrylic paint in all colors. Over the years my painted papers have become more detailed, complex and richer, and some have become works of art in themselves.

"One day I was innocently punching holes with a hole puncher into a stack of paper, and I thought of a bookworm and so I created a story called A Week with Willi the Worm."

Among some of my favorite artists are Paul Klee (1879 to 1940), with his colorful, dreamlike paintings; and Pieter Brueghel (1525 to 1569), who painted peasants and landscapes of central Europe that remind me of where I grew up in Germany. Other illustrators whose work I admire include Leo Lionni, Maurice Sendak, Jose Aruego, Lisbeth Zwerger, Mitsumasa Anno, Ezra Jack Keats, Leo Lionni, Jerry Pinkney and Chris Van Allsburg. Each of these picture book artists has an individual and distinctive style and approach and each one speaks from his or her soul.

Q. HazelDormouse: Your colourful illustrations always appear to be spontaneous and vibrant. Is that deceptive though, do you still rely on the discipline that you must have had early on in your career as a commercial graphic designer? Can you be both spontaneous and disciplined?

A. Eric Carle: While I am no longer doing graphic design, I still think of myself as a designer and the training I had in design is still influencing my work today. One of my first jobs out of art school was designing posters for the Amerika Haus in Germany. I am still proud of the designs for posters I created back then and think of my illustrations to this day, especially my book covers, as little posters that capture the attention of the reader with big, bold shapes.

Q. HazelDormouse: Why are most of your illustrations of animals?

A. Eric Carle: I have always loved to draw, ever since I was a child. My father enjoyed drawing and he used to make pictures for me. He would tell me stories while drawing pictures of trees and animals, and sometimes people. Also, my father used to take me on walks in the woods when I was a boy. He'd lift up a rock and show me the small creatures who lived underneath it. I think in my books I honor my father by writing about small living things.

Q. Misfitless: As a child, which books did you revisit time and time again? 

A. Eric Carle: I didn't have many books as a child, but I have very fond memories of sitting on my father's lap while he read the Sunday Funny pages to me. I enjoyed Mickey Mouse and Flash Gordon. But it is the closeness with my father, the connection we shared that made the most lasting impact. I feel strongly that by taking your child onto your lap, holding them close while you read to them, letting them know by this simple act that you care for them, have time for them and love them. Then sharing a book becomes more than pages with words and pictures.

Q. nonicknameseemsavailable: Did you ever imagine that your books would capture the imagination of so many people throughout the world and why do you think they are successful?

A. Eric Carle: Well, for a long time, about my book The Very Hungry Caterpillar, I did not understand why it was so popular. But over time I have come to believe many children can identify with the helpless, small, insignificant caterpillar, and they rejoice when it turns into a beautiful butterfly. I think it's a message of hope. It says "I too can grow up. I too can unfold my wings (my talent) and fly into the world." This is a universal concern that children have. Will I grow up? Will I be able to function as an adult?

Q. VelvetStrider: My question is about the holes in the pages. When the book was originally designed I imagine this would have been a very unique feature - I don't remember much in the way of cardboard engineering in other books of the time. What was your inspiration for drilling holes in the pages? 

A. Eric Carle: In the late 1960's, my editor Ann Beneduce brought a copy of my yet to be published The Very Hungry Caterpillar on a trip she had planned to Japan. Because of my books' special features, the die-cut holes in the fruits and foods and the graduated, shortened pages - Ann had been unable to find a printer in the U.S. It was Mr. Hiroshi Imamura, then president of Kaisei-sha, who found a way to print The Very Hungry Caterpillar in Japan and who embraced the challenge it took to make this book a reality.

"A child once told me that ideas come from both your outside and your inside. That struck me as a perceptive and accurate response."

Q. StillNoFuckingEyeDeer: I always wondered if all the foods the caterpillar ate on Saturday were your favourites?

A. Eric Carle: No, but I was trying, and when I am working on any book I always start this way, to entertain the child inside, the child I once was. So they were for my entertainment, if that answers your question.

Q. Mamakatt: I would love to write a children's book even if just for my son to read. Do you have any advice for aspiring children's writers?

A. Eric Carle: I often tell people about the four magic letters - do it! I want to be encouraging but I can only offer the example of my own experience, which is just one approach. There are many wonderful picture book artists to learn about, which is important. But you must use your own imagination. You have to just do it.

Q. Chipandspuds: How do you get your inspiration for a new story?

A. Eric Carle: A child once told me that ideas come from both your outside and your inside. That struck me as a perceptive and accurate response. It seems to me that what is outside and what is inside are the basic elements in constructing a story, creating a painting or composing a piece of music. Some ideas for my books have been there, inside me, in my unconscious perhaps, for a long time and others just come to me quickly. I'll think about a design concept and I'll get a spark or the beginning of an idea that way. Usually it's a combination of things: memory, design, dreams, experiences, things I've seen or heard.



Last updated: 7 months ago